Why seated calf raise is cheating you of your gains

In Bodybuilding by Rachel Smith

From time to time we are asked “Why don’t you have a seated calf raise?”

We have multiple reasons for this.Seated-calf-raise

It is un-functional

How often do you see people in a seated position or with knee bent past 90 degrees, plantarflexing the ankle? (plantarflexing = pointing toes away)

-When the young niece or nephew comes around and is bounced on the knee

-When someone is on the toilet, jiggling their foot

…..aaaaaaand that’s it.

Sporting people plantarflex the ankle with the knee very close to straight.  Just watch some YouTube videos of sprinting in slow motion.  I suggest this one.

It is non-compound

The exercise cuts out a lot of activity of the Gastrocnemius, the major muscle of the calf whose activity crosses both the ankle joint and knee joint.  The gastrocs work best with knee straightened.  When you see a bodybuilder’s calf with that delightful W shape cut in it, you’re looking at the gastrocs!  The soleus, however, which sits deep to the gastrocs, is the muscle that is activated most when doing seated calf raises.  It’s activity only crosses the ankle joint.  By cutting out the activity of the major muscle in the calf and putting strong bias on a minor muscle, you are increasing your muscle imbalance and increasing risk of injury.  Also, by doing exercise with the knee strongly bent you are impairing blood flow to the muscles you are working, which is probably why people say they feel the burn so well on them!

It isn’t aesthetically pleasing

Because it’s the gastrocs everyone wants to see, trust me!

It just isn’t balanced

Calf-MusclesFor peak performance and functionality, you use your big muscles to do the most work, and your small muscles to do the least work.  That’s how the body was designed (and beautifully so!).  The large muscles do gross movements, lifting heavy things and doing it fast and/or well.  The smaller muscle groups are there for finesse or static postural work, to make sure you hit your target, don’t lose balance or to compensate for terrain changes.  Your muscles are designed to be used in synergy, not in isolation!  So why people choose to isolate certain muscles to train them specifically is beyond me.  However the fitness industry does very well by putting the idea in people’s heads that they should isolate individual muscles and train them specifically – it’s how they make lots of money selling extra equipment and useless workout programs!  In fact selling a seated calf raise is much like selling a preacher curl – Yes I went there!

So why is seated calf raise cheating you of your gains?

You are working a muscle which is designed for postural corrections rather than lifting heavy things so it won’t tend to hypertrophy much, and you are wasting valuable workout time which you could be using to make functional training improvements!

For those who have back or other injury issues which prevent them from doing weighted standing calf raises, you can use the 45 degree leg press to get a great (straight legged) calf raise as an alternative.

Be a champ – do straight legged calf raises!

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About the Author

Rachel Smith


Rachel completed her Bachelor of Physiotherapy from the University of South Australia in 2006 and left private practise to open BodySmith Fitness with her husband, Matt Smith, in 2014. Rachel was awarded her Black Belt and Diploma from the Japan Karate Association in 2012. Rachel spent 6 years in competitive Olympic Weightlifting and in 2006 was ranked 7th in Australia in her class. Rachel spent 10 years in Gymnastics growing up, which set her up to springboard into her other pursuits. 😉 Rachel has extensively researched Health and Nutrition and this is her passion; to help people in their Fitness journey.