6 Of The Best Barbell Calf Exercises

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There are a lot of popular calf exercise equipment options but the barbell is often left out. Find out how you can hit your calves with a barbell.

Weighted barbells are not used that often for calf workouts because of their somewhat unhandy elongated shape and because you don’t need that much to train these muscles.

That being said, in a (home) gym with limited equipment, you may not have any other equipment options. Additionally, just because it is often not the first choice does not mean a barbell is not effective for calf workouts.

In some of the movements below, a barbell rack would be helpful to get the bar to the right height. However, in essence, all you need is the barbell and potentially weight plates if you are more experienced.

1. Standing barbell calf raises

When it comes to calf exercises, the standing calf raise is basically the most popular option. The barbell is one of the equipment options to make calf raises weighted.

Take the following steps to do a standing barbell calf raise with the bar on your upper back:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet pointing forward and about shoulder width apart. Get the bar on your upper back with the help of a bar rack or a clean movement.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground as far as you comfortably can with the help of your calf muscles. Keep your legs stretched for a slightly more effective workout.
  3. Lower your body again in a controlled motion.

The walkthrough describes the more popular barbell calf raise where you hold the bar on your upper back.

You can also do a version where you hold the barbell in front of you. This version is typically easier when it comes to balance but harder for your forearm grip muscles.

Additionally, you can do both of these versions with the front of your feet on a good calf raise block or similar objects like a stable edge, stair step, or block.

These elevations allow your calves to go through a bigger range of motion which is generally beneficial for muscle growth and strength progress.

In the elevated variations, you do want to take a break at the bottom of the calf raise. This helps you avoid using your tendons instead of your muscles to move the weights.

2. Seated barbell calf raises

To do seated barbell calf raises, you want something sturdy at about knee height to sit on. Additionally, a barbell pad would be helpful for knee comfort.

Once you have the right calf exercise equipment, take the following steps to do a seated barbell calf raise:

  1. Stand in front of your seat with the weighted barbell in front of you at thigh height and against your legs.
  2. Sit down while keeping the barbell against your thighs.
  3. Once seated, roll the barbell as close to your knees as possible in a way that does not hurt.
  4. Raise your heels off the ground as far as you comfortably can with the help of your calf muscles. Use your hands to keep the barbell in position throughout the exercise.
  5. Lower your heels again in a controlled motion.

There are different calf muscles. The standing barbell calf raises from before mainly work your gastrocnemius (the upper calves).

This seated barbell calf raise mainly works your soleus (lower and deeper calves).

Similar to the previous movement, you can put your feet on a stable edge so your heels hang in the air. This allows your calf muscles to go through a bigger range of motion.

3. Outward barbell calf raises

Different barbell calf exercises do not only have the ability to work the upper part vs the lower part. You can also work different muscle heads of the gastrocnemius (upper calves).

Take the following steps to do an outward barbell calf raise:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder width apart and point your feet outward at about 45-degree angles. Similar to regular standing barbell calf raises you can choose different positions for the bar.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground as far as you comfortably can with the help of your calf muscles. Keep your legs stretched for a slightly more effective workout.
  3. Lower your body again in a controlled motion.

The upper calve muscle, the gastrocnemius, has an inner and outer part. By pointing your feet outward, the calf raises focus more on the inner muscle head (inner part) of the calf muscle (1).

Holding the barbell on your upper back will be easier for your grip muscles but also harder for your balance. With your feet in a less stable position, you may prefer holding the barbell in front of you for this calf exercise.

4. Inward barbell calf raises

As the name implies, the inward barbell calf raise is the opposite of the previous movement. Take the following steps to do the exercise:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder width apart. Point your feet about 45 degrees inward. You can hold the barbell in your hands for balance or put it on your shoulders to save your grip strength for the rest of your workout.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground as far as you comfortably can with the help of your calf muscles. Keep your legs stretched for a slightly more effective workout.
  3. Lower your body again in a controlled motion.

Similar to outward calf raises, the difference in foot position makes it so the calf exercise has a slightly different focus.

Putting your feet in an inward position during calf raises makes it so you engage the outer part of your upper calf muscle more.

Targetting the different gastrocnemius is more something you do for aesthetic reasons or to resolve muscle imbalances. Most people will find the regular barbell calf raise more than good enough for their training goals.

5. Tiptoe barbell walks

A tiptoe walk is simply walking a certain distance or amount of time on the front of your feet with your heels in the air. As you may be able to tell already, this will be challenging for your calf muscles.

One-handed weights are typically used to make this exercise harder thanks to the balancing they allow. However, you could also use a barbell if you are short on equipment

If you hold the barbell in front of you with your hands, it is in the way of your leg movements during the tiptoe walk. If you have the barbell on your shoulders, your center of gravity is a lot higher which makes you more imbalanced.

Your choice for the bar position depends on what you like the least.

Tiptoe walks will mostly be for improving calf muscle endurance due to the isometric (static) engagement and longer duration. The barbell will help you improve this fitness component to a larger extent.

6. Barbell calf raise holds

Take the following steps to do a standing barbell calf raise hold:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet pointing forward and about shoulder width apart. Preferably hold the barbell in your hands for balance but you can also put it on your shoulders.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground as far as you safely can with the help of your calf muscles.
  3. Hold this position for an extended period of time.

Barbell calf raise holds are a type of isometric exercise. This means you work your muscles without extending or shortening them. You just keep them in a static hold.

The first four barbell calf exercises were isotonic exercises where you work your muscles throughout a range of motion.

If optimal muscle growth and strength progress is your goal, you likely want to go for the isotonic exercises. On the other hand, barbell calf raise holds can help you improve calf muscle endurance.

7. Barbell squats

To do the next exercise seriously, you want a squat rack, a strong barbell, and a few weight plates. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a barbell back squat:

  1. Place the barbell at about chest height in a squat rack. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
  2. Stand under the barbell, push your shoulders up so that the barbell rests on your upper back, and hold it there with your hands.
  3. Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and pointing slightly outward.
  4. Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. Keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
  5. Stretch your legs in a controlled motion to push yourself up into starting position.
  6. Rerack the barbell after your set.

At first, this last option may be confusing because squats are known as a barbell leg exercise that focuses on the quadricep, glute, and hamstring muscles.

And while these are indeed the main muscles you work with barbell squats, you also work your calf muscles to some extent. Especially if you go through a large range of motion.

For optimal calf muscle growth and strength increases you likely want to go for the isolation exercises. However, you can also do squats if you want a more compound-focused approach to training leg muscles like your calves.

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Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.