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Bodyweight exercises can be great up to a certain point. Likely soon you need equipment to keep gaining a lot of calf muscle.
The way you build muscle in places like your calves is by straining and damaging your muscles. This may seem counterintuitive but this makes it so your body starts processes to repair them and build a little extra to be better prepared for similar efforts in the future.
Generally the more weight you have to move, the easier it becomes to strain your muscles enough for muscle growth in a short amount of time.
Initially, bodyweight exercises may be enough to build your gastrocnemius (upper calves) muscles. However, at some point, you likely need to do calf exercises with equipment to keep seeing a lot of muscle gain. Your soleus (lower and deeper calves) are generally hard to work out without equipment.
In short, you will likely benefit from implementing some of the equipment on this list in your calf workouts. Keep in mind that even though there are upsides, your injury risk is generally also higher when you do exercises with more weight/resistance. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.
Calf exercise equipment at home
Most people know that you can build muscle at the gym. Luckily you don’t need the full setup of an entire gym to get in a good calf workout. One or two relatively inexpensive pieces of fitness equipment are often enough.
Free weights are heavy pieces of fitness equipment that are not attached anywhere. Some examples of free weights are a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, certain sandbags for exercising, wrist weights, etc.
You can hold these in your hands to make standing calf raises more challenging for your upper calf muscles. Another option is holding them on your upper legs when doing seated calf raises to train your lower calf muscles more. For this, you can put a sweater under the weight for comfort reasons.
One of the benefits of free weights is that you can use them in a wide variety of exercises for many body parts. Besides that, they generally last an extremely long time. One dumbbell can potentially improve your workouts for many years and potentially even decades.
On top of that, many free weights do not really lose their value. This means that if you decide to stop using dumbbells or other free weights you can likely sell them for a very similar price as what you put into them.
The disadvantage is that free weights often require a slightly bigger investment compared to more short-term fitness equipment like resistance bands. That being said, they are still relatively low in price compared to for example an exercise bike.
A weight bench is a type of padded bench without back support that is a very standard piece of equipment at most gyms. As mentioned before seated calf raises focus on different muscles than standing calf raises.
If you use light weights to make seated calf raises weighted you may be able to use a sturdy chair. However, at higher weights you may want to invest in a weight bench which is made to deal with a lot of pressure.
A benefit of a weight bench is that it can be very helpful in many exercises for a variety of muscles. A weight bench with an adjustable angle may be the right choice if you plan on doing a lot of incline and decline exercises.
Another benefit of a weight bench as an at-home workout equipment option is that it lasts a long time. A downside is that it requires a good amount of storage room and a decent investment.
Resistance bands are an inexpensive type of fitness equipment that are basically elastic cords. They can be used for a variety of resistance band calf exercises.
Some of the benefits of resistance bands are that they are relatively inexpensive, easy to store, and very portable. They can also be used in other exercises to train your arms, abs, back, and chest muscles.
One downside is that resistance bands are not the type of gym equipment you can use for the rest of your life. At least every few years you will need to replace the last set with new resistance bands.
A few calf exercises will also benefit from anchoring your resistance bands somewhere. In theory, you can attach them below your front feet or to objects that are already around the house.
Even so, it is likely safer to get an inexpensive anchor compatible with your resistance bands for building muscle to avoid any problems.
Calf raise block
When doing an exercise like calf raises on the ground, your calf muscles do not go through their entire range of motion.
This is unfortunate since a bigger range of motion is generally beneficial for muscle growth and strength progress. Luckily there are pieces of equipment called calf raise blocks and platforms.
These are basically constructions with elevated surfaces that are made to deal with the extra weight people use when doing calf raises and with some extra grip to stop you from sliding down.
If you do calf raises on the edge of a platform take a break at the bottom of the movement so that you use your calf muscles and not your tendons to move upward.
As the name implies, calf raise blocks are ideal for this use. The main downside is that they can get a bit pricey for such a specific use.
A stepper is a piece of fitness equipment that is an elongated platform that is slightly elevated. It is mainly used for a type of workout called step aerobics but this piece of fitness equipment can also be used as a budget calf raise platform.
A benefit of steppers is that you can also use them in other exercises. They also require a lower investment to enable an elevated calf raise compared to the specialized calf raise blocks and platforms.
One downside is that steppers are generally less sturdy than plyo boxes. Depending on how much weight you use in calf raises this could be an issue.
Gym or home gym calf exercise equipment
It is also possible to use gym machines for calf muscle workouts. Below you can find some examples of these machines.
Seated calf raise machine
The seated calf raise machine is made of three essential parts. Firstly, it wouldn’t be a seated calf raise machine without a seat to sit on. Secondly, there are pads you can place your knees under which are connected to extra weights. This allows you to make the calf raises more challenging in a comfortable way.
Lastly, there is a small step-up to place your front feet on to allow you to go through a bigger range of motion.
Doing a seated calf raise with a machine instead of free weights makes it so the movement of your legs is fixed. In turn, this leads to more focus on your calf muscles alone and less on other balance muscles.
Standing calf raise machine
A standing calf raise machine is very similar to a seated one but there are a few differences. First of all, you don’t have a seat. Secondly, the pads with extra weights rest on your shoulders instead of your front legs.
When doing standing calf raises you can also change the stance of your feet to change what part of the calf muscles you focus on. The upper calve muscle, the gastrocnemius, has an inner and outer part. By pointing your feet inward, the calf raises focus more on the outer muscle head (outer part) of the calf muscle (1).
You can also point your feet outward. In that case, you would focus more on the inner muscle head (inner part) of the calf muscle. For both inward and outward you want your feet to be at an angle of about 45 degrees to a vertical line.
One potential downside is that the standing version usually requires a slightly bigger investment than its seated counterpart.
Leg press machine
The leg press is a gym machine where you push away weights from your body with your legs. The angle of this pushing can be both horizontally but more often upward while sitting in a low seat. You can describe the leg press as a squat in machine form.
This gym machine is generally used for doing a squat-like movement but this focuses more on leg muscles like quadriceps and glutes. Even so, you can also do calf raises on the leg press machine by putting your front feet at the bottom of the platform on which you put your feet.
After that, the movement is similar to a standing calf raise. This means you can also change the angle of your feet to shift the focus to different parts of your calves.
The smith machine looks similar to a squat rack but there are a few differences which make the smith machine more of a machine.
First of all, the barbell is attached to a rail system. This makes it so it can only move up or down alongside these rails and not forward or backward. Secondly, it has a system where you can rack the barbell at any height.
You can do both standing and seated calf raises with a smith machine. The smith machine makes it so the movement in these exercises is fixed. In turn, this leads to more focus on your calf muscles alone and less on other balance muscles.
The cable machine is a type of gym machine where a steel frame holds weights and pulleys. Thanks to the cable going through these pulleys and attached to these weights you can do many types of strength training exercises for a wide variety of muscles.
Most calf exercises with the cable machine are similar to the other calf exercises with free weights but with the resistance of this machine instead.
The main benefit of a cable machine is that it is extremely versatile. The main downside if you plan to get one for your home gym is that it can be a relatively big investment.