6 Top Smith Machine Calf Raise Alternatives

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Smith machine calf raises can be a powerful exercise but you may want other options. What are some alternatives to this exercise with similar benefits?

Free-weight versions of standing calf raises are generally not ideal because they require a lot of balance.

You don’t have this same challenge with the smith machine since the bar can only go up or down.

In turn, smith machine calf raises are a great option for working your calves. Especially the gastrocnemius calf muscles.

Whether you don’t enjoy smith machine calf raises, you don’t have a smith machine available, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these smith machine calf raise substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.

1. Leg press calf raises

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 horizontal and more often upward while sitting in a low seat.

This gym machine is generally used for doing a squat-like movement but this focuses more on leg muscles like the quadriceps and glutes.

Even so, you can also do calf raises on the leg press machine by putting the front of your feet at the bottom of the platform on which you put your feet.

Doing this is a great alternative to smith machine calf raises. You work the same muscles and the leg presses machine removes the need to balance.

Similar to smith machine calf raises you can also change the angle of your feet to shift the focus to different parts of your calves.

One potential downside of this option is that while leg press machines are relatively popular, not all gyms have them. Additionally, they require a steep investment if you want to get one at home.

2. Donkey calf raises

For the next smith machine calf raise alternative you need a few things. First of all, you need something sturdy to hold on to at about knee to hip height.

Besides that, you preferably want a small elevation for your feet (something like bumper plates can work but specific calf raise blocks tend to be better).

Lastly, you will likely need some type of resistance. For example a dip belt with weights or a friend. Take the following steps to do a donkey calf raise with a weight bench, bumper plates, and a dip belt:

  1. Put the bumper weight plates at a distance from the weight bench where you can easily do the next steps.
  2. Wear the dip belt around your hips, load it, and stand right in front of the weight bench with your face towards it.
  3. Bend forward and put your hands on the weight bench. Step back with your feet until the front of your feet stands on the weight plates and your heels hover in the air. Keep your back straight and your legs as stretched as comfortable throughout the exercise.
  4. Lower your heels in a controlled motion as far as you safely can.
  5. Slowly raise your heels as far as you safely can.

Donkey calf raises allow you to train similar calf muscles to smith machine calf raises without having to worry too much about balance.

The main benefit of this exercise is that you can do it with relatively standard and inexpensive fitness equipment. Keep in mind that you will need enough resistance to see any significant calf growth and strength progress.

A potential downside is that some people find this an uncomfortable position to train calf muscles.

3. Seated calf raises with other equipment

For seated calf raises you again need some equipment.

This includes something sturdy to sit on, extra weight to make the exercise challenging enough, and preferably an elevation for your feet so your calves can go through a larger range of motion.

Take the following steps to do seated calf raises with a weight bench, bumper plates, and two dumbbells:

  1. Put the bumper plates right in front of the weight bench and the dumbbells you will use right next to them.
  2. Sit on the weight bench with the front of your feet on the bumper plates and upper legs pointing forward.
  3. Pick up the dumbbells with a straight back, put them on your upper legs as close to your knees as possible in a way that doesn’t hurt, and hold them there during the rest of the exercise.
  4. Lower your heels in a controlled motion as far as you safely can.
  5. Slowly raise your heels as far as you safely can.
How to do a seated dumbbell calf raise

There are different muscles in your calves. Doing standing calf raises mainly engages your gastrocnemius (the upper calves). Doing seated calf raises mainly engages your soleus (lower and deeper calves).

That means seated calf raises are not the perfect substitute for smith machine calf raises but they do allow you to get in a calf workout in a relatively comfortable position without any machines.

If you don’t like the way dumbbells feel you can also use calf workout equipment like a barbell with a squat pad, kettlebells, weight plates, etc.

4. Standing calf raise machine

This next option is relatively straightforward but worth mentioning anyway.

There is a calf gym machine named the standing calf raise machine where you can stand on an elevated platform and put shoulder pads with weights on your shoulders to make the exercise more challenging.

As the name implies you use this setup to do standing calf raises that work the same muscles as smith machine calf raises.

Possibly in a more comfortable way if you prefer the shoulder pads over holding the smith machine bar or putting it on your shoulders.

One downside is that not all gyms have standing calf raise machines. That being said, in some cases the smith machine is not present but the standing calf raise machine is.

5. Tip toe farmer’s walk

The farmer’s walk is an exercise where you walk a certain distance or amount of time while holding weight in your hands.

As the name implies, the smith machine calf raise alternative version involves doing this exercise while walking on the tips of your feet. By doing this, the exercise becomes more of a calf exercise.

At the same time, you still work your grip, trapezius, and core muscles a good amount.

One downside of this option is that you engage your calf muscles in a static, isometric, way. More dynamic exercises where your muscles go through the full range of motion are generally more effective for results.

6. Standing calf raises

Lastly, you can do standing calf raises with equipment different from the smith machine. Some examples include dumbbells, a barbell, resistance bands, kettlebells, a cable machine, etc.

Take the following steps to do a standing calf raise:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width.
  2. Slowly raise your heels as far as comfortable.
  3. Lower your heels back to the ground in a controlled motion.
How to do a bodyweight calf raise

You can also do calf raises with the front of your feet on an edge, stair step, or block. This allows you to go through a bigger range of motion.

Take a break at the bottom of the movement when you use this so that you use your calf muscles and not your tendons to move upward.

The main downside of standing calf raises with these other equipment options is that they can be challenging when it comes to balance.

This is slightly less the case with equipment options like the cable machine and resistance bands.

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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.