There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing weighted calf raises, what benefits can you expect?
Weighted calf raises are simply regular calf raises but you carry external resistance with your body to make the exercise more challenging. There are different weights and machines with their own advantages and disadvantages.
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.
Weighted calf raise variations
To do a regular calf raise on the ground stand straight up with your two feet at about shoulder width. Then raise your heels off the ground with the help of your calf muscles as far as you safely can. After that lower your body again in a controlled motion.
For a weighted calf raise you make your calves carry extra weight by for example holding two dumbbells while you do the exercise.
This exercise is rather straightforward but there are some variations that offer slightly different effects. Some examples of different ways to do weighted calf raises include:
- On an edge vs the ground: You can also do calf raises with the front of your feet on an edge. This allows you to go through a bigger range of motion. If you implement this variation take a break at the bottom of the movement so that you use your calf muscles and not your tendons to move upward.
- Standing vs sitting: There are different muscles in your calves. Doing standing calf raises mainly engages your gastrocnemius (the upper calves). Doing sitting calf raises mainly engages your soleus (lower and deeper calves). To make sitting calf raises weighted you simply hold an external weight on your upper legs right before your knees.
- Machine vs free weights: There are calf raise machines, these are less challenging for your balance than doing calf raises with free weights like dumbbells. Depending on your goals this can be both an advantage and disadvantage.
- Different resistances: There are different ways to make calf raises weighted. Some examples include free weights like dumbbells, a barbell, and kettlebells. You can also use other options like resistance bands, the cable machine, and calf raise machines.
Which one of these is the best option depends on things like personal preference, your fitness goals, and what equipment you have available.
The way you build muscle in places like your calves is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damaging makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.
If you stick to exercises with the same weight, as your muscles become stronger this same effort may not damage your muscles enough to promote extra muscle growth.
By adding weights to exercises like calf raises you are better able to damage the muscles in a shorter amount of time. If you don’t overdo it, give your body enough nutrients, and give your muscles enough rest this can in turn lead to faster and more calf muscle gain.
Things to keep in mind
Even though doing your calf raises weighted can offer valuable benefits, there are also potential downsides. Adding weight to regular calf raises increases your injury risk. Make sure you can do regular calf raises without a problem before adding any external weights to the exercise.
How much weight you should use for weighted calf raises varies from individual to individual. If you are not sure how much weight would be right for you, you can start with light or no weights and slowly build up from there.
If you feel any pain it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that doing weighted calf raises is not for you.
Benefits of doing weighted calf raises
Some people question how useful weighted calf raises can be but adding weights to your regular calf raises can offer you some of the following amazing benefits.
1. Helps you build more muscle
Calf raises are mainly a strength training exercise, which means they are mostly for improving muscle strength and endurance. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
You can likely tell from the name but calf raises focus on your calf muscles.
As explained previously, doing weighted calf raises can lead to faster and more calf muscle gain compared to regular calf raises.
2. Can improve athletic performance
Getting better at a certain sport or exercise isn’t necessarily done by doing these activities more. Cross-training which is training in a different sport can be useful.
Your calf muscles play a role in basically any sport with leg movements. By strengthening them you are able to exert more force for longer amounts of time.
A training exercise like calf raises is done to strengthen calf muscles. Weighted calf raises instead of bodyweight calf raises even more so.
3. Can reduce injury risk
Consistency is an important factor when improving your health. Not being able to work out for a few weeks due to an injury results in many missed workouts. Reducing your injury risk can be extremely valuable in the long term.
4. Helps you build fast muscle
Not all muscle is the same, it can be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have different properties with accompanying advantages and disadvantages.
A common categorization of these muscle fibers is “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”. Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. The way you train can influence this ratio (3).
The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo,… Basically activities at intensities you can do for an extended period of time.
The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing,…Basically activities at intensities you can only do for a short period of time.
As a strength training beginner bodyweight calf raises will initially help you build type 2 muscle fibers. Once you get to a point where calf raises start being a less intensive exercise they will help you build more type 1 muscle fibers. If you add external weights at this point you can continue building more fast type 2 muscle fibers.
5. Improved bone density
This is helpful for avoiding broken bones. Depending on your age you may not be that worried about something like this right now. However, exercising right now can help you avoid broken bones in 40 years. The things you do today have an impact on the future.
The way many parts of your body work is that by challenging them you set in motion processes that strengthen these body parts. The same goes for your bones, by putting pressure on them you make them stronger in the long term.
Weighted calf raises put more pressure on your bones than bodyweight calf raises. This in turn will benefit your bone density in the long term.
6. Makes your calf raises more time-efficient
Another benefit of weighted calf raises is that they can help you decrease the time it takes to get in a good workout. A good workout session isn’t necessarily about duration.
For example to build muscle you basically want to put enough strain on your muscles so muscle growth processes start. This doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time out of your day.
Doing weighted calf raises instead of bodyweight calf raises can speed up this process. This benefit of weighted calf raises is especially useful if you have trouble finding enough time throughout your day to fit in a workout.
7. Improves balance
While the technique of calf raises is not that complicated, you do need to use some balance. By using these frequently you get better at them like with most skills (10). Calf raises with external weights are generally even more challenging for your balance, especially if you do this exercise with free weights.
Many people forget to implement balance training into their workout routine but it is a helpful fitness component.
The benefits of improved balance don’t just show up in other technical sports. Even in simple daily activities like walking the stairs, you can benefit from better balance.
All in all, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from making one change in your calf raise exercise routine.
One thing you need to remember is that even though there are benefits to weighted calf raises, your injury risk is generally also slightly higher.
Especially if you are more of an exercise beginner or intermediate you want to start with regular calf raises without any extra weights and build up from there. Once you feel you can start doing weighted calf raises you can start with lower weights first and if that goes well go up to higher weights.
If you feel pain it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that doing weighted calf raises is not for you.
Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor for a workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If you like doing weighted calf raises, great. If not regular calf raises and other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.