How Many Calf Raises Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

When I first started running cross country back in middle school, calf raises were one of my favorite exercises. In fact, I developed such an affinity to the calf raise exercise that I would try to do at least 50 bodyweight calf raises a day.

For a 12-year-old, it was probably more than I needed to do based on my training goals and the types of workouts I was already doing with running.

This leads us to the discussion that there can often be ambiguity about how many calf raises you should do per day based on your fitness goals.

When you can perform an exercise as a bodyweight exercise or with weights, it can become more confusing to know how many reps to do and whether it is better to do more reps with less weight or fewer reps with heavier weights.

When planning your workouts, you may be asking yourself, how many calf raises should I do to see good results? Or how many calf raises should I do to build muscle? Keep reading to find out as we cover the reps and sets of calf raises for your workouts!

Let’s dive in!

A calf raise exercise.

How Do You Do Calf Raises?

Before we look at how many calf raises you should do based on your fitness level and training goals, let’s discuss what calf raises are and how to perform the calf raises exercise.

As the name describes, calf raises target the calf muscles, which are the group of two primary muscles that run along the backside of your lower leg from the back of the knee down to the heel bone through the attachment point in the Achilles tendon. 

The calf muscle group is composed of the gastrocnemius and the smaller underlying soleus muscles.

Generally speaking, a calf muscle exercise will primarily involve plantarflexion, which is the movement that occurs when you point your toes, such as standing up on your tiptoes.1Nunes, J. P., Costa, B. D. V., Kassiano, W., Kunevaliki, G., Castro-E-Souza, P., Rodacki, A. L. F., Fortes, L. S., & Cyrino, E. S. (2020). Different Foot Positioning During Calf Training to Induce Portion-Specific Gastrocnemius Muscle Hypertrophy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research34(8), 2347–2351. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003674

Calf raise workouts can help you build stronger calf muscles, which permit you to jump higher, run faster, and perform explosive triple extension movements (the simultaneous extension of the ankle, knee, and hip joints), such as squatting and jumping more efficiently and powerfully.

A calf raise exercise with dumbbells.

Therefore, calf raises, also called heel raises, standing heel raises, heel lifts, or standing calf raises, refers to an exercise that involves pressing through the ball of your foot to lift your heel off of the ground by using your calf muscles.

Basic bodyweight calf raises are performed standing up, but there are variations of calf raises that can be performed seated as well.

There are several different ways to perform basic standing calf raises.

You can do a standing heel lift or a standing calf raise just standing on the floor, but it is best to perform standing calf raises with your heels hanging off of a step.

This allows your heels to extend down below the level of the step, which increases your range of motion and elongates the eccentric, or lengthening contraction.

The eccentric portion of an exercise is thought to help build muscle mass and strength more efficiently than the concentric, or shortening, contraction of an exercise.

Therefore, standing calf raises off of a step will be a better way to efficiently strengthen your calf muscles and build mass in your calves faster and in a more balanced manner across all of the muscle fibers in the calf muscle group.

Here are the steps to perform a bodyweight calf raise off a step:

How To Perform Bodyweight Calf Raises

  1. Stand at the edge of a step, curb, or box with the ball of your foot or balls of both feet on the step.
  2. Use your calf muscles to press through the balls of your foot so that you raise up onto your tiptoes.
  3. Pause at the top position for 2 to 3 seconds, squeezing your calf muscles.
  4. Slowly lower all the way back down, extending beyond neutral so that your heels dip below the level of the step as deep as you can stretch.
  5. Pause again for 1 to 2 seconds, feeling the elongation and stretch throughout the calf muscle group and your Achilles tendons.
  6. Press through the balls of your feet to lift all the way back up onto your toes as high as you can as you move into the next rep.

Variations of Heel Raises

There are different calf raise variations and modifications to target different muscle fibers and progress the exercise as your strength improves.

The easiest way to make calf raises more difficult is to hold dumbbells in your hand or wear a weighted vest.

Here are some other calf raise variations:

Single-Leg Calf Raises

Progress to performing single-leg calf raises by hooking one leg behind the calf of the other leg. 

This doubles the workload on the working calf muscle, leading to better gains in strength and hypertrophy.

Single leg calf raises.

In, Out, Center Heel Raises

Rather than just performing heel raises with your toes pointing straight ahead, this calf raise exercise has you angle your feet outward and then inwards to isolate the workload on different portions of the calves.

According to research, you can better target each of the two heads of the gastrocnemius muscle along with different fibers of the underlying soleus muscle when you change your foot positioning with heel raises.2Arnsdorff, K., Limbaugh, K., & Riemann, B. L. (2011). Analysis of Heel Raise Exercise with Three Foot Positions. International Journal of Exercise Science4(1), 13–21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4738962/

‌For the in and out heel raises, angle your toes about 30° to the inside or outside for each of the two modifications.

Beginners can perform this as a bodyweight standing calf raise exercise. Then, as you get continually stronger, start to hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in one or both hands or wear a weighted vest to add resistance. 

Machine calf raises.

Seated Calf Raises 

You can also do seated calf raises with dumbbells on your thighs or use the seated calf raise machine at the gym to load the calves with heavy weights.

Donkey Machine Calf Raises, or Machine Calf Raises

Using the donkey machine calf raise machine or other standing calf raise weight machine at the gym allows you to work through a large range of motion and load up the heel raise exercise with a lot of weight to maximize your gains.

How Many Calf Raises Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

Your primary training goal ultimately affects how many calf raises you should do as well as how much weight you should use for calf raise workouts.

Calf raises, like any strength training exercise, can be used to increase the strength in your calf muscles, build muscle mass in your calves (known as hypertrophy), or increase muscular endurance in your calves.

The following table provides recommendations for how many reps to do and how much weight to lift for different strength training goals based on the average guidelines from the American Council on Exercise (ACE)3How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/ and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.4Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf 

Training GoalSetsRepsRest PeriodIntensity
General Fitness1-3 12-15 30 to 90 secondsVaries on exercise and ability level
Muscular Endurance3-4 >15 Up to 30 seconds<67% of 1RM
Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)3-6 8-12 30 to 90 seconds67% to 85% of 1RM
Muscle strength4-6 3-62 to 5 minutes>85% of 1RM
Power3-51-52 to 5 minutes85%–100% of 1RM 
a person doing calf raises.

Using the recommendations above, along with experience, here are some suggestions for how many calf raise reps to do based on your training goal and level: 

How Many Calf Raises Should I Do As A Beginner?

A good starting place for beginners is two sets of 10-12 reps. Build up to three sets.

Once you can do 10 to 12 reps, you can increase the weight.5Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine51(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1

How Many Calf Raises Should I Do To Increase Strength?

If your goal is to increase strength, use a weight that corresponds to at least 85% of your 1RM, or a weight that you could manage for just 4 to 6 reps with proper form for weighted calf raises.

Build up to 4 to 6 sets with at least 2 minutes of rest in between sets.

People doing calf raises.

How Many Calf Raises Should I Do To Build Muscle?

If you are doing calf raises to build muscle, strive for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 calf raise reps.

Use enough weight that you can manage all of your reps but that you feel fatigued by the last 1-2 reps of every set.

How Many Calf Raises Should I Do For Muscular Endurance?

To increase muscular endurance with calf raises workouts, perform at least three sets of at least 15-20 reps with no more than 60 seconds of rest in between each set.

Check out our guide on the Best Calf Stretches For Runners to loosen up tight calf muscles today.

A calf stretch.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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