Exploring Calf Muscle Variations: Straight vs Seated Calf Raise – What’s Better for Growth Summary
- Researchers investigated the effects of different calf raise variations (i.e., straight vs seated calf raise exercises) on muscle swelling in young women.
- The straight-leg calf raise resulted in muscle swelling in all three calf muscles. The standing calf raise resulted in muscle swelling of the gastrocnemius, whereas the seated calf raise resulted in more swelling of the soleus.
- The standing calf raise gives more bang for your buck by hitting all three calf muscles than the seated calf raises.
Calf muscles, often overlooked in many workout routines, play a pivotal role in leg aesthetics and overall function. Many lifters will do calves last or just won’t train them at all because they can’t get them to grow. Training the calf muscle with different calf raise variations is essential when trying to increase calf muscle growth and achieve strong calves.
Resistance exercises, interestingly, induce varied tension along the length of a muscle and between muscles of a group. (Albarello et al., 2022) In the past few years, scientists have realized that muscle growth does not occur evenly in a muscle (i.e., certain exercises target specific muscle regions to grow better than others).
For instance, after doing exercises like squats with a barbell on your back, some muscles in your legs get bigger (i.e., vastii and adductor- muscles on the front and sides of your thigh), but others might not (i.e., rectus femoris- big strap muscle that runs down the middle of the front of your thigh). (Albracht et al., 2008) However, leg extensions are an effective exercise for increasing the muscle size of the rectus femoris. (Schoenfeld, 2010)
Two exercises often debated for calf hypertrophy are the Standing and Seated Calf Raises. But which one reigns supreme? Much like leg extensions and squats result in different areas of muscle growth in the quads, seated and standing calf raises may result in different regions of the muscle group growing. Let’s dive into the science and find out.
Anatomy of the Calf Muscle:
The calf is made up of a group called the triceps surae. (Albracht et al., 2008) Think of it like a team with three members: the gastrocnemius, which has two parts (medial and lateral), and the soleus. It’s like having a main player with two sides (i.e., medial and lateral) and a backup player (i.e., soleus) working together to move your ankle.
This calf muscle has garnered significant attention from strength and conditioning experts, primarily because it’s perceived as challenging to stimulate muscle growth. (Antonio, 2000) The gastrocnemius muscle crosses both the knee and ankle joints, making it a two-joint muscle. In contrast, the soleus is a single-joint muscle only crossing the ankle. This anatomical distinction influences how these muscles respond to different exercises, making it important to understand the anatomy of the calf muscles in order to build stronger calf muscles.
The gastrocnemius muscle is more involved in movements that require power and explosiveness, such as jumping and sprinting. In contrast, the soleus muscle is more involved in movements that require endurance, such as walking and standing. (Kassiano et al., 2023). The anatomical differences in the calf muscle highlight the importance of calf muscle variations while exercising.
Calf Raise Variations
Standing Calf Raise:
One of the popular calf raise variations is the standing calf raise. The standing calf raise is performed with straight legs, providing a significant amount of stress on the gastrocnemius muscles. This position likely offers a better length-tension relationship for the gastrocnemius muscles. Due to its favorable force-tension relationship, the straight-leg position could favor a more significant contribution and superior stimulus for the gastrocnemius muscles. (Arampatzis et al., 2006)
A recent study compared the effects of partial range of motion training calf training in the stretched position on muscle growth and found that the partial range of motion standing calf raise exercise in the lengthened/stretched position resulted in greater hypertrophy of the gastrocnemius muscle compared to other exercises.(Witalo Kassiano et al., 2023)
- It targets the gastrocnemius, the more prominent and more visible calf muscle.
- Develops overall calf size and strength.
- It is more functional than the seated calf raises.
- It is not as effective at targeting the soleus muscle.
- It can be more challenging to perform with heavy weights.
Seated Calf Raise:
The seated calf raise is another essential in the list of calf raise variations. The seated calf raise, or bent calf raise, is performed with bent legs. It involves raising the heels while seated, which emphasizes the soleus muscle more. (Hébert‐Losier et al., 2009) The seated calf raise, or seated version, is often performed with the knees bent, further isolating the soleus muscle.
- It isolates and targets the soleus muscle.
- It allows for heavier weights, which can lead to greater muscle growth.
- Easier to perform than the standing calf raise.
- Does not target the gastrocnemius as effectively.
- It is less functional than the standing calf raise.
While less research specifically focused on the seated calf raise exercise, some studies have suggested that it can be effective for calf muscle growth.
Comparative Straight vs Seated Calf Raise for Muscle Growth:
Researchers compared calf raise variations and muscle growth in a battle between standing and seated calf raises, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Participants performed 4 sets of 20 repetitions maximum until concentric muscular failure. Exercises were performed in the full range of motion, with a tempo of 1-second lift /0 pause/2 second-eccentric / for the exercise phases. The researchers measured muscle swelling.
The researchers measured muscle swelling because it indicates that the muscle has been worked out and is responding to the exercise. When we exercise, our muscles experience tiny damage, and the body responds by sending more blood and nutrients to repair and grow these muscles. This process causes the muscles to swell up temporarily.
Interestingly, there appears to be a relationship between muscle swelling measures and muscle growth.(Hirono et al., 2022) By measuring this swelling, the researchers can understand which exercises most effectively stimulate the muscles. So, in simple terms, more swelling can hint that the muscle is on its way to getting bigger and stronger!
The straight-leg calf raise resulted in muscle swelling in all three calf muscles. The study found that the straight-leg calf raises resulted in greater increases in muscle thickness for gastrocnemius medial (+8.8% vs. -0.9%) and gastrocnemius lateral (+14.5% vs. +7.0%) compared to the BENT-leg calf raise. However, the BENT-leg calf raise led to a more significant increase in soleus muscle thickness than the straight-leg calf raise (+15.4% vs. +7.7%). (W. Kassiano et al., 2023)
This suggests that if the goal is to stimulate all three muscles of the calf muscle, the straight leg calf raise is the best choice.
Recommendations for Optimal Calf Growth:
To maximize calf growth, it’s important to vary your calf exercises and target different muscles like the soleus and gastrocnemius. Engaging all muscle fibers can be achieved by using a full range of motion during calf exercises. Incorporating both a seated and standing calf raise variations specifically targets the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles respectively. To promote muscle growth, gradually increase the weight or resistance used in calf exercises. Make sure to include calf exercises in your lower body training program at least twice a week for stronger and bigger calves.
For those looking to explore different calf raise variations, incorporating both standing and seated calf raises into your routine is recommended. The choice between the two exercises ultimately depends on your individual goals and preferences. It’s crucial to prioritize proper form and gradually increase the training stimulus for optimal results. If overall calf hypertrophy is the aim, the standing calf raise should be your go-to. However, don’t skip those seated calf raises to target the muscle of the calves, specifically the soleus.
Listening to your body and adjusting the exercise intensity as needed is essential to avoid the risk of injury. For personalized calf training advice, it’s advisable to consult with a professional trainer or exercise specialist. Remember, whether you choose the standing or seated variation, the key is consistency and progressive overload.
Among the various calf raise variations, while the straight vs seated calf raises offer unique benefits, the standing calf raise stands out for overall calf hypertrophy. However, remember that individual responses can vary. Experimenting with both exercises and observing which feels more effective is always a good idea. After all, a combination might yield the best results.
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Albracht, K., Arampatzis, A., & Baltzopoulos, V. (2008). Assessment of muscle volume and physiological cross-sectional area of the human triceps surae muscle in vivo. J Biomech, 41(10), 2211-2218. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2008.04.020
Antonio, J. (2000). Nonuniform Response of Skeletal Muscle to Heavy Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 14, 102-113. https://doi.org/10.1519/00124278-200002000-00018
Arampatzis, A., Karamanidis, K., Stafilidis, S., Morey-Klapsing, G., DeMonte, G., & Brüggemann, G. P. (2006). Effect of different ankle- and knee-joint positions on gastrocnemius medialis fascicle length and EMG activity during isometric plantar flexion. J Biomech, 39(10), 1891-1902. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2005.05.010
Hébert‐Losier, K., Schneiders, A. G., Newsham-West, R., & Sullivan, S. J. (2009). Scientific Bases and Clinical Utilisation of the Calf-Raise Test. Physical Therapy in Sport. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ptsp.2009.07.001
Hirono, T., Ikezoe, T., Taniguchi, M., Tanaka, H., Saeki, J., Yagi, M., Umehara, J., & Ichihashi, N. (2022). Relationship Between Muscle Swelling and Hypertrophy Induced by Resistance Training. J Strength Cond Res, 36(2), 359-364. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000003478
Kassiano, W., Costa, B., Kunevaliki, G., Soares, D., Stavinski, N., Francsuel, J., Carneiro, M. A. S., Tricoli, I., Nunes, J. P., Ribeiro, A. S., & Cyrino, E. S. (2023). Muscle Swelling of the Triceps Surae in Response to Straight-Leg and Bent-Leg Calf Raise Exercises in Young Women. J Strength Cond Res, 37(7), e438-e443. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000004491
Kassiano, W., Costa, B., Kunevaliki, G., Soares, D., Stavinski, N. G. d. L., Francsuel, J., Carneiro, M. A. S., Tricoli, I., Nunes, J. P., Ribeiro, A. S., & Cyrino, E. S. (2023). Muscle Swelling of the Triceps Surae in Response to Straight-Leg and Bent-Leg Calf Raise Exercises in Young Women. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000004491
Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). Squatting Kinematics and Kinetics and Their Application to Exercise Performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(12), 3497-3506. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bac2d7
Are there any benefits to doing single-leg calf raises?
Yes, there are several benefits to doing single-leg calf raises. They help improve balance, stability, and symmetry in the calf muscles. By isolating one leg at a time, you can also increase the intensity and focus on strengthening each calf individually, leading to more balanced muscle development.