There are some exercise where you can immediately feel how hard your body is working, and then there are some that can feel pointless while you’re doing them. Calf raises often fall into the latter category – but beneath the surface they are doing a great deal of good, especially if you’re a regular runner.

Common running injuries like achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis are often related to weak calf muscles. The two main muscles in the calf – the soleus and the gastrocnemius – are both put under intense pressure when running. Strengthening them through calf raises will help stave off the threat of injury.

Even if you don’t run or play much sport, the calf raise is still a move worth acquainting yourself with. The calves are tricky muscles to target in the gym, and a few calf raise variations are your best bet for bulking up your lower legs.

How To Do Calf Raises

Exercises don’t come much simpler than the calf raise. Stand up straight, then push through the balls of your feet and raise your heel until you are standing on your toes. Then lower slowly back to the start.

For this reason, calf raises are just about the easiest exercise to slip into your day-to-day life. Do them while brushing your teeth, or waiting for the kettle to boil, or standing in an lift.

Calf Raise Variations

Weighted calf raise

It’s a good idea to increase the difficulty of calf raises with weights once you’re well acquainted with the exercise. Holding a dumbbell in each hand while doing raises will help prepare the calf to handle the extra pressure put on it during sports like running.

Raised calf raise

Stand on a step so your heel can drop lower than the rest of your foot at the bottom of the movement. This provides a greater range of motion in your calf during the exercise. You can hold dumbbells to make this variation tougher, but it can be tricky to keep your balance when holding dumbbells that are too heavy.

Bent-knee calf raise

Bending your knees slightly when doing any kind of calf raises switches the workload from the gastrocnemius – the larger calf muscle – to the soleus, which might be smaller but is no less important. Your calf raise routine should include as many bent-knee exercises as straight-knee raises.

Seated calf raise

Many gyms have a seated calf raise machine where you can adjust the weight easily, but you can also do this variation by sitting on a chair with your feet on a raised surface so your heels hang off the back. With the latter you can rest dumbbells on your knees to add resistance to the movement. Seated calf raises are especially good for working the soleus muscles and allow you to add significant weight to the exercise with less risk of losing your balance.

Single-leg calf raise

If you are a keen runner, one thing that won’t have escaped your attention is that you don’t run on two legs at the same time, so it’s a good idea to train your legs individually. You can, and should, try standard calf raises, bent-knee raises, seated raises, or raised raises on one leg, and progress to adding weight to the move.