Resistance Band Calf Raises – How To | Muscles, Variations, Technique

The calf muscles are easily ignored by many folks, while some others do strengthen them for strongman looks. Very few people understand their role in real-life scenarios.

 

As I am here to explain the correct ways of doing calf raises with resistance bands.  I would also briefly go into a microscopic view of the muscles that take part in your calf area.

It would help you develop a better feel for the calf muscles and concentrate on their contraction during calf workout with resistance bands.

 

 

So how do you perform calf raises correctly with resistance bands? First, decide the type of calf muscle your need to target. There are two primary calf muscles named – Gastrocnemius and Soleus. For targeting gastrocnemius muscles, stand straight on the ground with knees extended. Raise your body by pushing toes against the floor while holding resistance band tight under the toes. For targeting soleus muscles, perform the same exercise in the seated position with flexed knees.

Why standing calf raise only target the gastrocnemius muscles? What’s the difference between gastrocnemius and soleus muscles? Here is the explanation for all.

 

❝ Hi, I am Ravi, your companion, and a passionate fitness athlete, cyclist, runner, gym enthusiast who just loves the concept of resistance bands for their extreme flexibility. I have been using resistance bands as one of my primary fitness equipment for the last many years ❞

 

 

Let us begin –

 


What do you mean by calf muscles?

Everybody in the fitness world talks about calf raises. Which muscle I am going to strengthen! Is calf itself a muscle? Where these muscles originate at and end?

The explanation of these questions will assist you in implementing the calf strengthening exercises to its real sense.

The calf muscles are composed of the two main muscles –

1. Gastrocnemius muscle –

This muscle originates from the lower end of the femur (thigh bone). It ends at the heal of the foot through a tendon ( a stretchy material that connects muscles to the skeleton bones). The scientific name for tendon used to connect gastrocnemius muscle to the heel is Achilles tendon.

2. Soleus muscle –

The soleus muscle lies just underneath the gastrocnemius muscle. However, the soleus muscle originates from the tibia and fibula (shin bones/lower leg bones) and ends at the Achilles tendon similar to the gastrocnemius muscles.

 

? NOTE –

 

Several other muscles originate from the toes and lateral/inner sides of the feet. They also engage and stabilize the movements of the legs during calf raises. However, primary calf muscles are gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

 


Role of calf muscles in the anatomy –

Let us understand what kind of movements are generated by each of these muscles in the skeleton.

1. Gastrocnemius muscle –

If you carefully analyze the structure of the gastrocnemius muscle. Then you would find that it passes through the two joints.

That means if we contract (reduce its length) gastrocnemius muscle from its origin (femur), it will pull the thigh bone (femur) towards the tibia (lower leg bone).  It results from flexing (rotation) of the knee joint.

If the same muscle contracts from the ankle side, it will pull the heel towards the knee. Such action initiated by contraction (reduction in length) of the gastrocnemius muscle is called plantar (sole) ankle flexion (bending/rotation).

 

2. Soleus muscle –

The soleus muscle passes only through the ankle joint. As such, it has no role in flexing or extension (straightening) of the knee joint.

These muscles only pull the heel of the feet towards the tibia & fibula (lower leg bones) when contracted. Therefore, they are solely responsible for plantar (bottom of the feet) ankle flexion (turning).

 


Importance of gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in a real-life scenario –

In a broader sense, the above calf muscles help you walk, jump, jog, run while doing day to day activities.

If I must pinpoint the role of individual muscles, the gastrocnemius muscles are mainly responsible for explosive movements for running, sprinting, and jumping. So, these muscles are made up of fast fibers, which are bigger and are visible when appropriately strengthened.

On the other hand, the soleus muscles are made up of slow-twitch fibers (known for producing small force over an extended period). They provide support for endurance activities like long-distance running and stability to the legs during other lower body workouts.

? To know more about the importance of calf strength, do visit this article – The importance of calf strength from Sport and spinal physio.

 


Resistance band calf raise exercises –

As I said earlier, two types of calf muscles need to be strengthened for the overall stability of calf muscles and lower legs.

So, I have divided the banded calf raise exercise variations into the two categories based on the kind of calf muscle targeted as a primary muscle.

 

A. Standing calf raises with resistance band (NO ANCHOR) –

MUSCLE TARGETTED – Gastrocnemius muscles

 

The standing calf raise works on the gastrocnemius muscle of the calf area while flexing the plantar ankle (foot sole and ankle joint), as discussed before. The soleus muscle beneath the gastrocnemius muscle only acts as the stabilizing muscle.

Here are the step by step instructions for doing standing calf raises with resistance bands –

  1. Stand the elevated surface like a dumbbell plate or wooden block.
  2. Press a tube resistance band or power loop band under the toes of both feet while standing.
  3. Hold the ends of the resistance bands near the shoulders while facing palms in front of you.
  4. Ensure that the resistance band is relatively tight at the bottom-most position.
  5. Keep the body straight and knees fully extended (straight).
  6. Lower the heels towards the floor as far as possible as per the permissible stretchability of the back muscles of the lower leg. Stop when you feel excessive pain in calf muscles. Achilles tendon are prone to damage if stretched beyond its elasticity.
  7. Now, raise the heel as high as possible by contracting gastrocnemius muscles while stretching the resistance band.
  8. Again, lower the heels.
  9. Repeat the above steps for 10 to 15 repetitions. Do 3 to 4 sets of the above exercise.

 

? NOTE –

 

The above exercise can also be performed with a single leg to make it harder by diverting the whole bodyweight on single leg calves.

 

? RISKS –

 

The risk only associated with doing standing calf raises this way is the risk for slipping of the resistance bands from the toes under pressure. Several cases have been reported in the past where users got injured due to the slipping of workout bands while anchoring them underbody parts.

? Visit this resource, which explains the various drawbacks associated with resistance bands and possible solutions – Disadvantages of Resistance Bands – Best Tips To Overcome Drawbacks.

The next exercise is a possible solution for the above risks.

 

B. Standing calf raises with a resistance band while using ANCHORING system-

MUSCLE TARGETTED Gastrcnemius muscles 

This approach is way more comfortable than the previous method as you don’t need to divert focus over the toes while pressing resistance bands.

If you are using a tube resistance band, you must have a door anchor. If not, don’t worry! You can make your door anchor right in your home.

? Visit this article where I explained some innovative ways of making door anchors – How Do I Make DIY Door Anchor For Resistance Bands – Anyone Can Do It.

Here are the step by step instructions-

  1. Install the door anchor on the bottom side of the door.
  2. Pass the appropriate size of the tube resistance band through the door anchor according to the burn you want to provide to the calf muscles.
  3. Hold the two ends of tube resistance bands in both ends alongside shoulders.
  4. Stand at 2 to 3 feet away from the door while tilting the body in the plane of the resistance bands for maximum gains.
  5. Follow the steps mentioned in the previous method for 10 to 15 repetitions.
  6. Do 3 to 4 sets of the above exercise.

 

C. Calf Raise with a resistance band while laying down on the floor –

MUSCLE TARGETTED Gastrocnemius muscles

As the resistance bands are independent of gravity and provide resistance in all planes of motion, the standing calf raise can also be performed while lying down on the floor.

Here are the instructions –

  1. Lay down on a mat keeping back in a neutral position and neck in line with the spine. Knees locked in the extended position (straight).
  2. Hook the cylindrical tube resistance bands or pull-up assist bands around the toes while holding the other end with both hands at the chest level.
  3. Push the toes away from the body to a maximum possible distance. The resistance band stretches accordingly and provides resistance to the contraction of the gastrocnemius muscles.
  4. Now, slowly bring the toes towards the knees to the extent possible to stretch soleus and gastrocnemius muscles among Flexor Digitorum Longus, Flexor Hallucis Longus, Peroneus Longus, etc.
  5. Repeat the above steps for 10 to 15 repetitions. It makes one set.
  6. Do 3 to 4 sets of the above exercise.

 

? NOTE – 

 

The only difference between the standing calf raise and calf raises while lying down on the floor is the absence of body weight in case of the calf raise while lying flat on the road. For complete beginners or senior citizens, the calf raise in a horizontal plane makes more sense.

 

D. Seated calf raises with resistance band (Extended knees) –

MUSCLE TARGETTED – Gastrocnemius muscles

The above exercise is similar to the calf raise while lying down on the floor as the active leg is always straight with knees in extension mode.

All the instructions of the previous section apply to this exercise as well.

 

E. Seated calf raises (with bent knees)

MUSCLE TARGETTED Soleus muscles

Seated calf raise differs substantially in terms of the muscles targeted by it. However, many of you would be wondering why gastrocnemius (more prominent outer most calf muscles) muscles are not preliminary targeted when the technique of exercise is the same.

 

? FOR CURIOUS MINDS –

Here is the reason why seated calf raise mainly targets soleus (inner calf muscles) muscles but not gastrocnemius muscles –

When we are in a seated position over a bench, the gastrocnemius muscles have already contracted to pull the femur (thigh bone) towards the ankle. When we raise the heel against the floor, the gastrocnemius muscle enters into the active insufficiency zone.

That means the gastrocnemius muscles (who have already contracted when we are in a seated position) are active, but they are not able to contract further. It happens because gastrocnemius muscles have already reached their maximum contraction stage while flexing knee joints to make us sit on the bench.

It is where the soleus muscles just behind the gastrocnemius muscles take the stage and take the responsibility to pull the heels towards the knees.

? For more in-depth details about active insufficiency of muscles, do visit this resource – What is active and passive insufficiency of muscles? from strengthminded.com

 

? NOTE

 

As seated calf raise targets different calf muscle than calf muscle (gastrocnemius) targeted by the standing calf muscle. It is recommended to include both calf raises together in a workout session you are performing.

 


OTHER VARIATIONS of the banded calf raises–

The calf raises exercises discussed previously works on calf muscles in isolation. That means, no other muscle groups/joints are actively tensed. The below-mentioned variations focus on compound movements, which include multiple muscle groups, including calf muscles.

The compound exercises are known to engage multiple stabilizing muscles in addition to primary muscles for faster muscle gains.

 

A. Banded Calf Raise with glute bridge –

MUSCLE TARGETTED – Soleus muscles

This exercise is like the seated calf raise. The only difference is in the method of contracting calf muscles. The seated calf raises, as described earlier, works on calf muscles in isolation.

In glute, bridge calf raises, besides glute and back muscles, the calf muscles (soleus) are also worked upon. Here, we need to wear the resistance band around the waist instead of the toes, for resisting the hip from lifting off the floor.

 

B. Banded squat with calf raises –

MUSCLE TARGETTED – Soleus and gastrocnemius muscles

Here again, the compound movement of squats is further enhanced by adding calf raises in its range of motion.

When we approach the bottom-most position of the squat where thighs are parallel to the ground, just flex the ankle towards the knees once. Lift your glutes again to come back in the standing position. Don’t use weights while doing squats in the above manner to get accustomed to the exercise and improve balance.

Again, in the topmost position, flex your ankle joint in the upward direction while contracting gastrocnemius muscles.

The main advantage of the above exercise is that it targets both gastrocnemius and soleus calf muscles in the same activity.

 

? NOTE –

We can further add the overhead press to the banded squat with calf raise to make it super useful for a full-body workout. It is especially beneficial when you are short of time and want to do complete full-body exercises through compound movements.

 

IF YOU LIKED THE WAY, I COVERED THE ABOVE EXERCISE WITH MUSCLES ANATOMY – do read these resistance band exercises, I covered in complete details with useful insights about the muscles – 

  1. Banded Push-ups.
  2. Band Assisted Squats.
  3. Banded Sit-ups.
  4. Resistance Band Assisted Plank Jacks

 


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