How To Do The Smith Machine Calf Raise Properly

There’s no denying that standard calf raises work magic for your calf muscles, but have you tried the Smith machine calf raise?

This machine-based movement targets the upper part of your calf muscle (also known as the gastrocnemius) alongside a few other secondary muscles which you’ll learn as you progress into the article.

Calf raises are in most cases done on a standing calf raise machine but if you don’t have that, the Smith machine will do just as good a job working your calves.

Here’s how to perform the movement on a Smith machine properly:

  • On the Smith machine, set the bar to about shoulder height and pre-set your desired weight.
  • Grab a weight plate, calf block or step and place it underneath the bar.
  • Step on the weight plate/block/step, making sure the balls of your feet are at the very edge.
  • Using a wide grip, grab the bar and place it at the top of your back muscles.
  • Push it up to get the weight off the rack as your heels drop down slowly. Mark this as your starting position.
  • Then, raise your heels slowly off the floor.
  • Squeeze your calf muscles for a moment before slowly lowering the heels to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for as many reps as you please.

WHAT MUSCLES DOES THE SMITH MACHINE CALF RAISE WORK?

As the name suggests, this exercise is meant for working your calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius on your upper calves.

To a lesser degree, it also recruits the soleus on the lower part of your leg and the tibialis anterior which acts as an antagonist to the gastrocnemius.

BENEFITS OF THE SMITH MACHINE CALF RAISE

REDUCES RISK INJURY

If you are a runner then you are certainly aware of the impact weak calves can have on your training progress.

What’s worse, having such weak calves almost doubles your risk of sustaining injury on the lower part of your leg, which means shin splints, fractures and calf strains could come knocking on your door any time.

However, if you work your calf muscles through the Smith machine calf raise, you naturally train your calves to handle direct stress, which then stabilizes your ankle joint and makes it more resistant to common injuries.

INCREASES MUSCLE SIZE

Performing this exercise with a weight while standing on the balls of your feet puts so much tension  in your calves that you’re almost a hundred percent guaranteed of muscle growth.

“Almost” here is used to mean such results are only achievable if you maintain  the correct form and keep up with the consistency.

 

ALTERNATIVES TO THE SMITH MACHINE CALF RAISE

TIPTOE FARMER’S WALK

The tiptoe farmer’s walk is an easy, functional and practical way to effectively work your calf muscles if you are unable to (or don’t want to) do the Smith machine calf raise.

Steps:

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang loosely by your sides, almost to full extension.
  • Now, stand on the balls of your feet and take your desired number of slow and controlled steps forward.
  • As you move forward, make sure to bend your knees slightly and keep your feet tiptoed. If you feel your calves start to burn, that’s a sign that you’re doing it right.
  • Repeat for about 30 seconds or until you’re done covering the distance you desire to cover.

SQUAT HOLD CALF RAISE

The squat hold calf raise works your calves using the same mechanics as the Smith machine calf raise, which makes it one of the best alternatives.

Aside from your calves, it also recruits your hamstrings and glutes.

Follow these instructions to  do it properly:

  • Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms stretched out in front of you.
  • Slowly, lower your body into a squat, stopping when your knees are a bit past parallel.
  • Now, while still in the squatting position, lift your heels off the ground to stand with the balls of your feet before lowering them back down slowly.
  • Repeat this movement for as many reps as you need to while maintaining the squat position.

BOX JUMPS

Apart from calf raises, there are so many other exercises that can work your calves effectively, and among those is the box jump.

The box jump requires very little; just a box onto which you jump explosively during the movement.

Here are the detailed steps on how to go about it:

  • Stand in front of an exercise box that is slightly lower than knee length with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lean forward slightly to place your bodyweight at the front of your feet and raise your heels a bit.
  • Bend your knees, push through the balls of your feet and jump explosively onto the box.
  • Use the balls of your feet to land on it, making sure your knees are bent to absorb the landing force.
  • Step off the box and repeat the movement for as many reps as you want.

SMITH MACHINE CALF RAISE MISTAKES TO AVOID

LETTING YOUR HEELS TOUCH THE FLOOR

Your heels should never touch the floor during this exercise; only the balls of your feet.

This is because when you stand on the balls of your feet, you channel a lot of tension into your calf muscles which is exactly what this exercise requires to be effective.

ALLOWING YOUR KNEES TO BEND

When you bend your knees, you take most of the tension off your calf muscles and that might not work very well for you if you are looking to get stronger calves.

NOT USING THE MAXIMUM RANGE OF MOTION

Always make sure you use the full range of motion during the Smith machine calf raise by letting your heels drop and then raising them as high as you can immediately after.

ALLOWING THE BALLS OF YOUR FEET TO MOVE FORWARD

The balls of your feet should not move forward during this exercise; this makes the workout less challenging and therefore less effective.

Instead, keep them at the edge of the block where you are able to focus maximum tension on your upper calf muscle.

CONCLUSION

This movement may not be a compound exercise that works multiple muscles but it sure does a pretty good job working your calves as its central focus.

So, if you’re not particularly crazy about how your calves look, the Smith machine calf raise can help you develop those calves you dream about on the daily.