Fitness

8 Effective Donkey Calf Raise Alternatives You Can Do At Home

Your calves are notoriously difficult muscles to target in your workouts, so much so that a lot of people tend to neglect them. Though they can often serve as stabilizing muscles during other exercises, there are very few movements that specifically hit the calf muscles.

The most common is the standing calf raise, though there is a modification of this that blasts your calves even more; donkey calf raises. As these are performed in a bent-over position, the two muscles in your calf – the gastrocnemius, which is the larger one, and the soleus – are stretched tighter during the movement, meaning they’re worked harder.

However, if donkey calf raises aren’t an option for you, or you’re looking to mix things up, here are eight excellent alternatives to try.

1. Standing Calf Raises

How To Do It:

  • Stand with your hands down by your side, or on your hips to help you stay balanced. Your feet should be in line with your hips. You can hold a dumbbell in either hand for added weight if you wish.
  • Push up from the balls of your feet so that your heels rise up from the floor. You should feel a stretch in your calves.
  • Hold this position for 1-2 seconds and then lower your heels back to the floor, under control.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Equipment Used:

  • Dumbbells (optional)

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

These are essentially performing the same movement as the donkey calf raises, but you’re not stretching the calves as much and there’s less pressure on your lower back also.

Pro Tip:

To make this movement more challenging, stand on the edge of a stair or bench when performing it and have your heels drop below your toes when you lower them down.

2. Seated Dumbbell Calf Raises

How To:

  • Sit on a bench with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your feet flat on the ground. Ensure your spine is in a neutral position.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting in a vertical position on your knees. 
  • Push off the balls of your feet to raise your heels off the ground. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds, ensuring there is a stretch in your calves.
  • Lower your heels, under control, to the starting position, and repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.
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Equipment Used:

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Here you can add a bit more weight than you could for other calf exercises, meaning you can really enhance those gains. This exercise also puts particular emphasis on the soleus, which is often overlooked.

Pro Tip: 

Make sure the dumbbells are in contact with your knees for the entirety of the movement. You don’t need to keep your grip on them too firm, just enough to stop them from moving around too much.

3. Leg Press Machine Calf Raise

How to:

  • Adjust the height of the seat so that your legs are almost fully extended (with a slight bend in your knees) and put your toes onto the bottom of the platform so that your heels hang off of it.
  • Push from the balls of your feet and toes to move further away from the platform, stretching your calf muscles. 
  • Lower back down under control into the starting position and repeat.
  • 10-12 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Leg press machine

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Again, you can add a heavy load to this exercise without putting any unnecessary strain on your back or shoulders. 

Pro Tip: 

Adjust the seat so that your feet are actually angled slightly away from you, with your heels beyond the platform. This way, you can increase the range of motion and work your calves harder.

4. Seated Band Pushes

How To:

  • Sit on the floor or a bench with your legs out straight in front of you and touched together. 
  • Wrap a resistance band around your feet and hold it in one or both of your hands. Ensure the band is wrapped around the balls of your feet and is pulled tight.
  • Push the tops of your feet away, but keep your hand(s) in the same position. You should feel a stretch in your calves against the resistance of the band.
  • Return your feet to the starting position and repeat.
  • Repeat for 12-15 reps.

Equipment Used:

  • Resistance band

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

If you’re new to calf muscle training, this is a great way to loosen up those muscles and get a feel for how much resistance your calves can deal with. 

Pro Tip: 

Keep your back straight while performing this movement; don’t hunch over. 

5. Jump Rope

How To:

  • Stand with a slight bend in your knees and your feet hip-width apart. Hold either end of the skipping rope in each hand and begin with the rope behind your feet.
  • Swing the rope up and over your head, then jump over it as it passes under your feet.
  • Repeat this movement for the set duration of time.
  • Aim for 1-2 minutes of work, with a 30-second rest, for a total of 3 rounds.
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Equipment Used:

  • Jump rope

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This is predominantly a cardio exercise so is great for burning calories and improving your endurance, but it will also give your calf muscles a great workout as they’ll be doing a lot of the work.

Pro Tip: 

Do not jump too high off the ground and, once you’re able to, only push off with one foot at a time, alternating with each swing of the rope. Also, ensure your wrist movements to swing the rope are small and controlled.

6. Tiptoe Farmer’s Walk

How To:

  • Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in either hand hanging at your side. Ensure you have enough space to walk up and down in.
  • Rise onto your tiptoes and walk forward in small steps, trying to move as fast as you can without running or jogging. 
  • Aim to walk up and then back down to where you began. 
  • You can either repeat this for a set duration of time, or you can choose a certain amount of times you walk a particular distance. In terms of time, aim for 30 seconds of work with 1 minute’s rest, for a total of 3 sets.

Equipment Used:

  • Kettlebells/dumbbells

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Not only will this target your calves but it will also improve your grip strength and also work your core and shoulders.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your spine neutral and your chest open. If you find you’re losing your balance a lot, then reduce the weight you’re using.

7. Jump Squats

How To:

  • Get into position with your feet in line with your shoulders and a small bend in your knees. Keep your toes pointed forward.
  • Squat down, moving your hips back and bending your legs so that your thighs are roughly parallel with the floor. You can swing your arms back to help with momentum, or keep your hands clasped together in front of your chest.
  • Drive-up from your feet and quads to straighten your legs and jump into the air.
  • Control your landing by bending your legs and moving straight into another squat to repeat the movement.
  • Reps: 10-12.
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Equipment Used:

  • None

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

Squats are one of the best compound exercises you can perform as they work a wide variety of muscle groups, but the addition of a jump ensures the calves are also being worked particularly hard.

Pro Tip: 

Keep your chest open, particularly when bending down into the squat. Hold a dumbbell in front of you if you want to add more weight.

8. Step Up With Hop

How To:

  • Stand in front of a box, or bench, with your left foot on the ground and right foot on the box/bench.
  • Push through your right foot to raise yourself up so that your left foot comes off the ground. You can also drive your left knee upward for more work.
  • Lower back down, cushioning your landing back onto your left foot by bending your knee slightly once you touch the floor again.
  • Repeat all the reps on one leg before switching to the other.
  • Reps: 10-12 on each leg.

Equipment Used:

  • Box/bench

Why It’s A Great Alternative:

This plyometric move can also double up as a cardio workout if you perform the step-ups quickly, but you can also slow down the movement and increase the time under tension to work the muscles harder.

Pro Tip: 

Use your arms to help propel yourself upward.

Conclusion

If you’re aiming to target your calf muscles but want some alternatives to donkey calf raises, then these alternatives are for you. Some focus more on mobility and explosiveness, using less equipment, while others allow you to add a significant amount of weight to help your gains.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are single-leg calf raises effective?

Yes, absolutely. By targeting one leg at a time, you’re forcing the calf muscles in that leg to work even harder. Many of the exercises above can be performed on one leg at a time.

How do you do standing calf raises at home?

In the same way you would in a gym – just stand on your floor, or a step, and perform the movement. If you’re concerned about losing your balance, perform the exercise against or near a wall.

Are seated calf raises necessary?

They’re not necessary for working your calf muscles as there are plenty of alternatives, as listed above. However, they can be a useful addition to your workout if you’re able to perform them.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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