What is a Seated Calf Machine?

Shelby Miller

A seated calf machine is a piece of exercise equipment designed to strengthen the calf muscles, which include primarily the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. Found in weight rooms of health clubs, home gyms, and other strength-training facilities, it is popular among exercisers looking to achieve hypertrophy, or increased mass, in their calf muscles. Seated calf machine exercises, though intended to work two of the body’s smaller muscle groups, typically are an important component of a balanced lower-body workout.

A seated calf machine exercises the calf muscles of the lower legs.
A seated calf machine exercises the calf muscles of the lower legs.

The muscles targeted by the seated calf machine are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Visible on the back of the lower leg, the gastrocnemius is the larger and more superficial of the two, meaning that it lies closer to the surface than the soleus. The gastrocnemius has two heads, or sections, which originate on the back of the knee and extend downward, attaching to the Achilles tendon on the back of the ankle. Likewise, the soleus inserts into the Achilles, but it begins almost directly below the knee and runs beneath the gastrocnemius, so little of it is visible upon flexing the calf.

Available from a variety of exercise-equipment manufacturers, the seated calf machine exercises both the gastrocnemius and soleus in tandem. Both muscles are responsible for plantar flexion, which is the pointing of the foot to bend the ankle joint downward, such as when standing on tiptoes. The soleus is only involved, however, when the knee is bent; therefore, the seated position is ideal for working both muscles. To use the seated calf machine, which typically requires loading weighted plates onto a bar extending in front of the user, one sits on the seat with knees bent 90 degrees, toes planted on a footplate, and heels hanging off the back of the footplate. A knee pad is lowered onto each knee, and the user lifts the pads — and therefore the weight — by raising and lowering the heels of the feet.

It is often recommended to use the seated calf machine toward the end of a lower-body strength workout, after all the larger muscle groups have been exhausted. The calves will at that point be pre-exhausted, meaning that they have been worked during large-muscle-group exercises, such as hamstring curls, but not reached complete fatigue. General recommendations for achieving calf muscle hypertrophy include performing at least three sets of calf exercises, aiming for up to 50 repetitions per set. It also can be vital for a person to work the ankle through a full range of motion during seated calf exercises, lifting and lowering the heel as far as it will go in each direction rather than bouncing or not fully dropping the heel toward the floor.

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