The Donkey Calf Raise is simply one of THE best exercises for developing the calves. The reason is the great stretch you can put on the calves at the bottom of every single rep.
Because the calf muscles (gastrocnemius, to be specific) cross the knee joint, putting a stretch on the hamstrings also puts a greater stretch on the calves. So bending over at the waist puts a greater stretch on your calves.
But here’s the problem…when you don’t have a donkey calf raise machine OR a partner to sit on your back (like they’re riding a donkey, hence the name), how do you perform this exercise? Donkey machines are not common in all gyms and if you’re training at home, I have a feeling a donkey calf machine wasn’t on your priority list of purchases (hopefully, a power rack was!).
Using a hip belt is ok but it’s not a perfect solution either. The weight doesn’t sit in the best spot to get the most out of the exercise (it’s more lower back than sitting on the hips, where you’d get the best effect). And, the stronger your calves are, the more plates you have to use. The more plates you have to use, the more awkward the exercise becomes and the wider you have to set your feet apart. It’s not so bad when you’re working with 2 or 3 plates. But I’ve gone as high as 6 plates and it gets VERY hard to perform the exercise effectively.
So here’s my BETTER solution.
You’ll be using the power rack for this. You’ll be setting one rail at about belly-button level and the other rail a bit lower. The bar will be set across these rails. You’ll need to adjust the height of the rails according to your own height and leg length but just play around with the empty bar once you get an idea of how to do this one.
So once height is set, you’re going to need a calf block to do the calf raise on. That’s pretty much it.
The thing to note is when you’re getting into position for the exercise, you SHOULD have to squat a little. You want to ensure you get a full stretch on the calves without the bar hitting the rail at the bottom of every rep. But playing around with bar height will give you the best feeling for where to set the rails.
Here’s what it looks like. Both ends of the barbell are loaded and I’ve got a barbell pad down near the hips for padding. A rolled-up towel will work as well but the pad won’t slip like a towel.
Get your feet set on the calf block then get yourself underneath the bar. Grab the bar up near the other end, right by the rail. That’s the pivot point.
Now it’s just a matter of coming up into a calf raise! At the bottom be VERY sure to get a deep stretch. Come up fully into the calf raise at the top.
This exercise setup is every bit as good as any donkey calf raise machine I’ve ever used…better, in fact, because your body isn’t locked into the movement. Because the end of the barbell moves freely, you’re not locked into the exercise and your body can find it’s own groove.
Here’s another view.
How the bar sits on your back.
Next time you’re hitting calves in the gym, take a crack at this one. And never mind the strange looks you get from everybody else in the gym. You’ll see THEM doing this exercise the next time you come to the gym… 🙂
Nick Nilsson is known in the fitness industry as the “Mad Scientist of Muscle,” and for good reason! For more than 28 years, Nick has been creating unique, new exercises and training techniques and putting together some of the most innovative muscle-building and fat-loss programs available anywhere.