It can seem pretty daunting getting started with a strength and conditioning program, either as an athlete or as a team sports coach, just trying to help your athletes improve.
There is the equipment.
There is the programming; Knowing how many sets and reps to do, what exercises, and in what order.
And then there's making sure your form's on point.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
If you want to run faster (easier/lighter/further), jump higher or just improve your general athleticism, calf raises are one of the simplest ways to get started, and the only thing you need is gravity!
One of the easiest things you can do, that also has one of the highest returns on investment, is a simple standing calf raise.
Your calf-Achilles complex is the body's inbuilt sprint.
When we jump, your calf is the last part of the kinetic chain to push into the ground and propel you into the air, when we sprint it's both the first and the last point of contact with the ground. That means it's going to turn that stretch shorting cycle around (sometimes called the plyometric effect), propelling us into that next stride as quick as possible.
Given how important a short contact time is for both jumping and sprinting, having a strong calf, and therefore, a reactive calf-Achilles complex is a massive win for athletes, and it's so easy to improve.
How to do it:
All you need is a flat surface and maybe a wall to balance on. Start with double leg, maybe three sets of 15 and build your way up to about 30 reps (easiest way to progress is add five reps every second workout). Once you're at 30 reps, you can start incorporating some single leg work as well (we like a double x30, single x10, single x10 progression for once you reach 3x30 double leg, then you can build the single leg sets by adding 2-3 reps per session). The gold standard for calf strength is 30 single leg reps of perfect controlled form each leg.
As far as form's concerned, there's only really two things to worry about:
Number one, make sure you're going all the way up on your big toe, and number two, no bouncing. Make sure you pause at the top and pause at the bottom for a strong contraction.
You can add calf raises to the end of your training program, ideally at the end of a workout, or you can just do them on their own, at home, maybe three times a week.
If you have access to it, a step is certainly going to help to get a little bit extra range of motion, but it's by no means necessary, it just allows a little more range of motion and is a little more challenging.