I'm looking for a way to determine the barbell weight to use for calf raises.

Ideally I would like a relative formula, percentage. Relative to something like body weight or a base line lift like barbell back squat.

My stats, all relaxed measures:

52 years old. Weight: 150 lbs. Height 5,9" Waist 32" Chest 40" Calf 14"

I've been lifting for about 8 months. My routine is full body 10 reps and 3 sets, 1 minute rest between sets, 3 days per week. I start with barbell calf raises, to prioritize them, which have been at 10x3. I've been gaining muscle/strength gradually, but I haven't had any significant calf development. I've tried higher/lower weights tending toward experimenting with heavier weight for calf raises. But recently I've read that 20 reps rather than 10 is the way to go for calf raises. I want to change my routine accordingly.

If I just use good old experimentation to see how much weight makes me fail on 20 x 3, I've settled around a 70 lbs. barbell. I'm going fairly slow on each rep 3-5 seconds and go up as high as possible with a tiny pause at the top. I get "form failure" toward the end of set #2, and need to stop around rep 15 in set #3, take 10 seconds rest to finish the last 5 reps. By that reckoning 70 lbs. seem like a good weight to work with.

Using strengthlevels.com I see barbell calf raises compare roughly to barbell bench press for beginners and equal to squat for intermediate, and bench press is roughly 75% of squat. The 1RM calculator at that site give 60% 1RM for 20 reps.

My squat is 135 lbs. for 10 reps and 3 sets. So strengthlevel.com's beginner would roughly be 75% of 135 = 100, and at 60% it's 60 lbs. for 20 reps. Intermediate level would be just 60% of 135 = 80 lbs. for 20 reps.

Those two methods seem to reconcile nicely 70 lbs. by experimentation, and 60-80 lbs. by strengthlevels.com. And like everything else I check at strengthlevels.com I'm around their "novice" level.

In terms of my body weight that is calf raises at roughly 50% body weight.

Do all these calculations make sense? Does it seem I've found a good working weight for 20 reps?

  • I think 20 reps opposed to 10 works for SITTING calf raises, not standing, not sure if thats what youre doing. Most of this will be experimentation, you could try reverse pyramids, starting with 10, and going up to 15 or 20 at the set 2 and 3. You could also do a "complete all reps" mindset where if you can only do 15, then do 3x15, then try 2x15, and 1x20, or 2x15, 1x17, etc.. Make your last set your work set where you do more work.
    – user32213
    Mar 17, 2022 at 20:55
  • Seated calf raises would lower the weight dramatically. Do you think then I'm overtraining calves? Mar 17, 2022 at 21:13
  • @AceCabbie is correct - Standing/Straight leg works the gastrocnemius, target 8-12 reps. Sitting works the soleus with 15+ reps targeted. I'm not sure if there is a correlation that can be done using lifts, because you can have wildly developed upper legs and still have relatively underdeveloped calves. I haven't seen any formulae, I'll do a closer look as soon as I have some time.
    – JohnP
    Mar 18, 2022 at 15:59
  • Vince Gironda was my no-steroids source for 20 reps calf raises. But now that I go back and read his stuff more closely it isn't entirely clear if he means seated, donkey, or standing raises, I've seen his drawing for all three. Frank Zane said he used high numbers like that, but he also was using steroids. Mar 18, 2022 at 21:16
  • Finally found it. Vince Gironda pamphlet called Definition. He shows donkey calf raises at 20 reps. Mar 20, 2022 at 16:28


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