Fun fact: Chair exercises may have bigger benefits than you realize. The soleus pushup, a simple seated move, comes with perks like increasing blood circulation and boosting your metabolism, new research shows. It may sound too good to be true, but it’s time you get acquainted with this awesome do-anywhere exercise.
“A soleus pushup is a seated calf raise that focuses on the soleus muscle which is on the back of the lower leg,” says Natalya Vasquez, CPT, a certified personal trainer, health coach, and founder of Bridal Bootcamp San Diego. “By lifting your heel up and performing a calf raise in a seated position, you are focusing on the soleus muscle."
The name may be misleading, but a soleus pushing is actually nothing like a traditional pushup. “A traditional pushup is performed from a plank position and primarily activates the chest, arms, and core, while a soleus pushup activates the calf muscle, specifically the soleus muscle on the back of the lower leg,” says Vasquez. “The two types of pushups work two completely different extremities, upper for traditional and lower for the soleus pushup.”
Intrigued? I thought so. The best part is this move is accessible. Anyone who has lower-body mobility issues, specifically in the lower leg and ankle, can do a soleus pushup, says Vasquez. “These are especially great for beginner exercisers and those that have limited mobility because they require minimal movement and can be performed while sitting,” says Vasquez.
Ready to try it for yourself? Read on for step-by-step trainer tips to perform a soleus pushup properly to get all the major benefits, a few variations to strengthen calves, and more.
How To Do A Soleus Pushup With Proper Form
If the goal is to strengthen your calf muscles, Vasquez suggests incorporating soleus pushups into your lower-body training at least two to three times a week. For optimal results, perform 3 to 5 sets of 12 to 15 reps of the simple move, she adds.
Begin seated on a bench or chair so knees form a 90-degree angle with feet flat on the floor and toes pointed forward. Keep spine straight and shoulders back (not hunched or rounded forward).
Using a slow and controlled tempo, push toes into the floor and lift heels off the ground.
Hold for one to two seconds, pushing down on the balls of feet.
Slowly lower heels and return to start. That’s 1 rep.
Benefits Of Soleus Pushups
Support ankle stability. “Soleus pushups help with ankle stability and balance because when you work on strengthening the soleus muscle, you are working the muscle that helps to keep you upright when standing,” says Vasquez. Not to mention, ankle stability is key for minimizing the risk of ankle sprains and falls during sports and activities, studies found.
Improve foot mobility. “Strengthening the soleus muscle will allow you to partake in activities like walking, running, and dancing since it helps with foot flexion and your ankle mobility,” says Vasquez. Plus, foot and ankle mobility is a must for optimizing your workouts while simultaneously reducing your risk of injury, research shows.
Strengthen calf muscles. Strong calves are essential for any type of training and/or endurance because they stabilize your ankle joint and support your bodyweight. Soleus pushups effectively target one of the calf muscles that run down the back of your leg, says Vasquez.
Increase blood circulation. If you’re in a sedentary job or have little opportunity to move throughout the day, Vasquez says incorporating soleus pushups will help increase blood circulation and reduce stiffness from prolonged periods of sitting.
Soleus Pushup Variations For Strong Calves
1. Standing Calf Raise
Begin standing with feet hip-width apart.
Engage abs for stability, then press through balls of feet to lift heels high up off the floor. Keep knees straight but not locked throughout.
Pause at top for one to two seconds, squeezing calf muscles.
Then, lower heels back down. That's 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Pro tip: If you’re ready to level-up, Vasquez recommends holding a medicine ball or dumbbells in each hand to add intensity, as shown.
2. Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise
Begin seated on a chair or bench with balls of feet and toes on a yoga block (or other elevated surface) and holding dumbbells resting on knees. Keep spine straight and shoulders back (not hunched or rounded forward).
Using a slow and controlled tempo, push through toes and lift heels as high as you can.
Slowly lower heels and return to start. That’s 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
3. Squat To Heel Raise
Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward.
Engage core and bend knees to reach hips back and lower down into a squat (aim for knees at a 90-degree angle), dropping arms down between legs.
Then, drive through heels to stand up, simultaneously circling arms out to sides and up overhead.
Once fully extended, press into balls of feet up onto toes and lift heels high.
Hold at the top for one to two seconds while squeezing calf muscles.
Lower back down with control to return to start. That's 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
4. Plie Squat To Calf Raise
Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing out at a 45-degree angle.
Engage core and bend knees to reach hips back and lower down into a squat, keeping knees aligned with ankles.
Raise up from the squat position, pressing into the balls of feet to lift heels off the ground.
Hold the calf raise for one to two seconds while squeezing calf muscles before lowering heels back to the ground. That’s 1 rep. Complete 12 to 15 reps.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can soleus pushups really boost metabolism?
Yes, participants who performed soleus pushups for four and a half hours (with some breaks) experienced an increased metabolism, according to a 2022 study. “However, it’s important to not conflate the results of an isolated study where participants performed the exercise for four and a half hours with what people might include in their exercise programming (several reps a couple of times per week),” Vasquez says.
TBH, any exercise alone completed for 3 to 5 sets in a 12 to 20 rep range (depending on your goals) is unlikely to increase your metabolism, says Vasquez. “Building muscle in general is what will help to boost metabolism or increase metabolism efficiency,” she explains. In other words, because the soleus pushup has a relatively low energy expenditure, it’s not going to supercharge your metabolism. But if you’re unable to exercise (hello, sitting on a plane or working from your desk), soleus pushups are an awesome way to build calf strength, support ankle mobility, and increase blood circulation, adds Vasquez.
2. Do soleus pushups strengthen calves?
Yes, soleus pushups will strengthen your calves, says Vasquez. It’s important to incorporate other exercises that target the larger calf muscle in order to build well-rounded muscle, she adds. Think traditional calf raises, banded jumping jacks, and jumping rope to hit the gastrocnemius, which runs from behind your knee to halfway down the back of your lower leg.
3. How many soleus pushups should I do?
If the goal is to strengthen your calf muscles, include soleus pushups as part of your lower body training two to three times per week, along with other calf targeting exercises, says Vasquez. Each time you do, aim to perform 3 to 5 sets of 12 to 20 reps.
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