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Lengthwise-Barbell Donkey Calf Raises

ironmanmagazine.comThe donkey calf raise is simply one of the best exercises for developing the calves. The reason is the powerful stretch you can put on the calves at the bottom of every single rep. The question is, how do you perform this exercise when you don’t have a donkey calf raise machine or a partner to sit on your back (like he or she is riding a donkey; hence the name)? Donkey machines are not common in commercial gyms, let alone home gyms.

That’s where we turn to the power rack. We’ll use the rack to build a simple leverage-based donkey calf raise using just a single barbell and a calf block!

First, set one of the rack’s safety rails at about five feet or so off the ground (you will need to play around with the setup a bit to get it right for your own personal biomechanics). Set the other safety rail about a foot lower than that.

Next, set a barbell in the rack, pulled up against the safety rails, and set your calf block inside the rack, perpendicular to the bar. You’ll want to test your setup with no weight on the bar so you can easily make adjustments to the height of the safety rails without having weight to worry about as well.

I also recommend using a barbell pad to cushion your back, especially as you get into heavier weights. Attach the pad onto the bar down near the lower end.

See the photos at right. The first is the start position, when you’ve loaded weight onto the bar. I’ve got two plates on the high end of the bar and three plates on the lower end. I’m standing in position on the calf block with my knees slightly bent and locked into position. The barbell pad is down on my lower back and hips, and I’m taking a “baseball-bat” grip on the other end of the bar.

When you get yourself into position under the bar, your knees should be bent so that when you straighten your legs, you have room to come down into the stretch before the bar hits the lower safety rail.

The top end of the bar is going to be the pivot point of the “machine.” Now it’s just a matter of coming up into a calf raise.

Remember, be very sure to get a deep stretch at the bottom. It’s the money part of the exercise and really the only reason for doing donkey calf raises at all.

This exercise setup is every bit as good as any donkey calf raise machine I’ve ever used. In fact, it’s actually better because the end of the barbell moves freely, so you’re not locked into the exercise—your body can find its own groove with the movement.

As well, even if you’ve got strong calves, you can load this exercise heavy. You’ll only be limited by the amount of weight you can put on the lower end of the bar. (Note: Just be sure to balance the load on the other end of the bar as well so you don’t tip the bar while you’re doing the exercise).

In addition to being the perfect home-gym calf exercise, this exercise can definitely be done in a commercial gym as well. As I said, it’s simply the best donkey calf raise apparatus you’ll ever use: safe, easy to set up and incredibly effective for targeting the calves with maximum stretch.

—Nick Nilsson


Editor’s note: To get a copy of Nick’s Muscle Explosion—28 Days to Maximum Mass, visit his Web site, www.


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