There are many ways to build your calf muscles, and both the seated and standing calf raise can be helpful.
There is more to the difference than simply the position of your body. Each exercise had benefits, but let's start with a quick discussion about the anatomy of the muscles in the calf.
The muscles in the back of the lower leg are actually divided in two layers, superficial and deep. The superficial layer is what most people are familiar with because these are the muscles you can see.
The superficial layer includes the gastrocnemius (gastroc), soleus, and plantaris. The deep layer includes the popliteus, flexor hallicus longus, flexor digitorum longus, and tibialis posterior-- click for pictures of the muscles of the calf.
Don't worry about the names, just take in that there is a superficial and deep layer of muscles in the back of the lower leg.
All of these muscles (with the exception of the popliteus) help to point the toes (plantarflexion) and raise you onto your tip toes. So both the seated and standing calf raise will work all of the muscles of the calf.
The gastroc is the most superficial muscle in the calf. It's the one you can easily touch on the back of the upper calf.
This muscle is the one that's affected the most by changing positions from seated to standing. Since the gastroc starts above the knee, bending your knee overly shortens this muscle and decreases its ability to work at the ankle.
So the gastroc, doesn't work as well during the seated calf raise. This means that the other muscles (like the soleus) must work harder, relatively speaking, during the seated calf raise.
So generally speaking, the seated calf raise places a little more emphasis on the soleus and the accessory muscles of the calf.
The standing calf raise works all of the muscles in the calf really well.
Since the standing calf raise works all the calf muscles well, it's the first exercise I would include in a calf workout.
Some other benefits of the standing calf raise are an increase in core work, improved balance, and better coordination.
The standing calf raise is more functional than the seated calf raise. Our legs and calf muscles must be strong when we are standing up, so doing a standing calf raises transfer more benefit to walking, running, and jumping.
Both seated and standing calf raises can help you to build and strengthen your calf muscles, so it's okay to include both of them in your calf workout.
If you are only able to do one exercise, I'd recommend the standing calf raise, since it is more functional.
Many people neglect the lower leg in their workouts, but try to include some calf exercises in your regular workout routine.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Charles PT/PT