When it comes to weight training, there's no such thing as "keeping up with the Joneses." The 160-pound woman in the tattered sweats may be able to lift a lot more than the 160-pound man in the swank workout gear -- and both of them may be shown up by a buff 130-pound personal trainer. Since the amount of weight you can -- and should -- lift is dependent on your physical condition, calculating the right amount of weight is going to be a very personal thing. As with any weight exercise, the right weight for you during the seated calf raise may be a process of trial and error.
Place the weight pin under the lowest weight plate on the calf raise machine, if the machine has built-in plates and pins. If the machine requires you to add weight plates, place a 5-pound weight plate on each horizontal bar, or if the machine has only a single vertical bar, add a single 10-pound weight to it. This is a safe approach for a total beginner, but if you've been doing other weight-training exercises on a regular basis, it may be safe to move up to the second or third pin, or to add 10 or 20-pound weight plates to the bar or bars. Calculating the right amount of weight is going to be different for everyone, and really the only way to know what's right for you is to do the exercise.
Sit on the seat of the calf raise machine, sliding your upper thighs under the knee rests and placing the top half of your feet on the foot rests with your heels hanging off the bottom. Grasp the handles above your knees.
Press forward on the the safety lever, typically located somewhere between the weight plates and the knee pads. This will cause you to feel more pressure on your upper thighs as the weight is released in preparation for the exercise.
Press upward with your heels as far as you can go.
Press downward, allowing your feet to flex and your calves to feel stretched. Do this slowly and carefully, maintaining control so that your heels do not fall so far downward that it causes excess strain on your calves. This is the good thing about starting with a low weight -- you'll be able to stay in control as you learn the exercise. With the amount of weight you've added, this first repetition should be fairly easy to do, but you should feel a bit challenged.
Repeat the process for a total of 12 to 15 repetitions. Ideally, the last few repetitions should be really difficult to complete; that's how you know you've selected the right amount of weight, according to the American Council on Exercise. If you've selected a weight that is too light, you'll sail through the exercise with little effort. If you've selected too much weight, you won't be able to get through the set at all.
Take a break for about 30 seconds, and then add or reduce the amount of weight by 5 to 10 pounds, working toward the goal of finishing a set of 12 to 15 repetitions and feeling close to fatigue at the end of the set. For most people, one -- or possibly two -- sets that bring the muscles to fatigue is enough to build muscle and reap exercise benefits. If you've added weight and the exercise still feels really easy to do, add another 10 pounds and try a third set. Don't go beyond three sets this first time; instead, wait at least 24 hours and then start the exercise again, adding 5 or 10 pounds to the weight you used on the last set. Continue adding small increments of weight until you get to that point of feeling exhausted during the last few repetitions. This process takes time, but it's worth it when you're using a weight that will challenge your muscles and help you build muscle tissue and gain strength.
- When you start to make weight training a part of your regular routine, you may find you'll have to continually adjust the amount of weight you're lifting to keep making it challenging enough. Keep a journal that records the amount of weight you lifted in one session, so you can start from there -- or move up a little in weight -- during the next session.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.