What Causes Calves to be Big or Slender?

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Our calves are just like the rest of our body. They come in different sizes and shapes, some people have big calves, some skinny calves, and others shapely calves.

Large calves are strong calves, and they’ll get you where you’re going faster! There are several factors that affect the size of your calves, which can include the following:

1. Genetic

If it is genetic (looking at your parents or siblings may help). You can change some variables of your anatomy, but not others.

For example, if you have a short Achilles tendon (the tendon that attaches the back of the heel to the calf muscle), your calf muscle will look bigger. This is because your calf muscle has to extend lower down your leg to meet the short tendon.

However, if you have a long tendon, this tendon reaches further up the leg, allowing the calf muscle to sit high up, making it look smaller and more defined. It is impossible to change the length your tendons.

2. Body Shape

Another reason is that there may simply be more or less muscle and body fat in this area, making them look bigger or smaller. For example, pear shapes tend to have a larger lower body and petite upper body, which can make it feel like calves are bigger. On the flip side, someone with an apple body shape tends to have a larger upper body and a smaller lower body, so that calves are smaller.

3. Exercise

  • Activities that primarily call for strength, power and speed from your legs muscles tend to create bigger calves. This can include workouts that require a lot of strength and exercises that involve high resistance, incline or going up hills. For example, steep inclines on the treadmill and hill running will develop calves and make calves bigger.
  • High-impact jumping movements, such as rope jumping, tend to build calf muscle.
  • The step machine and stair climbing exercises target the calf muscles.
  • Strength training with heavier weights with few repetitions increases muscle size.

A note on spot reduction exercises. Leg exercises that promise to burn fat from calves, are likely to be strength exercises that target the calf muscles. The burn you feel when you’re working your calves is the calf muscle being worked and getting stronger, not fat burning. You cannot burn fat from a specific area by doing special exercises. Exercise causes weight loss from the whole body, not specifc parts. Remember there is no such thing as spot reduction. You cannot do exercises that will reduce the fat the leg alone.

Something that may make muscles appear longer and leaner is stretching, yoga, or Pilates. For example a stretching exercise for the calf muscles is a wall calf stretch.
How to: Stand with your front foot approximately one foot from a wall and your back foot about three feet from a wall. Your back leg should be straight, the front leg bent and your hands resting against the wall, while you lean forward. Your feet should be pointing straight ahead and your heels on the ground. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds, switch legs and repeat. You should feel the stretch in the back of your leg.

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