Some people want bigger calves with lots of shape and definition, while others want slimmer calves, that are more linear. Whether bigger or smaller, it’s up to every person to decide what aesthetic they prefer for their body.
However, keep perspective on how much change is possible. There are several causes of big calves, some are immutable like your genetics and body shape. Lifestyle factors can also play a role, which means there are some things you can do to help slim calves.
Losing weight will slim the body all over, including the calves. That’s because the calves are composed of body fat and muscle, and for many people body fat is the most significant factor in causing large calves. Aim for weight loss that will put you in the “healthy weight” zone, according to BMI.
But remember, you cannot target fat loss at a specific area with exercise. In fact, if you have been doing lots of calf exercises with the goal of slimming down your calves (instead of creating a calorie deficit through diet and cardiovascular exercise), you may have inadvertently increased the size of your calves.
The reason for this is that calf exercises don’t burn fat from the calves, but strengthen and build the calf muscles. The burn you feel is the muscle working, not fat burning.
What to do: Follow a balanced calorie controlled weight loss diet to create a calorie deficit and incorporate regular cardiovascular exercise, which will increase the calorie deficit further and also tone your legs.
The next part is for people who are at a “healthy weight”, but still have large calves.
Opt for long-distance cardio versus short, intense workouts. Think about the physique of short- and long-distance runners. Endurance runners usually have thin legs, as opposed to sprinters who have very well developed calves and thigh muscles.
Sprinting develops the calves, but walking and jogging tends not to, and may actually help slim down calves.
What to do: Try running slower, but for longer distances (aka jogging or endurance running) with little to no resistance. That means running on flat terrain when outdoors or keeping the resistance/ incline low on the cardio machines in the gym.
Walking is a great choice, as it is very accessible. When walking, keep your heels down and avoid walking on the ball of your foot.
Keep an Eye on the I’s:
Impact, Intensity, and Incline
Cardiovascular activities that primarily call for strength, power and speed from your legs tend to create bigger, bulkier muscle. For example, short intense running workouts (e.g. HIIT), jumping workouts, and cardio exercises that involve resistance, incline or going up hills.
Steep inclines on the treadmill and hill running will develop calves and make big calves larger. The step machine and other types of climbing exercises also particularly work the calf muscles. High-impact jumping movements, such as jumping rope, tend to build calf muscle.
Don’t skip strength training. It’s an important part of any workout routine. You can train and build strength without adding bulk.
In fact, many athletes aim to build strength without adding size, as it may hinder performance. For example, martial artists have incredibly high levels of functional strength, but tend to be slender.
What to do: Limit isolation exercises that specifically target the calf muscles, such as calf raises. These exercises often promise to burn fat from your calves, but are actually strength exercises that target the calf muscles.
The burn you feel is the calf muscle being worked and getting stronger – not fat burning. You cannot burn fat from a specific area by doing special exercises. This is called spot reduction, and doesn’t work.
You cannot do exercises that will reduce the fat around the calf muscles alone. Exercise causes weight loss from the whole body, not specifc parts.
Make sure to incorporate a full-body workout plan about twice a week.
Regular stretching will help loosen tight muscles and improve flexibility, which can help muscles appear longer and leaner.
You can try stretching classes, yoga or Pilates. Pilates is an excellent tool to shape and elongate the legs and body.
Stretch to try: A great stretching exercise for the calf muscles is the standing wall calf stretch.
- 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.
This stretching exercise should help loosen and lengthen calves.
Read more: How to slim thighs