The calf is the lower back part of the leg, predominantly made up of the muscles extending from the back of the knee to the ankle. The gastrocnemius is the calf muscle that is visible from the outside of your body, while soleus is the inner muscle. The appearance of the calf has cosmetic value, but the calf muscles also work together to raise your heel, support the knees and hips, and promote proper circulation of blood in the legs.
Just as people come in different shapes and sizes, the calves and calf muscles also vary considerably. Your calf may be narrow or wide; it can be thin or bulky. The calf muscles may be longer in some individuals compared to others. The attachment between the calf muscles and the knee and ankle joints may also be higher or lower, thereby altering the shape and appearance of the calf. Several factors determine the shape of your calf including the structure of the calf muscles, genetics and the amount of fat in your legs.
Several factors including your daily routine and habitual exercises affect the shape of your calves. While ballet dancers often develop long and lean calf muscles, body builders usually have bulky legs. Improper training, focusing on the wrong muscle groups, may also lead to narrow or thin calves or your genes may be responsible for your skinny, “bird-like” legs. Anna Ahn, assistant professor of biology at Harvey Mudd College, says the length of your heels also impacts the size of your calf muscles, with shorter heels leading to larger or bulkier calves. Obese individuals may also have heavy calves as the excess fat in their body gets deposited in their legs.
Appropriate strength training techniques to help stimulate the correct muscles in your calves may help shape the calf muscles. Improving the flexibility of the ankle joints and varying your exercise moves to include all the ranges of motion may also be beneficial. Seated and standing calf raises and leg press machines can help develop heavier calves, says Kris Gethin, Editor in Chief of Bodybuilding.com. Aerobic activities such as running, walking, jumping rope and cycling, on the other hand, may make your calves thinner. A healthy diet made up of low-fat foods, fruits and vegetables can also help reduce excess fat in your calves and help tone them.
Calf Shape and Disease
Women who tend to store fat in the lower parts of the body may store the excessive fat in calves. This excess fat may lead to blood clots and increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Fat calves may also occur due to the retention of lymphatic fluid in the legs as a result of poorly developed lymphatic system. You should talk to your doctor if you see significant changes in the shape of your calves.