Big Calves: How to Prevent Them and Slim Them Down

Big calves: The struggle is real. If you're exercising like a fiend, taking your vitamins and eating more spinach than Popeye, and yet you still can't get rid of your bulky calves, you're not alone. Many people have big calves, even if the rest of our bodies may be slim and trim.

Help prevent thick calves by staying active, avoiding high-impact exercises, stretching regularly and eating a well-balanced, low-sodium diet. (Image: Image Source/Image Source/GettyImages)

There are plenty of preventive measures and solutions for targeting thick calves, whether it's through changing your diet, your lifestyle or your workouts. First, it's important to understand what causes large calves in the first place to be able to effectively slim them down.

What Causes Big Calves?

Bigger-than-average calf muscles could be the result of genetics, indulging in too many salty foods, carrying excess body fat or doing the wrong kinds of exercises for your body type. Are your calves looking puffier than normal?

According to an interview with Women's Health, Adrienne Youdim, M.D., and author of The Clinician's Guide to the Treatment of Obesity, states that excess sodium intake, smoking and sitting too much are some of the main culprits for temporary swelling in your calves.

Interestingly, though, it's also worth noting that bigger calves can equal greater health: According to a study of 6,265 people that was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the bigger people's calves were, the fewer fatty deposits or plaques they had in their arteries, regardless of age, sex or body mass index. This means that, of the people in the study, those with bigger calves were less at risk for strokes and carotid artery disease. In other words, bigger doesn't always equal unhealthy.

How to Prevent Big Calves

If you want to avoid bulking up your calves, however, there are several measures you can take. First, it's crucial to avoid certain exercises that are designed to build calf muscles: This includes doing too many calf raises, jumping rope and box jumping (we're looking at you, Crossfit!).

Like most Americans, do you spend eight hours or more sitting at a desk every day? If so, it's crucial to get up, walk around and stretch regularly to prevent fluid buildup (which can cause big calves) in your legs. Take it one step further by doing calf-specific stretches. The Mayo Clinic advises you to:

  • Hold onto a chair while keeping one leg back with your knee straight and your heel flat on the floor.
  • Slowly bend your elbows and front knee while moving your hips forward. You should feel a deep stretch in your calf.
  • Try to hold this position for at least 30 seconds, switch legs, and repeat.

Maintaining a healthy body weight is also one of the most important ways to prevent thick calves. You've probably heard it all before, but the truth is that nothing beats a well-balanced diet, really good sleep and regular physical activity (30 minutes of cardio a day, five to seven days per week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) when it comes to reducing excess fat, staying trim and healthy, and keeping your calves slender.

Solutions for Slimming Down Calves

If you do have bulky calves, rest assured that it's possible to slim them down. To attain the toned-yet-slender calves you've been dreaming of, try doing lightweight resistance training exercises and running at least 2 miles at least three times per week (some great cardio workout alternatives to running include cycling and swimming).

This will help you burn calories and lose excess body fat, resulting in slimmer calf muscles. Reducing your calorie intake while upping your physical activity is always key if you want to trim any part of your body.

If it's swelling you're concerned about, wearing knee-high compression stockings can help ease the discomfort that can come from fluid buildup or temporary puffiness in the legs. Eating fewer processed foods and cutting down on your salt intake are two additional ways to reduce swelling in your calves.

Do note, however, that sometimes it may be necessary to seek medical care when you experience leg swelling. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you're also experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting or coughing up blood (along with leg swelling), it's definitely best to schedule a doctor's visit immediately.

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