The soleus and the gastrocnemius are the two muscles that make up the calf. Without these versatile muscles you would not be able to drive a car, walk or lift your toes. Yet calves can be a source of body image distress: too small, too big or even too muscular. Genetics play a part in the appearance of your calves; however, an overall approach to fitness can help if you want to tone down your calf muscles.
Assess your BMI, or body mass index. This calculation uses height and weight to estimate your body fat. A layer of fat covers all muscles. If your BMI is creeping toward the high end of normal you may need to lose some body fat to decrease your calf size. A free BMI calculator is available on the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website.
Stop using weights and doing exercises such as leg presses or curls that engage the calf muscles. Do simple resistance exercises, such as lunges, that will maintain your lean muscle mass without further bulking up your legs.
Start or ramp up your aerobic activity. Because they are non-weight-bearing exercises, swimming, cycling and spinning are good cardiovascular exercises that speed up your heart rate and burn calories without adding muscle mass to your legs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages 150 minutes of aerobic activity weekly, which you can divide into sessions to fit your schedule.
Take a Pilates or yoga class. These exercises pair breathing with controlled muscle exercise for a holistic mind-body workout. Pilates is known for its potential to lengthen muscles, which may help give you those lean, sleek calves you desire.
Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you are moderately overweight or have health-related problems.