“Dude – you have HUGE CALVES!”

Summer season is finally here and as all of you prepare for weekends camping, days at the beach, and picnics in the park, I prepare for another aspect of the season that is strangely particular to me. You see, summer of course brings shorts weather, and with my legs fully exposed, I will have to ready myself for the inescapable commentary that I am sure to be subjected to: “Dude, you have huge calves!”

The massive calves in full effect

The massive calves in full effect

It may seem rather odd to the majority of you out there, but I kid you not, this happens to me constantly. Often, it comes from an envious bodybuilder or fitness-nut who simply can’t add any girth to their apparently sub-standard calves. Other times, it just randomly comes up as topic of conversation at parties or at the patio bar when my overgrown appendages are spotted. Though I’ve lived with this “condition” pretty much my whole life, I’ve never taken the time to gain a full understanding of this odd fascination … until now! Beyond being blessed with superhuman lower leg strength, I also got me some smarts, particularly in terms of investigative research and number crunching skills. As such, dear reader, I have all the answers to those questions that have surely haunted you for years: What is the rationale behind this strange obsession with the well-defined calf muscle? Are Peter’s calves really that big? How on earth did he get such big calves? Don’t let these questions continue to torment you … read on and let me teach you all you ever needed to know about the elusive gastrocnemius muscle.

Obsessed with calves?

When a guy walks into a room with massive arms or overgrown shoulders, he will certainly be noticed. However, it’s rather unlikely that anyone will bother to say anything about it, or ask him just how he got such big muscles. It would probably be assumed that he works out at the gym a lot, or that his work involves a significant amount of physical labour. Calves however are a different story altogether. For some reason, having big calves requires explanation. Why is that? Though I did have an inkling as to why this may be, the root of this fascination is best stated in the article A Killer Guide to Building Massive Calves published in the online bodybuilding magazine, Simply Shredded:

The most stubborn and hard to develop body part for most bodybuilders is definitely a pair of diamond shaped calves. Even at the professional level, a great pair of calves is seldom seen on stage.

But why is it so difficult? If you put the effort and training in, can you not get ripped biceps, wicked traps, or killer delts? What makes massive calves so elusive – just why are they so stubborn? The best answer I could find comes from yet another fantastically-named body-building website – angrytrainerfitness.com. The angry trainer himself, Alfonso Moretti, explains that because we use our calves so much every day of our lives, and primarily for walking, the muscle development is fixated on lean slow-twitch muscles made for endurance rather than on explosive fast-twitch muscles that have a much higher propensity for growth. He further notes that some have speculated that the fascia – the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles – around the calf is particularly tight, and this may in fact limit muscle growth. So, no matter how hard you work at it, as long as you’re walking around the rest of the day, getting real big calves may be a tough assignment.

Frontal and side view to get a proportional perspective.

Frontal and side view for a proportional perspective.

Just how big are my calves really?

All right, perhaps we’ve explained why people have a particular fascination with calf muscles, but why do people seem to be particularly infatuated with my calves? Are they really that big? Perhaps the photographic evidence above is explanation enough, but I’m a numbers guy, I need some definitive metrics to explain this fully. Well, I found the metrics, I crunched the numbers, and I have made the scientific determination … I indeed have humongous calves! Without further ado, to Exhibit A…

The website bodybuilding.com provides a calculator for target body measurements for the serious bodybuilder. Based on your wrist measurement – apparently, a surprisingly accurate estimator of overall body size – it provides the proportioned measurements that should lead you to the “Grecian Ideal”. The table below pretty much says it all …

My Measurement

The “Grecian Ideal”

% difference

Neck

16″

17″

-5.9%

Chest

42″

46″

-8.7%

Bicep

15″

17″

-11.8%

Forearm

12″

13″

-7.7%

Waist

32″

32″

0%

Hip

39″

39″

0%

Thigh

23″

24″

-4.2%

Calf

18″

16″

+12.5%

As you can see, though I am a fairly big guy for my stature, for most measurements, I don’t quite measure up to the body-builder’s ideal. Essentially, big, but not quite big enough. That is of course, for every measure except my calves. As far as calves go, I’m kind of off-the-charts, surpassing the ideal by a whopping 12.5%. That may not sound like a lot, but think about it this way: I’m actually significantly bigger than what a body-builder aims for. To provide another perspective, another killer website, illpumpyouup.com, provides a chart of ideal measurements based on height. For my height category (~5’6”-5’7”), they suggest an ideal calf measure of 14.8”, and a championship level measure of 15.4”. Not only do I easily surpass this objective, I would even challenge the biggest guys for the biggest calves: championship level calves for the 6’4” bodybuilder is 17.8”. Now, I understand all that body-builder envy. There’s no doubt – I have huge calves!

How did you get those massive calves?

But how on earth did I get such freakishly big calves. Sure, I did a little weightlifting when I was in university – but I never kept it up. I used to play rugby, and now play mainly beach volleyball and basketball (which of course require a lot of jumping up and down), but this certainly can’t be the biggest contributing factor. Some of my friends attribute it to all the cycling I do, but that simply doesn’t jive with our previous discussion about the development of the thinner slow-twitch endurance muscles. As such, it is not surprising that the consensus of the lamenting body-builders out there is one simple thing: genetics. Again, I turn to our friend, the angry trainer, for explanation:

All of your muscles shapes, sizes and lengths are due to your genetics. The issue with calves and why they’re so noticeable is that they’re kind of hanging out all by themselves for everyone to see. If you have lackluster biceps, triceps or even shoulders, there are other muscle groups around to help contribute to the overall look. But the exact opposite is true in the case of calves – the bigger your quads and hamstrings, the smaller your calves appear.

So, though you can put the work in to build your calves, due to the fast/slow-twitch issue, you’re going to have a hard time putting on mass through training. As such, the muscle size will largely be based on your genes. This explanation certainly fits my profile. Though I may have the biggest of the bunch, both my dad and brother have big calves. As well, when this topic came under discussion, my mom also mentioned that her prowess in ballet stemmed from her powerful calves. So, apologies to all you iron-pumping body-building super-calves wannabes, but you’re just going to have to sit back and wait for a propitious DNA mutation to amp those legs.

Final thoughts

There you have it, all you ever wanted to know about that mysterious calf muscle. Knowing that this blog will not reach all the masses out there, I imagine I will have to suffer through another season of “holy crap, they’re huge” commentary. But of course, it is not bad a thing really – it actually serves as an odd ice-breaker at parties (I don’t mention it myself of course, someone’s just bound to say something). At least now I have an easy response to the “dude, you have huge calves” comment … “I know – they’re so big they have their own blog!”

ADDENDUM: Though genetics are the key factor, a number of sites do provide some guidance on building the bad-ass calf. However, though most of what you’ll find out there is devoted to helping you build big calves, I suppose it’s not surprising that some women are actually in search of the slender calf. What’s disturbing however is that in Korea, there is actually such a thing called ‘calf reduction surgery’ and as you might imagine, it actually involves the removal of sections of muscle. ICK!

Also, as a final aside, how awesome are body building website names?! Beyond standards like bodybuilder.com and musclemag.com, I found kick-ass sites like simplyshredded.com, angrytrainerfitness.com, illpumpyouup.com, shreddedempire.com and spotmebro.com. Outstanding! Perhaps their branding is a little off-the-wall, but most of the sites actually seemed to be well put together, and contained good information.

5 thoughts on ““Dude – you have HUGE CALVES!”

  1. I had been waiting for a long time to get the truth about those big calves. I know I thought it and said it: “holy crap, those are huge calves”

    It’s nice to know the facts behind it and glad there was no juice involved ;-)

    Keep them growing!

  2. I know I must have commented on your calves – intrigued and read your blog. Enjoyed it! If ever hitch-hiking you can flash your calves for a ride.

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