“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.

Being a fan at Fan Expo

Have you ever seen the movie Paul? Well, if you haven’t, it’s about a couple of sci-fi nerds who befriend an alien on the lam trying to escape the powers that be that control Area 51. It’s a fantastic homage to sci-fi replete with all sorts of clever references, particularly relating to Star Wars and Star Trek. In other words, this movie is very dear to my heart. The movie begins with our beloved geeks – ably, and probably aptly, portrayed by comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – at the San Diego Comic-Con, the grand-daddy of all conventions. This was my inspiration – I needed to explore my inner geek. I needed to go to a Comic Con.

Norman Reedus

Norman Reedus of the Walking Dead was certainly a big draw at FanExpo

Though there is a Toronto Comic Con, it is now outshone by a much, much bigger event – Fan Expo Canada. The interesting thing about Fan Expo Canada is that it is truly a free-for-all for the avid fan. Though there is certainly a big focus on comic and sci-fi fare, there are many attractions for the sports fan as well. So not only was there Norman Reedus, Laurie Holden, and Steven Yuen – the Walking Dead’s Daryl, Andrea, and Glenn – there was also hockey greats Joe Sakic, Gordie Howe, and Bobby Orr. Star Trek stars both old and new found themselves rubbing shoulders with Blue Jays Robbie Alomar, Paul Molitor and Tony Fernandez. FanExpo had everything for the geek and jock alike (ok if not jock, at least the sports nut). In truth, I have never been much of celebrity hunter or autograph seeker – never saw what the big fuss was about – but with all the attractions this was clearly the event for me. As such, I took a Friday off work, put on my Stormtrooper T-shirt, and made my way to FanExpo Canada.

The Convention Floor

I got to FanExpo right around 10AM when the doors were set to open. I hadn’t purchased tickets in advance and had no idea what to expect. I was fully prepared to miss out on it completely, as it sounded like there was quite the hype about the lineup of stars coming for the event. The ticket line looped through Olympic Park by the Rogers Centre and spiraled its way down the garage entrance into the Convention Centre. Though I may have covered as much as a mile in this winding line, it took a relatively pain-free hour to get to the ticket booths. The wait was made all the more bearable by the interesting people I got to talk to in line. One guy I spent most of my time chatting with was looking forward to heading to the Hulk Hogan”Uncensored” event that night – an up close and personal experience with the Hulkster.  Though it’s not what I would spend my money on, if you really are a Hulkamaniac,  I can see how it would be a big draw. As well, we were all fans there, and the nice thing about all the people there was that it didn’t matter what you were a fan of, people just enjoyed sharing with others this opportunity of expressing their fandom without judgement. In fact, the only thing you might’ve been judged on was your dedication as a fan. One young woman dressed up as Kaylee from Firefly noted to me that it didn’t matter who or what I showed up as, I just really should’ve made more of an effort than my basic Stormtrooper t-shirt. It was true, amongst the Batmans, Captain Americas, Lara Crofts, and Anime characters I’m unfamiliar with, I was decidedly underdressed.

The Emperor's Throne

The 501st stands guard

As my scheduled activities were later on in the day, my first order of business was just to wander the convention floor (or shall I say floors – Fan Expo took up pretty much the entire Convention Centre). As you might imagine, video game companies showed off the latest games, collectibles were stacked high among the endless rows of vendors, and comic book art exploded out of every corner of the place. Though fun to see, I was not in the market to buy anything (more due to a lack of space in my condo than any other reason).In the end, I found myself more interested in people costume watching and checking out some of the big props on display. One thing I absolutely loved was the omnipresence of the 501st Legion. As you can see on their website, the legion is an international club dedicated to celebrating the Star Wars universe, primarily through making authentic costumes. This focuses on stormtroopers and various other Star Wars universe soldiers, but they’ve developed costuming guidelines for just about every character in the movies (and books, I imagine). They had some cool displays (like the Emperor’s chair), an AT-ST, and various R2 droids roaming about. Any of them on their own was pretty cool; seeing a whole squadron of them march the halls was quite something. Beyond the Star Wars theme, the coolest of all cars were on display: the Batmobile (Tim Burton movies) and the original KITT from Knight Rider! After checking out the convention floor, it was on to my first appointment …

Batmobile

The Batmobile (from the Tim Burton films)

Celebrity Encounters

You may have noticed a heavy Star Wars theme to my recounting of the Fan Expo experience. I am truly a child of Star Wars. The original came out when I was a toddler, and as a child, I lived and breathed everything that was a long long time ago and in a galaxy far far away. As such, if I were to tell you that I actually spent money (and yes, it was a little more than 20$) to have a photo-op with a celebrity, you would guess correctly that it was someone from Star Wars. But who? Though there is photographic evidence below, you may not be sure who my Star Wars idol. Clearly it’s not Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill, neither is it Carrie Fisher or James Earl Jones. No, the celebrity appearance that cinched my attendance at Fan Expo was none other than Ian McDiarmid … the Emperor. Though it is Darth Vader that finds himself ranked third on the American Film Institute’s list of greatest movie villains, I always had a soft spot (or perhaps dark spot) in my heart for the Emperor. In the end, Vader shows remorse, he is redeemed. The Emperor is evil incarnate to the end, and McDiarmid’s portrayal is exquisitely diabolical. Though the photo is great, the encounter as you imagine was short lived. I believe I got to ask him how his day was, but that waspretty much it. Thankfully I got to hear more from him during the Q&A.

The Emperor

Me and the Emperor – just chillin’

Besides the Emperor, I also got to meet another personal favourite – Rudy Ruettiger. Reuttiger is of course the real life inspiration for the movie “Rudy”, which always struck a chord with me. It’s about the little guy who for one shining moment got his own football glory on the field for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. As a university student, I remember much bigger guys referring to me as Rudy on the rugby field and basketball court (none of my own doing – I swear, it was just my stature and hustle). I actually look a little like Sean Astin who portrayed Rudy in the movie; the real Rudy, not so much. Anyway, my encounter with Rudy was a little longer than that with the Emperor. Besides getting his autograph on my Rudy DVD case, I chatted with him briefly about the current state of Notre Dame football, and my own experiences playing rugby and football. Though I grant the experience was made a little awkward by the woman asking for the 40$ payment for the autograph, it was nonetheless an worthwhile experience. Also, the photo I got with him was quite a bonus – he wasn’t too busy when I came by so he was able to take the moment to have the photo taken. Though I’m generally not an autograph-hunter, the DVD and the photo will definitely be great personal keepsakes.

Rudy

Rudy Ruettiger (and me)

The Q&A Sessions

Throughout the day there are Q&A sessions with the various celebrity guests of the expo. Some of the best of course are saved for the end of the day. That is when I headed downstairs to one of the larger convention rooms where the final lineup was to comprise George Takei and Nichelle Nichols – Sulu and Uhura from the original Star Trek – and of course, Emperor McDiarmid. Not wanting to miss George Takei, who I figured might be the biggest draw, I headed down a little early. When I got down to the room a good half hour or more before Takei was to take the stage, the usher noted to me that I was welcome to go in and take in the current guest … David Hasselhoff. To my complete surprise, the Hoff was very genuine, charming, and quite entertaining. When asked about the famous Cronut Burger at the CNE, he was humbly self-deprecating noting that burgers had gotten him in trouble in the past. As well, after a little egging on, he rolled off a couple of verses of “Springtime for Hitler” from Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” (he played Roger Debris in its Las Vegas run). What was most endearing about him was that he was genuinely thankful for everything that his life in showbiz had afforded him. One of his more engaging stories was his recounting of using his celebrity to allow him to “see the people” in South Africa (an earlier retelling of the story is available here).  On a lighter note, he was also thankful to have gotten the opportunity to being a part of the Spongebob movie, and Piranha 3DD. Yes, that was the Hoff.

The Q&A Sessions

Hasselhoff, Takei, McDiarmid (note McDiarmid’s security detail)

George Takei followed Hasselhoff and was equally entertaining. As I had a question ready for George early on, one of the facilitators roving the crowd with a microphone motioned for me to join him to await my chance. George, taking charge himself, proceeded to select people in the first few rows that were within earshot. These questions led to interesting stories regarding his past convention experiences and his opportunity to take part of NASA history. Throughout, I crouched down in the aisle (so as to not block the view of the people in my vicinity), and awaited my chance. Finally, the host declared they had time for one more question. At this point, I now had mic in hand … and it was on. I took my chance and announced, “as I have a microphone, I think I’m getting the last question.” Though there were a handful of disappointed looks turned my way, it appeared that no one was going to challenge my claim to the honour of the final question. I proceeded with my question: ”George, I have to admit, when I log in to Facebook, half of my newsfeed is made up of George Takei posts that my friends have shared with the world … I was wondering, what got you started on your way to becoming the King of Facebook?” Even before George’s response, it was clear that I had asked a good question; after both my initial statement, and my question declaring George the King, there was applause and roars of approval from the crowd. After things settled, George actually had an interesting story to tell. Earlier on in the Q&A he had noted that over the last few years he’d been driving the development of a musical about the Japanese American internment during World War II – its plot is inspired by his own personal experiences. Clearly the project was a labour of love and he is determined to get it to Broadway. How would he do that? The plan was to boost his social media presence and get the word out about the show. As such, he started posting more, using the humorous memes, and the topical fare with his own commentary. As he himself explained, this let him expand his fan base beyond the trekkies to a whole host of new followers of all ages and stripes. Great story – though through this process, I must admit I hadn’t heard of his musical … but I have now! It’s called Allegiance and it opened to rave reviews in San Diego last year. Touché George, well done.

Rebel Scum!

On the lookout for Rebel Scum!

After George came Nichelle Nichols (the original Uhura). Though she did have some inspiring words, and interesting stories as she recounted her journey to becoming one of the first female African American stars on television, I have to admit, I was really now just waiting for the Emperor. It was well worth the wait. Prior to his arrival, the buzz grew as the 501st legion entered the hall. A squad of Stormtroopers and Imperial Guards set post in front of the stage to act as McDiarmid’s security detail, while a handful of troops roamed the aisles (conceivably looking out for rebel scum). Though I don’t see myself joining the 501st anytime soon, seeing the spectacle that they made at this event certainly made me understand the draw of enjoying such a hobby. With the stage set, McDiarmid came on and charmed the audience. Using the eloquence one might expect from a Shakespearean actor, McDiarmid recounted his story of getting the part as the Emperor. It turns out, they did originally cast a much older actor for the part, but McDiarmid was chosen to step in, as the older fellow would not sign on to play the Emperor due to health concerns over having to wear the yellow contact lenses required for the role. McDiarmid who was only 38 at the time, was cast based on his performance of an aging Howard Hughes in a production in London. Being so young when playing the decrepit Emperor allowed for the odd turn of events of then getting to play the younger version of the character – Senator Palpatine – in the prequel trilogy when he was in fifties and early sixties. Among other notable remarks, when McDiarmid was asked about his favourite scene from the movies, he chose the scene in the opera house in Revenge of the Sith, where he is finally able to turn Anakin to the dark side.  All in all, McDiarmid was very entertaining – even doing the Emperor’s voice upon request. A great way to end my Fan Expo experience.

So, would I go again? I think so. As I mentioned, I am rarely an autograph or celebrity seeker, but there was definitely something to exploring your fandom – your inner geek, shall we say – with other people doing the same. Only trick now – got to figure out a costume for next year!