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Does Running Make Your Calves Bigger or Smaller?

Does running make your calves bigger or smaller? The answer really depends upon the size of your calves when you start running. If they are slim, you’ll likely see an increase in size due to building up extra muscle. If they are bigger due to excess weight, they will get smaller after running. 

Running provides an intense workout for the whole body, delivering a huge range of health benefits. However, there is a misconception that it will cause the calves to grow significantly in size. For this reason, many people, especially women, may avoid it.

While running strengthens the calves, any increase in size isn’t usually noticeable. If runners do want to increase the size of their calf muscles, they typically need to do additional exercises, or push themselves hard with every session. Typically, the longer the distances you run the smaller your legs get.

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Does Running Build Calves?

Whether running will build your calves will depend upon multiple factors. The type of running you do, alongside your current body shape will play a big role in the size of your calves. If you’re bigger, running may help reduce the size of your calves. If you’re currently thin, running may help build your calves.

Different Running Styles

Did you know that long distance runners have different sized calves to sprinters? Sprinting can make your legs bigger due to gradual muscle growth. Initially, you will see the calves reduce in size as fat is burnt off. However, the intensity of sprinting builds up the muscles over time, resulting in a more muscular appearance.

Running Shoes

In a recent study published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, it was revealed that the weight of your shoes could impact calf muscle stimulation. Heavier shoes were shown to reduce the pace of runners, while lightweight shoes caused additional fatigue within the gastrocnemius muscle. This suggests lightweight shoes are generally better for sprinters.

Why Do Runners Have Small Calves?

The type of running you do will ultimately impact your overall physique. Small calves for example, are common in long distance runners. As they train really hard to increase their endurance and stamina, the muscles don’t have a chance to build up. Distance running primarily develops the Type I muscle fibers.

With long distance running, being skinnier helps to reduce the strain on the body. Sprinters on the other hand, rely on different types of muscles. Their calves are typically larger than long distance runners as they need more power to run faster over shorter distances.

Very few long-distance runners have larger calves. Even with additional training to strengthen the calf muscle, they tend to burn off more muscle than they can build up. Just like losing weight, to lose muscle you need to burn off more than you are creating. High intensity workouts can go a long way at helping you to maintain smaller calves.

Most long-distance runners partake in tough high intensity workouts which break down the muscle to use as energy. Running alone doesn’t build your calves very big, but it can help strengthen them. Cross training, or lifting weights, can help build those stubborn calve muscles.

How to Not Get Big Calves from Running

If you simply run to keep fit, rather than do it professionally, there is a chance your calves could get bigger. However, there are ways to avoid this such as running longer distances, not overdoing your leg workouts, and remembering to stretch before and after a workout.

If you focus on longer distance running, rather than sprinting short distances, you will develop smaller calves. It’s also important to remember to stretch before and after a run. This helps to loosen up the muscles, as well as increase flexibility. Stretching is also known to reduce soreness and the risk of injury.

Avoiding overdoing your leg workouts is another great tip to follow. Try to avoid exercises such as walking on an inclined treadmill and resistance training. Wearing a weight vest, for example, and walking, or running, will build up muscle. If your goal is to build muscle, make sure to get a great weight vest, if not then avoid extra resistance.

If you compare runners’ legs vs cyclists’ legs for example, you’ll see cyclists have much bigger calves due to the resistance training they complete. High Intensity Training is a firm favorite amongst runners who want to achieve smaller calves.  

Overall, if you are wondering does running make your calves bigger or smaller, the answer depends on the type of running you do. For bigger calves, focus on sprinting and leg resistance training. If you want smaller calves on the other hand, focus on long distance running.

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About the author

Jasper loves to write about fitness, running, and anything else that gets him moving outdoors. He's an avid hiker, backpacker, and climber who loves to stay fit so he can make sure he's healthy enough to enjoy his favorite hobbies. He also spends time writing about his true passions in life.