Is Calf Muscle Size Genetic? Muscle Conditioning | How to Grow Your Calves- Thomas DeLauer
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all right I don’t have the biggest cabs in the world I never have I’ve never been proud of them but I also own it so I figured why not totally own it and do a video that addresses whether chicken legs or smaller calves are a genetic thing or just kind of a situation whether you’re training them properly or not hey if you haven’t already make sure you subscribe to this channel it’s the internet’s number-one performance and nutrition channel with new videos coming out every single Tuesday Friday and Sunday at 7 a.m. Pacific time also head on over to Haile calm to check out the apparel that I’m always wearing in these videos all right so when it comes down to looking at the calves we have to know exactly what makes them up so let me just give you a quick CAF 101 first off we have the soleus muscle the soleus muscle is the part that’s underneath the more visible part of our calf ok the soleus is an endurance muscle it’s the job of the soleus to allow us to walk around allow us to run allow us to do these things that we are really doing every single day almost all day ok then the gastrocnemius is the portion that you usually see that’s the part that kind of has that diamond shape to it it’s the part that everyone thinks is the bulk of the calf ok that’s the part that most people try to focus on when they’re growing their calves or trying to grow their calves so now that we know the general breakdown of the calves let’s talk about muscle fiber type because this is where we can start having the discussion about genetics and all of that a lot of people will say that the calves are purely genetic well they are to some degree but there are a lot of different factors that can exacerbate or change the affect of that in general so let’s break it down the first one is slow and fast twitch muscle fibers you see slow twitch fibers are the endurance muscle fibers they’re the ones that allow us to have sort of that repeated use like walking like running so the soleus is more so slow twitch where the gastrocnemius is slightly better when it comes down to having a little bit more fast twitch which means it’s able to grow a little bit better in fact there’s a study that’s published in the European Journal of physiology that did some cross sectional analysis on the soleus and on the gastrocnemius and they found that on average the soleus was about 80% slow twitch which again makes sense the soleus is used for walking and for just general activity so it makes sense that it’s designed to constantly be used they found that the gastric Gnaeus was a little bit different the gastrocnemius is about 34% fast which roughly 55 to 57 percent slow-twitch so still heavily erring on the side of slow twitch but did have some more fast twitch which means you have more of a chance of being able to grow that visible gastrocnemius portion then the soleus portion to give you a matter of context when you’re doing the seated calf raises where you’re sitting down and kind of just lifting your calves like that you’re activating purely the soleus you’re barely hitting the gastrocnemius at all we were doing standing calf raises you’re hitting the gastrocnemius and the soleus so case in point really short if you want to grow your calves just don’t even bother with the seated calf raise but that’s not the purpose of this video okay the fact is is that these are not genetic issues okay sure we can be born with slow twitch and fast twitch and that plays a role but it’s more so environmental okay it’s the fact that we’re constantly walking around these muscles are just adapting to that style they’re adapting to being slow twitch so we have to change how we actually trigger them which ends up kind of coming in to biomechanics you see a lot of people walk around they don’t just activate their calves the same way other people activate their calves so I’ll give you a simple example like when I’m walking I grew up as a long-distance runner so when I was younger before I gained a bunch of weight I ran a lot and that means that my soleus really developed into a heavy type 1 muscle fiber so I wasn’t really activating my gastrocnemius much anyway because I was so slowly as dominant so it makes sense that’s a little bit harder for me to build the calves up yeah sure I could give him the extra focus that they deserve ok I’m definitely gonna eat my humble pie there but the reality is that how you condition your calves plays a big role in how they grow so then we have to look at what’s called the muscle belly and tendon relationship ok so a muscle belly is actually the size of the muscle itself so how all the cells all the sarcoplasm everything envelops just into those giant muscle right so a longer muscle belly is literally like it sounds if you look at your calf it’s a muscle belly that’s going to extend closer to the ankle a shorter muscle belly is one that extends further from the ankle and it’s kind of condensed up behind the knee so you’ve all seen those people before people that have like those perfectly defined calves that are very isolated up almost behind the knee that’s an example of having a longer tendon and a smaller muscle belly although those calves look nicer they are little bit harder to grow see believe it or not it’s actually easier to grow a calf that has a longer muscle belly and a shorter tendon this simply has to do with the fact the shorter tendon is already at its limit it’s already very tight which means that you’re able to get a tighter contraction on the calf and therefore grow it a little bit more so what’s interesting is that those that have the shorter calves that are closer up to the knee usually are a little bit better when it comes down to bouncing performance okay so things like jumping rope possibly sprinting box jumps things like that simply because they’re getting more recoil rubber band effect out of a tendon so it doesn’t always mean that you’re able to grow your calf better it just means that you’re able to get more pounding performance so we have to look at with ourselves is what kind of calves we truly have and we have to train them accordingly if you have a shorter muscle belly and a longer tendon you need to be training with more plyometrics in order to actually condition that further that way you’re gonna stretch the tendon that’s a little bit looser and you’re gonna be able to activate that hypertrophy range through bounding movements so box jumps sprinting so sometimes when you find the people that have just the perfect calves that are like smaller up behind the knee and they’re big it’s usually because they’re the perfect storm of having that muscle belly type but they’ve already trained in a fashion that works for them so sometimes you see football players running backs things like that that are always pushing off their calves and they just so happen to have high insertion where that means that they’re gonna end up just having the perfect storm to build a big calf that’s also normally harder to build does that make sense so once you know what your calf looks like it gives you a little bit more insight if you have a little bit more of a standard calf with a shorter tendon you’re gonna benefit from just doing good old-fashioned standing leg raises so just ones where you’re standing up and you’re just going on your toes and you’re flexing that way basically pointing your toe in essence which is what the calf is supposed to help you do okay now the perfect range to be training the gastrocnemius is also going to depend on your muscle fiber type so the recommendation there is you’re gonna want to mix up your training you’re gonna want to go a little bit heavy we’re also going to want to focus on the mid-range too so try to train yourself and make the six to eight repetition range with drop sets down to the twelve to fifteen repetitions range that way you can make sure you’re activating that hypertrophy range – okay this leads me into the next component that’s very very important though and this is the hormonal side of things you see we have less androgen receptors in lims period okay in our legs in an arch so when you’re talking about the legs for instance the lower leg down in the calf has a very small amount of androgen receptors an androgen receptor is something that allows you to process the male hormones so in essence testosterone all those other androgens things that allow you to actually grow a muscle and have male pattern characteristics okay so if we have less antigen receptors it means that we’re less likely to grow a muscle there now where this becomes a problem is if you have low testosterone already because low testosterone is going to exacerbate the negative effects of that you see if we already have a low amount of androgen receptors in our lower leg and then we compound that with low testosterone that’s very very very little testosterone or very little a nursing that’s actually getting to that area so a lot of times what you’ll find is like people that are starting to get older and they have lower levels of testosterone their calves end up being the first part of their body they start to notice atrophy in and this is simply because you’re having less energy and activity down there so you might notice that you have a hard time building your calves if your testosterone levels are lower more so than you’d have ability to build your chest the fact is we have more androgen receptors in our upper torso than we do in our legs so if you can understand this it can give you a little bit of peace of mind as to why your calves might look the way that they look but the simple math is if your calf inserts high then you’re gonna want to go ahead and do more plyometrics if it ends low you’re just going to want to Train it in a more just consistent fashion with hypertrophy range reps that’s all there is to it but the simple fact of the matter is if you have more slow twitch and you have fast twitch you’re just gonna have a harder time building them and that’s just all there is to it but it doesn’t mean that you should give up and totally walk around the chicken legs you can still build them up to a halfway decent size so as always make sure you’re keeping it locked in here in my channel if you have ideas for future videos or more exercise science type videos put them down in the comment section below see you in the next video
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Is Calf Muscle Size Genetic? Thomas DeLauer dives into all things calf muscle size.
Muscle Fiber Types:
Slow twitch muscle fibers have roughly half the growth potential of fast twitch fibers, and a study published in The European Journal of Physiology compared the composition of fiber types in the soleus and gastrocnemius, as well as with other leg muscles. It was found that the soleus muscle contained predominantly slow twitch (Type I) fibers with the mean for all subjects being 80% (range 64 to 100%)
In contrast, the gastrocnemius and vastus lateralis (side of the thigh) muscles only contained 57% slow twitch fibers (range 34–82%) – so the gastroc, which is the big portion of the calf, contained only 34% slow twitch fibers in some people (1)
There’s another reason that the calves, especially the soleus, are relatively unresponsive to weight training: the calves keep your body upright when you’re standing or walking… More specifically, the soleus -the flat muscle that canvases the entire backside of your leg – is made up primarily of slow-twitch fibers, which means that it is built for endurance, not for the explosive, powerful movements that are propelled by fast-twitch fibers. In day-to-day life, whether you’re walking to work, standing in line, going up the stairs, etc. you’re engaging your calves in a constant, low-intensity workout – as a result, those muscles need to be able to take a beating, and being bigger doesn’t help. As such, slow-twitch fibers just don’t get as big – their myocytes (the cells that make up your muscles) don’t get as much hypertrophy as fast-twitch fibers when you stress them. In any case, the soleus is predominantly a slow twitch muscle as it is more involved in overall stability of the ankle – so the difference in fiber type between the gastroc and soleus has implications for training (more later). Aside from their fiber type composition, there’s nothing inherent that prevents the calves from growing. However, both training status and muscle architecture should be taken into account in your training program. The calves require a high volume and a high frequency of high reps, especially the soleus – the gastrocnemius requires more moderate training parameters
Calf Insertion Points:
Most sprinters and runners in general have high calves and long Achilles tendons since the tendons act like rubber bands – they absorb the force and return it, just like a rubber band, and the longer the rubber band (the tendon), the more force it can produce. So, those that have naturally “high-riding calves,” where the gastrocnemius – the muscle that forms the bump at the top of the back of your lower leg, and that is made up of fast-twitch fibers – is super tight, and these people are just naturally better at activities like sprinting. Simply, it’s easier to jump high and run fast when you have high cut calves with short muscle bellies and long achilles tendons.
Short muscle bellies:
A short muscle belly means that the muscle attaches high on the tendon, meaning the tendons are somewhat long and the muscle is somewhat short.
Long muscle bellies:
This is considered a genetic advantage in bodybuilding because it allows you to grow more mass and have fuller muscles.
Training the Calves:
Doing calf work with the knee bent (i.e. seated calf raise) tends to work the soleus preferentially, since the gastroc crosses the knee, if the knee is bent, the gastroc can’t contribute as significantly to force output.
To sum up:
The gastroc is primarily a fast-twitch muscle. The soleus is primarily a slow-twitch muscle. If you do calf work with straight legs, you work both the gastroc and soleus. If you do calf work with bent legs, you work only the soleus. When you bounce, the achilles tendon does much, if not most of the work and the calf does little. It’s believed that upper body muscles have more androgen receptors than lower body – thus, it is possible that this hormonal difference permits greater development of upper limb muscles than lower limb.
1) Human soleus muscle: A comparison of fiber composition and enzyme activities with other leg muscles. (n.d.). Retrieved from
2) Are Short Achilles Tendons a Curse? (n.d.). Retrieved from
4) Comparison of upper body strength gains between men and women after 10 weeks of resistance training. (n.d.). Retrieved from
5) Kadi F , et al. (n.d.). The expression of androgen receptors in human neck and limb muscles: effects of training and self-administration of androgenic-anabolic steroids. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from 6