Developing your calf muscles is an important component to improving your running ability and long-term comfort. Having especially thick calf muscles is an indication that you've trained the area extensively, and should be taken as a sign of good overall fitness and ability. While having large calves can make boot shopping a pain, it will have a positive effect on your run. Understanding the calf muscle and the impact it has on running can help you develop a good exercise routine.
The calf is made up of two muscles, the gastrocnemius muscle at the back of the calf and the soleus just above the back of the ankle. The two-headed gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus work together to flex the foot, providing the powerful push-off of your running stride. The soleus muscle is relatively flat and sits beneath the achilles tendon, which is attached directly to the gastrocnemius muscle. The gastrocnemius muscle can grow very large with prolonged use, and often appears with a cleave in the center in individuals with large calf muscles, since the muscle has two distinct heads.
Source of Thick Calf Muscles
An exaggerated gastrocnemius muscle is an indication that you've used the muscle extensively. As you exercise a muscle, tiny tears occur among the myofibrils of the muscle, which quickly heal after your workout ends. This healing process creates more muscle mass, effectively growing the size and power of the muscle. An especially large calf muscle has been built up over a long period of time, and is an indication that you're pushing yourself especially hard during your runs.
Effect on Running
Large calf muscles shouldn't negatively impact running. With the increase in size, the muscle can provide more power to the foot during propulsion in your running stride. This positive correlation also extends to efficiency; a stronger muscle uses less oxygen to produce energy, letting you run farther and longer without feeling fatigued. This also increases your maximum speed, since you can propel yourself faster with a stronger muscle. Over a long period of frequent exercise, both the calves and the shin bones strengthen against the impact from running.
Reducing Calf Size
Reducing calf size is often unnecessary, but it is possible. The most important part of taking care of the calf muscle is the frequent use of a stretching routine before and after exercise. Stretching the calf will reduce the bulk of the muscle and increase the range of motion, contributing greatly to your run. High-impact exercise like running and high-intensity resistance training increase your calf muscle the most, and can be avoided if you want to reduce the bulk of the muscle. This can make shopping for skinny jeans a bit easier, too.
Max Roman Dilthey is a science, health and culture writer currently pursuing a master's of sustainability science. Based in Massachusetts, he blogs about cycling at MaxTheCyclist.com.