Does Cycling Give You Big Calves

Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes but does bicycling build big calf muscles?
Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes but does bicycling build big calf muscles? | Source

Your Calves Have Limited Involvement In The Cycling Pedal Stroke

If you consider the cycling pedal stroke on a clock-face you might be quite shocked to learn that the main point of activation of your calf muscles (Gastrocnemius and Soleus muscles) is just between 5 and 6 on the clock-face.

The use of the calf muscles in the pedalling action

The Gastrocnemius is responsible for plantarflexion (pointing of the toes) during climbing and the pull up phase of pedal stroke.

The Soleus plays a role flexion at the knee joint

The most explosive, powerful phases of the pedal stroke are performed by the quadraceps, hamstrings and glutes which are much bigger muscle groups and contribute significantly more to power generation.

Cycling Targets Your Slow Twitch Muscle Fibres

You know your muscles are made up of muscle fibres but did you know that not all of those muscle fibres have the same characteristics? It's generally accepted that muscle fibres can be broken down into two main types.

  • Slow twitch (Type I) and
  • Fast twitch (Type II)

Your Type I, Slow twitch muscle fibres are the most efficient at using oxygen for during endurance exercise. In comparison to fast twitch muscle fibres they generate more fuel for your working muscles In the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) to enhance their endurance characteristics for long term muscle contractions. Slow twitch muscle fibres do not generate as much force during a contraction as a fast twitch muscle fibre but their endurance and oxygen using capacities allow great potential for athletes to cycle long distances.

Type I muscle fibres also have a limited potential to putting on muscle bulk and therefore it is often perceived that cycling will not physiologically lead to big calves.

Does Biking Give You Big Calf Muscles?

The Gastrocnemius and Soleus muscles in the calves are recruited during cycling
The Gastrocnemius and Soleus muscles in the calves are recruited during cycling | Source

Calf Size Is All About Genetics Too

The nature versus nature debate strongly influences fitness training and sports potential. It is widely regarded that in many cases your genetics greatly influence your somatotype (How the body shows itself) and your natural level of musculature.

For many people their calf size and predisposition to gain muscle size so those big burly cyclists you see motoring on the front of the bunch heading towards a sprint finish in the Tour de France are certainly going to have great genetic potential as well as the mile upon mile of training for the event.

Some cyclists are simply not designed to put on significant amounts of muscle and many would argue that you don't need the biggest muscles to be successful in the sport as there are so many variables involved. Big, heavy muscles can become a hindrance while climbing high mountain passes or simply getting over your local big hill.

© 2013 Liam Hallam

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Comments 2 comments

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CyclingFitness 3 years ago from Nottingham UK Author

Thanks for the comment dwelburn. The points of the pedal stroke where the calf muscles are most active is actually one of the points where many individuals technique becomes poor as they often have a sledgehammer/ piston type pedalling action. The activation of the calves within the technique helps a cyclist to pedal more in a circular action which is deemed more efficient but as a whole the calves play a limited part in power development..


dwelburn profile image

dwelburn 3 years ago from Chesterfield, UK

Yes genetics play a big role in how much muscle you can put on, and this is probably more so for the calves than any other body part. You can still improve them a lot if you want to though, but it takes a lot of volume and frequency of training to do it. And as you say, if you are just concerned about improving your cycling efficiency I guess it won't make much difference (not that I know a lot about cycling :))

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