Do Big Calves Make You a Faster Cyclist?

31
Aug
2011

You’ve probably noticed a lot of cyclists out there with these wicked big calves.  They look great and give an impression of pure strength, but do they contribute to providing more power and speed on the bike?

My buddy/blog mentor, Wade over at Cycling Tips is one of these dudes with killer calves, and those are his bad boys in the picture at the top of this post.  Wade also just happens to have this great little diagram on legs and how the pedal stroke relates to each body part.

As you can see in the diagram, the calves play a role right around the 5:00 mark of the pedal stroke and is somewhat on the low end of muscle groups used in the stroke.  But I personally can’t help to think that strong calves do help make you faster….even if just slightly.  The reason I say this is because all it takes is a glance down to the calves of pretty much any pro rider and you’ll see a nice set of Gastrocnemius’ on them.  Not all of them, but I think that’s because not everyone has the potential for massive looking calves.  But I’ll guarantee that they’re still strong even if they don’t look that way.   I don’t feel that having shaved calves is what makes them appear bigger and stronger….they’ve been built up in response to the work load they take while pounding the pedals.

Just have a look at these boulders on the legs of Yaroslav Popovych….he’s just one of the cyclists with amazing calves, but his are just incredible.

So to sum up, it’s safe to say that big strong quads will make you a faster cyclist….but I also feel that strong calves will help out as well.  It may just be a small advantage, but still helpful none-the-less.  How about you?  What’s your take on calves and cycling?  Let’s hear it.

Thanks to Cycling Tips for providing the Pedal Stroke graph and the image of Wade at the top of the post.

Enjoy Your Ride

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16 Responses to “ Do Big Calves Make You a Faster Cyclist? ”

  1. Paul Olsen on March 27, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    I’ve noticed that when I’m going uphill I tend to point my toes downward, which feels like it activates the calves more…. kinda like using a stepper at a gym…. keeping your feet flatter forces the load onto the quads and glutes more.

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on March 28, 2013 at 10:49 am

      Thanks Paul, when I used to be more of a lifting weights kind of guy….I would do calf raises in three different positions. I’d do them with toes pointed in, pointed out, and parallel. However, if you’re clipped into your pedals it’s a little difficult to switch it up.

  2. Cycling training on January 9, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Maybe it does but I still believe that a good training is the best strategy to win a race.Though those strong calves might help. 

  3. Anonymous on December 31, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    I was born with a right club food which has reduced my range of motion of the right ankle. My right calf has always been smaller than the left. Now that I’m taking cycle training more serious I feel that I actually have more strength in my right let. When doing leg curls and extensions at the gym I note that the left leg fatigues quicker when working them independently. I guess it is possible that the right leg has more strength to offset the difference of structure between the two. So, in regards to calf strength, it may be that the overall leg strength is what should be considered over an isolated muscle group.

  4. Huffygirl on September 7, 2011 at 2:26 am

    When I’m riding behind my husband admiring his shapely calves, and having a hard time keeping up, I think big calves DO make a difference!

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on September 7, 2011 at 3:03 am

      Yeah, it’s hard not to believe they do when you’re riding behind someone like that.  Thanks for your comment.

  5. Kalle on September 1, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Do you use the same muscles when standing up on you bike as when you sit down? Thats just what rolled through my mind as i read this article. 

    I feel like cycling is all in my head. Seeing how the shape och my calves evolves makes me think that I am a stronger rider than yesterday and this ultimately makes me a stronger rider. So shave those legs, work on that bike-tan and build those dream-calves.   

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on September 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm

      That’s a great question, Kalle.  I would say that they shift is moved slightly when standing on the pedals as opposed to sitting down, but I don’t have any scientific data to back that up.

      You are totally right about it sometimes being a mind game and looking strong can totally make you perform stronger out there.  Thanks for leaving your comments.

  6. Allison Peacock on August 31, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    This is really interesting and I love seeing the mechanics!  It actually makes me feel better about my calves getting so wide.  I always thought that cycling would give me ropey, lean leg muscles but that’s not what is developing.  Since losing so much weight this spring the muscles are a lot more visible and yet there is still the sheer width of that part of my leg that stands out now.  I will secretly take solace from your idea that wider equals stronger and call it a good thing!  XXOO for the inspiration, my friend!

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on August 31, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      You’re welcome and thanks for bringing your excitement and enthusiasm like you always do.  Those calves of yours are the reward for putting on all those miles on the bike.  Keep up the great job….and congratulations on the continued growth of Austin Cycling Meet up.

  7. Chandler Snyder on August 31, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Big D!  The way I was always taught to look at my calves and the role their strength played in my riding was from a simply physics standpoint.  They aid in the stiffness at the fulcrum point between your leg and your foot.  Weaker calves allow your ankle to flex at the bottom of the pedal stroke in the transition from the downstroke to the upstroke.  Stronger calves can keep your feet on more of a “level” plane.  When the ankle either  drops at the bottom of the stroke, or rise at the beginning of the upstroke.  When these two instances occur there is power loss on both sides of the coin.  Instead of putting the power into the pedalstroke, it instead goes out into the “ether”.  “Size” is dependent upon the physical makeup of the rider.  Some people by nature build larger muscle mass than others.  Ive known extremely strong riders with “small” calves, who have a very low strength to weight ratio and can crush others I know with the big “monster” calves people envy so much. 

    my “2 cents”…

  8. Anonymous on August 31, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Hey Darryl, You asked me about this topic in passing last week and I really didn’t put much thought into it. I really like Wade’s diagram, it explains a few things I have been wondering about.

    I have noticed that in pretty much every study and plan I have read or developed for strength training hasn’t included a calf specific exercise for cyclists. I had always been told that it just wasn’t a muscle group that needed focus. I have however recently added one routine, calf presses, in the last year to my own plan. I did this because I had been getting some weird calf muscle fatigue/failure during particularly steep climbs towards the end of long races.

    I would have to say however that I do not believe that the added routine had much to do with the growth, cut and definition I saw this season. I believe it actually had more to do with the added on bike training hours, running and diet changes.

    I would conclude that speed is a product of several training factors and muscle groups working together. Having huge quads and skinny calves may look weird as far as symmetry goes but its the norm for new recreational and amateur competitive cyclists in my experience.

    • Darryl is Loving the Bike on August 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks Coach….I always love to hear your perspective.  When I used to train hard in the gym, I would do all I could for my calves and they would max out at a certain size.  It’s been years since I have trained my calves in the gym, but my cycling has allowed for my calves to be just as big now as they were then.   I agree with your point that training calves outside of cycling isn’t really necessary.

  9. Christopher Hess on August 31, 2011 at 11:29 am

    I don’t know if I agree completely with Wade’s “science.” I parenthesize only because it is true, but I also believe every body is different.  I actually did not follow the normal progression to road cycling.  I started as an Aggressive Inline Skater and found cycling when I tired of broken bones and cartilage damage.  I feel my calf muscles have certainly helped me, but in addition, their shape has changed dramatically in the two years I have been cycling.  I don’t think that would happen if I was using them in less than 10% of my pedal revolution.

    And regardless, shaved, deeply tanned and toned leg muscles are mostly form OVER function anyway.  Intimidation can be as effective as true speed on the course.

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