How to Get Smaller Calves: The Definitive Guide to Slim Calves

Home / Fat Loss / How to Get Smaller Calves: The Definitive Guide to Slim Calves


Say Goodbye to Cankles

Calves are arguably the most stubborn body part to manipulate through diet and exercise. If you’re unhappy with the size or shape of your calves then I’m sure this isn’t news to you.

What may be news is that calf size and shape, more than any other body part, is the muscle group that is most dependent on genetics. In other words, no matter how much you exercise and eat right, by far the strongest factor that dictates how your calves will ultimately look is genetics.

Contrast this with your quadriceps or your pectoral muscles, which are, by comparison, relatively easy to pack muscle size onto through progressive weight training paired with a calorie surplus (or lose size in through a calorie deficit and low and slow cardio). Your calves will definitely respond more stubbornly to input compared to other body parts, much to your dismay and frustration. There’s just no way around that, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Avoid Direct Weight-Bearing Exericse

Many people try to make their calves smaller by working them directly. However, this is NOT how to get smaller calves. Doing this is often counter productive, particularly if you’re new to exercising, as any direct weight bearing exercises like calf raises are likely to put on muscle mass, not reduce it – only to make your muscles larger in appearance.

Remember, there is no such thing as spot reducing. Working a particular muscle group will NOT make you lose the fat covering it. Fat loss is the result of a daily calorie deficit and it takes place over your entire body. Only genetics will dictate where you lose more fat and where you lose less fat. That’s the gig, get used to it. It’s better to accept that now.

How to Slim Calves

how to get smaller calvesThe real trick to reducing the size of your calves is to use a holistic approach. Focus on decreasing body fat in general through your diet, you must be in a daily calorie deficit to accomplish this. If you’re not sure how much you should be eating every day to be in a calorie deficit, then you first need to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). You can do that here. Once you’ve done that, subtract around 500 calories from your TDEE value and aim to consume that many calories every day. Implemented over a period of weeks, you will see consistent and reliable results.

The effect here is twofold. By eating in a calorie deficit you will lose body fat (never a bad thing), and that will include the fat that is covering your calves. This deficit will also result in a slight loss of total body muscle mass (though this can be minimized if you desire).

The net effect of this is a reduction in the amount of weight that your legs have to carry around on a daily basis. This, in return, will cause the muscle size in your calves to shrink even more. When your muscles don’t have to work as hard as they once did to keep your keester moving, they’ll naturally reduce their size in an effort to maintain maximum efficiency – something your body is always doing.

So, there you have it. This will reduce the size of your calves through a two pronged attack that reduces both the amount of fat and muscle covering them. This really is the only reliable way to lose size in your calves. The most important thing to remember is to completely avoid any weight bearing exercises that specifically target your calves, like calf raises. This will most definitely not give you the results you are after.

Will Running Help Get Skinny Calves?

leg-image-bacak-estetiğiAnother thing I will mention that may help with your calves is something called marathon running. No, it’s not literally running a marathon, but it steals the idea from marathon runners that long, low intensity running has an overall reduction effect on the size of the body. This is definitely true in most cases, and your legs are definitely no exception to this. It does wonders for your thighs, but it can also help reduce the size of your calves.

Now, like I touched on earlier, genetics plays a much larger role here than anything else when it comes to your calves. Running may help slim them slightly, however, it could also cause your calf muscles to grow slightly, especially if you live or run in a hilly area, or do lots of sprint work (or anything that involves starting and stop or spending time on the balls of your feet).

Your mileage with these types of activities really will vary, and there is no way for me or anyone else to predict how your body will react to running. My suggestion would be to try it out for a while and to just keep on eye on your calves to see how they react. You could even use a tape measure to help with this. I will say that in the majority of cases running with be beneficial for your calves.

I’ll end this article by stressing the importance of being in a calorie deficit on a daily basis for this to work. Without this, you won’t be minimizing the size of anything. Figure out your calorie intake, master it and reap the benefits.

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  • Great post. I struggle with thick calves due to competitive soccer. It’s a pain when I fight with my pants to get them on. This post is full of science-y awesomeness. Glad I found your site.

    • Josh Vales, CPT

      Glad we could help Amanda!

    • Glad you found it too!

    • Brooke Lorraine

      I have huge calves, they are just as wide as my lower thigh and looks like 11 years of competitive soccer is to blame for my problems as well :/

  • I use a mini stepper 3 or 4 times a week..will it help to slim the calves or should I avoid it completely?
    Just calculated my TDEE and the result was about 1210 and if I subtract 500 calories..then I just have 700 calories…wouldn’t it be too little esp. when I exercise?

    • Josh Vales, CPT

      Hmm you TDEE is very low. Want to give me your numbers and I can calculate it for you? The average woman really shouldn’t be consuming less than around 1200 calories per day. And the stair stepper is fine!

    • Jo Schmo

      Yes, it’s too little. You should only reduce caloric intake by 250 since the other 250 will be burned off through exercise.