T Nation

Huge Calves Hinder Speed?

Guys I’m a junior this year and I’m going to be running track. This year I’m very concerned about my times as I’m chasing a scholarship right now. Now, I was naturally born with 17" Calves. They look huge. I get commented on them all the time, however, I never really thought of them as slowing me down. But I’ve been thinking, if my calves were thinner but still had the same strength and elasticity, would my speed increase? I don’t think I can do anything about them, but what’s your opinion on the weight of calves.

of course if everybody weighed 1 pound but had a strength ratio of a million to 1 they would be faster.

Don’t worry about making your calves smaller worry about maximizing their strength.

If someone else has a 14 inch calf but they are weaker then you they will end up with the same strength ratio and same speed.

i was told calf strength does not matter much, rather it is their force absorption attributes that are important

I asked CT about this once, and this is what I got:

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:
undeadlift wrote:
Hi CT. I was wondering why big calves reduce speed.

You can’t see it? Really? It’s fairly obvious from a simple mechanical standpoint…

They increase the weight of the lower leg, so it requires more strength, power and effort to break and reverse the backwards movement at the end of the pushing phase. This can have a negative effect on stride frequency.

I’ll try to be more clear… during the pushing phase (when you apply force to the ground) your leg is moving backwards with great speed and as such it accumulates a lot of momentum. BUT when running you have to bring that leg forward so that it can start a new cycle and push against the floor again. Stride power/efficiency will be determined by how much force you can apply on the ground during the pushing phase BUT this is only on third of the sprinting equation… running speed is a factor of:

  1. force application to the ground
  2. the speed at which you can bring the leg back so that you can start a new pushing phase (stride frequency)
  3. Stride length (determined by limb length and mobility)

An heavier calf muscle accumulates more backward momentum during the pushing phase; to bring the leg forward the first order of business is to stop that backward movement…the more momentum there is, the harder it is to break the movement.

Then you have to pull your leg back to the start of the pushing phase by pulling the lower leg with the hip flexors… the bigger/heavier the lower leg is, the harder it is for the hip flexors to pull the leg back to the starting position.

So ‘‘heavy’’ calves will be detrimental to stride frequency and, ultimately, speed. And we can even go a step further by saying that calves that are attached low (long calf muscle) are more detrimental than calves that are attached high (short calf muscle).

Don’t get me wrong, calves do need to be strong and (especially) powerful, just not heavy and bulky.[/quote]

I think CT is close with his answer, but he hasn’t got it exactly right. Stride frequency is largely determined by the force put into the ground during footstrike and the stiffness of the local musculotendon system. Swing times are not a limiting factor in the realm of speed development.

Having said that, while larger calves will not affect top speed, they will negatively affect running economy for precisely the reasons CT outlined. Large calves probably won’t hinder you very much all the way up through 60M or so, but beyond that the excess weight may put more strain on the anterior core musculature and the hip flexors. If the core musculature is fatigued, ground contact times will lengthen and speed will decrease.

[quote]undeadlift wrote:
An heavier thigh muscle accumulates more backward momentum during the pushing phase; to bring the leg forward the first order of business is to stop that backward movement…the more momentum there is, the harder it is to break the movement.

Then you have to pull your leg back to the start of the pushing phase by pulling the thigh with the hip flexors… the bigger/heavier the thigh is, the harder it is for the hip flexors to pull the leg back to the starting position.

So ‘‘heavy’’ thighs will be detrimental to stride frequency and, ultimately, speed.

Don’t get me wrong, thighs do need to be strong and (especially) powerful, just not heavy and bulky.[/quote]

Sorry, but everyone here would say that the quote above is absolute nonsense. So what is the difference between thighs and calves? I would imagine that, even though calves aren’t the prime movers in a sprint, they at least compensate for their weight. Am I wrong? And could hip flexors really be the weak link in a sprint?

[quote]Roger Nelsen wrote:
I think CT is close with his answer, but he hasn’t got it exactly right. Stride frequency is largely determined by the force put into the ground during footstrike and the stiffness of the local musculotendon system. Swing times are not a limiting factor in the realm of speed development.

Having said that, while larger calves will not affect top speed, they will negatively affect running economy for precisely the reasons CT outlined. Large calves probably won’t hinder you very much all the way up through 60M or so, but beyond that the excess weight may put more strain on the anterior core musculature and the hip flexors. If the core musculature is fatigued, ground contact times will lengthen and speed will decrease.[/quote]

Stride LENGTH is determined by how much force is put into the ground, frequency is determined by how fast you can pick your feet up off the ground.

There isn’t a whole lot of muscular fatigue during a 100m sprint.

[quote]Desideratus15 wrote:
Stride LENGTH is determined by how much force is put into the ground, frequency is determined by how fast you can pick your feet up off the ground.

There isn’t a whole lot of muscular fatigue during a 100m sprint.[/quote]

No, it’s really not that simple. Anyone can pick their legs up fast enough to hit 5 strides per second, but very few can do it while running a respectable time. Stride frequency is determined by how quickly one delivers force into the ground. Similarly, the more force they deliver, typically the lower the GCT.

As for your second statement, that’s true, but there is significant fatigue created, whether that be from muscular or neural means, it doesn’t matter. Large calves, which are a weight quite distal on the legs, cause more fatigue in the hip flexors than small calves, and here is where efficiency is lost.

[quote]Fabius Cunctator wrote:
undeadlift wrote:
An heavier thigh muscle accumulates more backward momentum during the pushing phase; to bring the leg forward the first order of business is to stop that backward movement…the more momentum there is, the harder it is to break the movement.

Then you have to pull your leg back to the start of the pushing phase by pulling the thigh with the hip flexors… the bigger/heavier the thigh is, the harder it is for the hip flexors to pull the leg back to the starting position.

So ‘‘heavy’’ thighs will be detrimental to stride frequency and, ultimately, speed.

Don’t get me wrong, thighs do need to be strong and (especially) powerful, just not heavy and bulky.

Sorry, but everyone here would say that the quote above is absolute nonsense. So what is the difference between thighs and calves? I would imagine that, even though calves aren’t the prime movers in a sprint, they at least compensate for their weight. Am I wrong? And could hip flexors really be the weak link in a sprint?[/quote]

The difference between the thighs and the calves is that the calves are situated at the extreme ends of the leg. Hence, they move a lot more relative to the body than the thighs. Try running with dumbells strapped to your thighs and compare it to when you’re running with the same dumbells strapped to your ankles.

[quote]Roger Nelsen wrote:
Desideratus15 wrote:
Stride LENGTH is determined by how much force is put into the ground, frequency is determined by how fast you can pick your feet up off the ground.

There isn’t a whole lot of muscular fatigue during a 100m sprint.

No, it’s really not that simple. Anyone can pick their legs up fast enough to hit 5 strides per second, but very few can do it while running a respectable time. Stride frequency is determined by how quickly one delivers force into the ground. Similarly, the more force they deliver, typically the lower the GCT.

As for your second statement, that’s true, but there is significant fatigue created, whether that be from muscular or neural means, it doesn’t matter. Large calves, which are a weight quite distal on the legs, cause more fatigue in the hip flexors than small calves, and here is where efficiency is lost.

[/quote]

Anyone can lay on their back and move their legs at 5 strides per second, doing it standing up while moving forward ala sprinting is different.

How can you say more force=lower GCT?? The largest ground reaction forces are at the beginning of the sprint, when GCT is the highest. It takes more time to bring your feet off the ground at the beginning of the sprint than in the middle of it. More time to deliver a force = greater ability to give a greater force, hence ground reaction force greatest at the beginning of a sprint which is why strength plays a bigger role in the beginning of a sprint.

I agree where the calves are located plays a big role in why having excessively big calves can be a hindrance. However, I don’t recall hearing a lot of sprinters straining they’re hip flexors nor do I recall coaches such as Charlie Francis prescribe strength training directly for the hip flexors. So while I understand your point, I just don’t believe it is very significant.

[quote]undeadlift wrote:

The difference between the thighs and the calves is that the calves are situated at the extreme ends of the leg. Hence, they move a lot more relative to the body than the thighs. Try running with dumbells strapped to your thighs and compare it to when you’re running with the same dumbells strapped to your ankles.[/quote]

Fair enough. I can see how that would work now. Thanks.