If you can’t slim down your legs and need to know how to lose calf fat then this is for you. You’re not alone as there are a lot of men and women out there who have always struggled with fat thighs and calves. Shrinking stubborn fat from your calves can seem near impossible but there’s hope once you start doing what really works.
Losing weight doesn’t always mean you’re also going to get thinner calves. Crazy enough it can seem like you’re losing fat everywhere else on your body but none from your calves. And the worst part is you could even be making them bigger by doing the wrong kinds of cardio.
Having large calves can feel very unattractive for many men and especially women. You can feel pretty self-conscious about your lower legs to the point it’ll make you miserable. Finding the root cause of the bulk that’s in your calf area will be key to slimming them down.
It isn’t going to be rocket science to lose calf fat. You first have to stop doing what’s causing your calves to bulk-up. Only then you’ll start to notice some progress with getting them smaller. And when you add in other proven methods to lose calf fat and other stubborn fat the results will start pouring in.
What Causes Big Calves?
We all have stubborn parts on our body that don’t seem to go away no matter how much weight you lose. For many women it’s hip dips, thighs, arms and in your case your calves. It can seem like this is the first place fat gets stored on your body and the last place it wants to leave.
The biggest cause of having these stubborn body parts is from having too much excess weight and fat on your body (1). I know this might seem obvious but it’s going to be key to getting your calves smaller. Having bigger calves usually means your body fat is still too high and you need to lose some weight.
But even if you do lose weight this doesn’t guarantee you’re also going to lose fat from your calves. That’s because if you just lose weight without lowering your body fat you’ll stubbornly hang onto your calf fat. This is why getting rid of troublesome fat areas on the body can be so difficult and frustrating.
Losing weight isn’t going to be enough to get the results you want. You’re also going to have to lower your body fat as well. To get a picture of your current body fat try having it measured by a personal trainer or pick up a smart scale. Also start measuring your girth measurements to track the inches gained and lost. Sometimes you may not be losing much weight but in actuality you’re lowering your body fat and dropping inches (2).
Fat Calves & Genetics
The hand you were dealt in the genetics lottery is also going to play a big role in the size of your calves. Women tend to have a similar if not more muscular lower body than men (3). This is why many untrained women have similar strength to men in their lower body. The good news is it’s much healthier to have more fat in your thighs and calves than your belly (4). But if you do have a pear-shaped body then you can thank your parents for passing you on the genes for having bigger calves (5).
Ok so just because your genetics might suck doesn’t mean you’re stuck with having bigger calves forever. Many people who have “bad” genetics for weight gain and fat distribution can still reverse it by doing the right stuff.
But this does mean that you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle with slimming them down. Someone who doesn’t have the genetics for bigger calves will have a much easier time getting rid of their calf fat than you will. Now I can’t promise they’ll be as thin as a rail when it’s all said and done but you can get some significant results you’re happy with.
Are Your Calves Fat or Muscular…
One of the first things you have to figure out is if you’re holding onto more fat or muscle in your calves. Many women who are runners think this is going to help slim down their calves but it could easily be what’s causing them to bulk up (6). So if you’re running up hills every day then it might be a good idea to step back from that.
Depending on your genetics you could easily pack muscle onto your calves (7). For some people they have the opposite problem. It can be much more difficult for others to add muscle to their calves but for some it seems to go on effortlessly whether they like it or not.
The easiest way to tell if you have more muscle or fat on your calves is to pinch the skin. If you pinch the back of your calf muscle and there isn’t much to grab onto then your calves are mostly muscle. But if you pinch the back of them and there’s a lot of squishy fat to grab onto then they’re more fatty.
Knowing if you have more muscle or fat on your calves is going to play a vital role in your plan for slimming them down. If you have a lot of muscle in your calves then I’d consider cutting back on running and doing any heavy weightlifting on your lower body. Stick with body weight exercises and definitely don’t do any calf raises. Doing so will only continue to make them bigger.
Stop ‘Pushing Off’ Your Toes
One common cause of having bigger calves is the way you walk and run. Many men and women who have large calves seem to “push off” their toes when they walk. This causes extra exertion from their calf muscle which will cause hypertrophy (muscle growth) to happen. It’s like doing a mini heel lift every step you take. Many shorter people tend to walk and push off their toes when they walk.
When you walk on your toes the gastrocnemius calf muscles are more active and targeted for propulsion. Your gastrocnemius calf muscles are the “big ball” muscle on the top of your calves. Walking on your toes will target your gastrocnemius just like how calf raises (heel raises) do. This will cause your calf muscles to grow even bigger and keep you from getting them smaller. This is why running can crazily cause your calf muscles to get even bigger.
Focus on walking on heels to reduce pushing off on your toes when you walk or run. Try stretching your Achilles tendon to lengthen it to encourage walking on your heels. Having a shortened Achilles tendon will make you more likely to push off your toes when walking and running.
Focus on taking smaller steps especially if you’re shorter. Shorter people tend to have larger calves since the actual muscle of their calves is shorter compared to those taller. And the shorter the calf muscle the less area there is to distribute muscle making it appear larger.
How to Slim Your Calves Fast
If you have too much body fat then you’re going to have to lower it. Women tend to start seeing results with stubborn fat coming off once they get below 18-20%. For men they should try to get into the 10-15% range (8). Depending on your history of physical fitness and exercise you could have a long way to go if you’ve never worked out before.
The only true way to lower your body fat is by burning fat and adding lean muscle. This is going to tone and firm your body and prevent you from becoming skinny fat. With the “skinny fat” syndrome your body will continue to stubbornly hold onto fat in troublesome areas because your body fat is still too high. Fat loss is going to be key to lose calf fat.
With that said since slim down calves is the goal you should steer clear of any calf exercise. This will only add on more calf size. Focus on more upper body resistance training exercises since your body is more genetically prone to a pear shaped body type. I wouldn’t use heavy weights when training your lower body and instead stick to body weight.
I’d also consider taking a break from running since it could be adding muscle size to your calves. But this is only the case if you have a lot of muscle on your calves. Instead try to find cardio workouts that use less of your calves like bicycling and swimming.
Get rid of calf fat without gaining muscle
The trick to lose calf fat without adding muscle is to lower the fat on your entire body and to stop doing what’s causing your calves to become muscular. If you have excess weight on your body then continue to lose it but also be highly aware of your body fat percentage. Measuring and tracking your body fat percentage is going to be key to your results and progress.
If you “push off” on your toes when you walk then focus on your gait and remember to walk more on your heels. This will cause the muscle in your calves to become smaller as it atrophies. Studies have found differences in arm size depending on which one was used more (9). A clear example would be if you broke your right leg. You’d notice a big difference in the calf size of your left leg when the cast comes off.
Why do I have big calves?
The reason you have big calves is most likely you were born with the genetics for them. Just like how some people were born to be more likely to have belly fat or bigger arms. But you could also be doing things like walking more on your toes which could be causing you to unnecessarily add more muscle bulk to them.
The Last Word
During your weight loss journey there are going to be stubborn parts on your body that are frustrating to lose. This is due mostly to genetics and the muscle density of your calves. And to lose calf fat and cankles you’re going to have to make sure you burn fat throughout your body.
If you’re carrying more muscle on your calves than fat you need to look at what could be causing it. The way you walk has a big impact on how much muscle your calves can have. The average person takes 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day which can easily add muscle bulk to your calves if you’re pushing off your toes when walking. And if you’re carrying excess weight this will further cause your calves to grow since they have to work harder to move you.
But just because you were born with the genetics for bigger calves doesn’t mean you’re stuck with them forever. You might not get the skinniest calves in the world but you can still get some impressive results once you start doing what works. It’s true it’s really hard to spot reduce fat with your calf size. But this doesn’t mean you can’t lose calf fat and get slim calves by reducing excess fat on your body.
Most people only focus on losing weight but you’re also going to have to focus on lowering the total fat on your body. Depending on your history of working out you may have a longer road ahead of you than others. But trust the process and the journey. You’ll get the best results the more committed and consistent you are.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.