For some, slim calves with long toned thighs is what they consider a great pair of legs. Especially during spring and summer, with warmer weather and less clothing, women may feel self-conscious about their legs and look for ways to improve their shape.
Like all body parts though, there is no standard for nice legs as it depends on personal taste but if you are one of those who likes and dreams about having skinny calves keep reading as I’ll talk about all the possible ways to make them slimmer, from home remedies to surgery.
Why do your calves look bulkier?
The first thing you need to understand to properly plan a way to address this aesthetic concern is why your calves are bigger than what you’d like. The answer is one of the three below and each cause requires a different approach if you want to achieve skinnier calves:
- You have calf muscle hypertrophy.
- You have calf fat.
- You have liquid stasis (edema).
- You have two or more of the above.
Muscle hypertrophy simply means you have overdeveloped calf muscles. This may be due to exercising, to genetics or both. The calf is made of several different muscles but only three are the main ones that may cause your lower leg to increase in size:
- the soleus and the gastrocnemius in the back part and
- the tibialis in the anterior part, which although often not considered can actually contribute quite a lot to the overall look of your legs.
Calf muscles are commonly deemed to be the hardest muscles to build even by professional bodybuilders; some activities that stimulate those muscles such as repeated jumping from jumping the rope or playing volleyball, or other activities such as hiking may overtime build stronger and bigger calf muscles. As said genetics also plays a role: each person is different and while for most people purposely building calf muscles may be difficult, for others even light forms of exercise may generate a good enough stimulus to achieve muscle gain.
Second reason for bulky calves is due to fat deposits and for this again there may be two reasons:
- your overall fat mass is higher than average, so also the amount of subcutaneous fat in the calf area is greater than average or
- You have a genetic predisposition to store more fat in your lower leg. In general males tend to store fat in their abdomen, while women tend to store fat in the buttocks and thighs region; we are not all the same, so some people may be more likely to store fat in the calves than others.
Third reason for big calves is edema: besides the health conditions that may cause swelling of the lower limbs such as heart disease or kidney disease, edema may also be caused by simple things like standing for many hours, sitting for many hours or wearing tight socks.
Best calf reduction methods for slim legs
Each of the four causes of bulky calves has different solutions.
For calf muscle hypertrophy you may:
- Stop doing exercises and activities that stimulate the lower leg muscles.
- Get botulinum toxin injections. This technique is already popular for masseter reduction, people with a squared jaw who want to achieve a V-shaped face. By chemically reducing the ability of the muscle to contract with Botox, over time the muscle will shrink.
Both of these solutions are counterproductive if you are an athlete or if you enjoy activities were calf muscle strength and resistance are needed as it will affect athletic performance: you will have to decide between having skinny calves and having good athletic performance.
For calf fat you may:
- Lower the caloric intake. Keep in mind that targeted fat loss is not possible, you will lose fat mass evenly in all body regions and according to your genetics (you may lose your belly fat first for example). Exercising the calves won’t target calf fat, but may actually increase their size by building muscles.
- Increase caloric expenditure. Cardio and high intensity exercise are good ways of burning calories, while muscle building exercises are good at increasing your metabolism in the long term.
- Use medical devices for targeted fat loss such as CoolSculpting (fat freezing), Vanquish (radiofrequency), SculpSure (laser), UltraShape (ultrasounds).
- Get fat melting injections (injection lipolysis) such as Kybella.
- Have calf liposuction.
The first two methods will take some time to achieve good result but are the cheapest options, virtually cost-free. The last three options may offer immediate results but are more expensive. Moreover, with medical and surgical procedures there are possible complications: the last two in particular may also cause deformities due to uneven fat loss and for this reason it is recommended to have a consult with a very experienced provider in the specific procedure.
For calf edema, when unrelated to health conditions, you may:
- Stand up and walk a bit if you sit long hours. The contraction of the calf muscles works like a pump, helping both the venous circulation and the lymphatic drainage.
- Raise your legs at or above hips level as it helps with both blood and lymphatic circulation. During nighttime putting a pillow under the calves to raise them above your heart will help as well.
- Follow a low salt diet. Too much salt causes water retention.
- Avoid tight jeans or socks.
- Wear compression stockings which are designed to apply the right amount of pressure to your legs to help blood and lymphatic circulation.
- Get a lymphatic drainage massage.
You should also have a consult with your GP to make sure there is no underlying condition that may cause your ankles and calves to swell.
What NOT to do for slimmer legs
Long walks, running and other forms of exercise may actually make things worse especially if you are among those with calf hypertrophy or with the tendency to easily develop calf muscles. The easiest way to lose fat is through diet, not through increased physical activity although of course that helps too. You may burn around 400Kcal by walking for 2 hours, but it’s far easier to cut 400Kcal from your daily intake with simple dietary choices like avoiding a dessert, or drinking a sugar-free soda, not putting sugar in your coffee or increasing the vegetable portion of your meals to fill your stomach, while decreasing saturated fats and carbohydrates. Running or walking are also not the only form of exercise to lose weight and you may choose alternatives that stimulate less your calf muscles.
Another thing to avoid is addressing the wrong cause: a massage won’t help with calf fat, running won’t help with calf muscle hypertrophy and a calorie-restricting diet won’t help with swelling. * To get skinny calves the first thing to do is to understand what causes their bulkiness.
Due to several anatomic reasons, calves and ankles represent one of the greatest areas of challenge when it comes to body contouring techniques: make sure to consult a very experienced surgeon and that you understand the risks and possible complications if you choose the surgical way.
* obesity or being overweight are also one of the many possible causes of lower limb edema.
- The Art of Aesthetic Surgery – Principles and Techniques, 2nd edition
F Nahai – CRC Press, 2010
- MedlinePlus – US National Library of Medicine
Medical Blogger committed to accuracy, I am passionate about delivering my readers critical insights into the medical field.
Former paramedic, instructor and medical school student.
You can read more about me in the dedicated section of the website.