If you have big thighs and small calves, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, I explain why you have thick thighs and small calf muscles, how to add more size to your calves, and more.
Why Are Your Calves So Small Compared To Your Thighs?
There are 9 common reasons why you have big thighs but small calves. These are:
- Insufficient Calf Training Volume
- Not Training In The Full Range Of Motion For Calf Exercises
- Calf Training Frequency
- Thighs Training Frequency
- Poor Calf Exercise Selection
- Training Too Heavy
- Training Too Light
- Not Eating Enough Protein
- Your Gender
Let’s explore these in more detail.
Insufficient Calf Training Volume
When looking to gain muscle mass, it’s important to do sufficient training volume to stimulate hypertrophy.
Most people with small calves simply aren’t training them enough.
Solution: Increase Calf Training Volume
For most individuals, aim to target your calves with 12-15 total sets per week. For best results, you should split this equally between your training sessions.
(I.e. if you train 4 times a week, then include 3 sets of calf exercises at the end of each session.)
When Arnold Schwarznegger was competing, he’d do many sets of calves each day as his calves were naturally quite small!
Not Training In The Full Range Of Motion For Calf Exercises
This is one of the most common problems I see with beginner lifters.
When doing calf exercises like calf raises, they fail to push off their toes as much as possible and similarly don’t lower the back of their feet enough on the eccentric part of the movement.
Solution: Use A Full Range Of Motion For Calf Exercises
By using a full range of motion, your muscles will be under tension for longer which will encourage more muscle growth.
You’ll also be recruiting more muscle fibres, which again, can lead to more muscle growth.
Calf Training Frequency
Most people with small calves only target them once per week at the end of their leg session.
But by training them once per week, you’re seriously limiting muscle growth potential.
Solution: Increase Calf Training Frequency To At Least Twice A Week
Instead of doing a few sets of calf raises at the end of leg day, aim to train them at the end of each training session.
As long as you don’t go overboard with the volume, you’re unlikely to experience overtraining.
By training this way, you can expect some serious calf gains.
Thighs Training Frequency
Another common problem I see is people training their thighs too often.
While you don’t want to be that guy (or gal) who skips leg day, you also don’t want to be the person who does quads and hamstrings twice a week.
Solution: Limit Legs To Once A Week
By training your thighs only once per week, you’ll be somewhat limiting leg growth while your calves catch up.
Poor Calf Exercise Selection
Gym-goers with a skinny calves typically chose the wrong exercises.
While there’s nothing wrong with compound exercises like squats and leg press, they’re not the most effective if you want to maximize calf growth.
Solution: Focus On Isolation Exercises
At the end of each training session, I recommend you choose from the following exercises:
- Standing Calf Raises
- Seated Calf Raises
- Calf Press
- Donkey Calf Raises
Since these are isolation exercises, they work specifically your calf muscles which means you’ll help your calves get bigger without adding muscle to your thighs.
Training Too Heavy With Calf Exercises
I often see people do calf raises in the 3-6 rep range.
While this isn’t necessarily bad for hypertrophy, it means that you’ll fatigue much quicker and thus you won’t be able to train with enough volume to maximise muscle growth.
Solution: Lower The Weight
If you’re someone who is always lifting heavy, then try spending the next few weeks in a hypertrophy phase where you train in the 6-15 rep range.
This will allow for high training volumes to be accumulated, and higher volume often leads to more muscle growth.
Training Too Light With Calf Exercises
This can be an issue for many newbie lifters.
They don’t know how to push themselves properly, so they end up using a weight that they can comfortably get 20 reps per set done.
While I’ve just stated the importance of training volume, there’s a balancing act and too much volume usually means you’re not lifting enough weight to damage your muscles.
And if your muscles aren’t being damaged, then there’s less reason for them to grow.
Solution: Increase The Weight
As just covered in my earlier point, you should be aiming for a weight where you can do 6-15 reps per set.
This is enough so that you’re doing sufficient volume, but not too much so that you’re using a too light weight.
Not Eating The Right Foods
When it comes to body composition, the importance of diet cannot be understated.
Many people with a skinny-fat physique with chunky thighs and skinny calves tend to eat too many refined carbohydrates, like white bread.
Solution: Increase Protein And Lower Your Carb Intake
By increasing protein, you’ll help encourage calf muscle growth, since protein is vital for muscle gains.
And by lowering your carb intake, your body will rely more on its fat stores (from your thighs) for energy.
This means you’ll be building more calf muscle, while slimming down your thighs.
If you’re a female, then you’re more likely to have big thighs and skinny calves.
This is because females tend to store more body fat around their thighs and bum.
(Whereas men tend to store body fat around their belly, hence the infamous dad bod.)
Unfortunately, there’s no real solution for this as it’s a genetic predisposition.
Your genetics play a large role in the size and shape of your calves, and interestingly, Asian people have big calves.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to change your genetics, so you’ll just need to follow the strategies in this article to grow your calves!
- If you’re a female, then you’re more likely to carry body fat around your thighs, hence you’ll often have bigger thighs and small calves.
- If you’re a male, then you’re probably not training your calves effectively, so your leg growth is exceeding your calf growth.
- Your genetics play a large role in the size of your calves.
Hope this helped!
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.