Big Biceps -"Skinny Calves" Syndrome

Here’s the picture. You walk into the weight lifting room of the gym and see a guy working hard with heavy dumbbells in both hands. Biceps, triceps and pecs are nicely developed and appealing to the eye. Now scan down to his legs. Quads are good (maybe) but then come the lower legs, the calves, which resemble that of a child’s. Better said: “chicken legs” (or skinny calves)! This is not always the case but I am sure you are smiling because you have seen it before.

You see this more in men than in women because men build upper body muscle mass faster than a woman. But people with skinny calves can be men or women, and can come from all athletic backgrounds.

The key is to bring awareness to all quadrants of the body in terms of strengthening, stretching and conditioning. The four quadrants of the body are composed of head-to-heart center, the ribs to pelvis, hips (pelvis) to knees and finally knees to the feet. To build a balanced body each of these quadrants needs to be worked in three dimensions: front, back and side.

If you want to promote good posture, the muscles in the back of the body have to work just as effectively as the front. When the front of the chest is overworked it pulls the shoulders forward. When over corrected, the ribs tend to “pop” forward and cause too much rounding in the lower back. The same is true for legs: work the inside of the leg, the outside, the front and back as well as the sides. That in itself will make a difference in balancing out the muscles.

So here is my best advice gleaned from more than a decade of teaching mindful movement: When you work out, address all parts of the legs, starting from the hipto the knee, then the knees to the feet. The hips are always the center of the movement and the powerhouse for strength, power and flexibility. Work the glutes, hamstrings and hip flexor muscles in standing and side lying and prone positions. The same is true for the hamstrings. Think of working like that on all of your muscles so you always hit the angles – the belly of the muscle and both sides of it, lateral and medial.

Now you are ready to address the almighty lower half of the leg – from the knee down to the foot. The Gastrocnemius (a two-joint calf muscle) is not only important to defining the calves but also important when conditioning the knee. Most people have more development on one side of the knee, particularly on the outside, therefore, both the quadriceps and calf muscles need to be in very good shape.

Your gastroc also points the foot. You can always tell when it’s tight because the toes are typically curled and the hamstrings are also tight. It shortens the achilles tendons. Work the calf muscles on all sides.

Now, as a former ballet dancer, here is my best advice to get the lower half of the leg working properly: Take off your shoes and work your feet and ankles. Allow your foot to find its maximum planter flexion (point) and dorsi flexion (flex) at the ankle joint.

When teaching people how to properly point their feet, I tell them to reach away through the toes and feel the whole line of the leg engage, not just the ankle. The same is true for dorsi flexing: reach the heel away from the body so you feel the energy in the whole leg. Try to work out often without shoes and pay attention to your gait and placement of your feet so you feel grounded and stable. When exercising, focus on what the lower extremities are doing at all times.

If you pay attention to working out intelligently, not only will you improve your athletic performance but you will also prevent injuries that are so common in the ankle and foot.

The key to moving well is to always pay attention to how you move.

Monica Hoekstra

Society Magazine – March 2013

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