Updated on July 7th, 2023 at 07:17 pm
Is it me, or do women seem to have larger calves than men? Research shows that calf sizes in men and women are determined by body mass index, height, physical fitness, and genetics. However, doubling down on leg days can earn anyone bigger calves. But even then, gender-related differences manifest at a cellular level and are responsible for the significant differences in men’s and women’s calves.
To shed light on these differences and determine if, indeed, females have bigger calves than males, here’s an in-depth comparison on the gender differences in calf muscles.
What is the calf muscle?
The calf muscle is found at the back of the lower leg and behind the shin bone. It’s made up of three skeletal muscles that together help you stand, jump, run and walk. This human skeletal muscle function is to flex your foot, rotate the ankle joints, and lock the knee.
The muscle morphology forming the calf include the soleus and gastrocnemius. These two meet above the heel and affix to the Achilles tendon. Because of this, some experts refer to the muscles as a single large muscle with two parts.
The calf is also made up of the plantaris, found between the soleus and gastrocnemius. Together, the muscles are called triceps surae. However, not everyone has the plantaris muscle.
- Gastrocnemius muscle – it’s found under the skin at the back of the lower legs. Since it’s closer to the skin’s surface, the outline of the bulk it forms shows easily. The top portion of the gastrocnemius features two heads that start on the outside and inside of the thighbone.
- Soleus muscle – it’s wide and flat and is located deeper under the skin than gastrocnemius muscles. They start right below the knee and connect to the Achilles tendon above the heel. Soleus-related injuries are rare since the muscle crosses one joint and consists of slow-twitch muscle fibers.
Differences between women’s and men’s calves
Average calf size
Studies show that the average male calf size ranges between 12.25 and 15.35 inches. The range exists because the exact calf size depends on genetics, environment, age, and muscle status.
For instance, men with lower body mass and height had calf circumference of 12.25”. On the other hand, a taller and heavier male had an average calf circumference of 15.35”.
Taller men have larger calves because they carry more mass than shorter men. With higher bone mass, the muscles need more supportive power. However, being tall doesn’t always translate into having larger calves because genetics are also in play.
At the same time, studies show the average calf size for a female lies in the range of 13.25” – 16.25”. Height, body weight, exercise, and gender differences play a role in actual calf size in females too.
There’s also a significant difference in fat deposits between the male and female body. Studies show mean fat percentages in men and women are 12%-15% and 18% – 22%, respectively. This is one of the reasons females have larger calves despite being shorter and lighter than males.
Average calf length
On average, men’s calf-length ranges from 38.5cm – 48.5 cm, while women’s calf lengths range from 35 cm – 42.5 cm. Women’s legs have shorter calves because, on average, they are shorter than men.
Studies show a relationship between calf length and height in people. Generally, the taller one is, the longer their calves are.
Muscle strength and mass reduction
A study involving Caucasian’s reveal that females’ calves are 60% as strong as men’s. Also, as the human body ages, we go through body weight loss, commonly known as sarcopenia.
For males over 30, lean body mass is reduced by between 3 to 8% every ten years. The rate is higher for males over 60 years due to the increased risk of falls and injuries.
For females over 30, calf sizes reduce even faster because of muscle weight deterioration and reduced-fat percentage. Generally, older males have larger calves than females their age.
Studies reveal that the female calves have more endurance than male. The sex differences study included eight men and nine female who were requested to flex their feet against several sensors as fast as possible 200 times that measure the torque, power, and speed of their movements.
The results proved that men’s movements were powerful and faster initially but got exhausted faster than women’s. This means that while a male can complete running or walking exercises faster, female muscles perform better.
As a result, if males and females were to participate in a super long marathon, there are higher chances females would dominate the race courtesy of their superior muscle performance and endurance.
But why is this? Well, females and males both use the Type 1 fibers and later shift to Type 2 as the muscles start getting fatigued during physical performance.
However, females switch between these muscle types throughout the exercise. So the endurance isn’t from the slow-twitch fibers but neuromuscular activities inside them.
Do women have larger calves than men?
On average, females have larger calves, mainly because of the higher fat percentage in their legs. But as they age, they lose more muscle mass coupled with fat percentage loss contributing to smaller calves than men. Overall, calf sizes vary depending on height, body weight, and genetics.
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