Calf muscles - is it worth working on them?



Bigbananabike

Member
Dec 29, 2004
967
15
18
Hi. Do calf muscles fitness/strength have a lot to do with on bike performance?
I realise it's the quads that do heaps of the work...but pro riders usually have great looking calves. Is there a reason for this?
Cheers, Paul :)
 

wnowak06

New Member
Jun 27, 2005
59
0
0
I agree. I have been wondering this same thing. When I start biking after some time off, my legs start to grow with all sorts of muscles beginning to appear and/or get more defined. Yet my calves stay exactly the same. I don't use them when I ride, and can't really see how one would. Yet, like you said, the pros all have huge calves. What's the deal? I agree with your question....any help for us?
 

vascdoc

New Member
May 7, 2005
225
0
0
wnowak06 said:
I agree. I have been wondering this same thing. When I start biking after some time off, my legs start to grow with all sorts of muscles beginning to appear and/or get more defined. Yet my calves stay exactly the same. I don't use them when I ride, and can't really see how one would. Yet, like you said, the pros all have huge calves. What's the deal? I agree with your question....any help for us?

If you use a clipless pedal system and pull up on the up stroke, you will use calf muscles.
 

Bigbananabike

Member
Dec 29, 2004
967
15
18
It's an interesting one.

I have used clipless(and before that clips/straps) pedals for years(long time racer). After longer or harder rides my thighs might ache but never my calves. I have started doing some standing calf raisers and am thinking about making a seated calf raise machine to do the soleus muscles(the upper calf muscle) too. If not for power then for looks(I'm a bit vain!).
Anybody else got any suggestions on the worth of calf work? :confused: Paul
 

jmax24

New Member
Jan 30, 2005
24
0
0
FWIW, I noticed mine really getting developed after alot of spin classes.The instructer always told us to keep our heels down.why?who knows.
 

Cat1RDR

New Member
Feb 28, 2006
22
0
0
Like said above, calf muscles are used in the upstroke. If they dont develop over the season or with training then your stroke is not being as efficient as possible. If you aren't using your calfs then you are losing lots of power and tiring out your other muscles quicker.
 

zaskar

New Member
Aug 3, 2003
869
0
0
Cat1RDR said:
Like said above, calf muscles are used in the upstroke. If they dont develop over the season or with training then your stroke is not being as efficient as possible. If you aren't using your calfs then you are losing lots of power and tiring out your other muscles quicker.


Where is the proof of this statement?


Ric Stern posted this on the sticky above:

In all honesty this is a waste of time. In the seminal work by Coyle et al, 91, they used force instrumented pedals and compared two groups of cyclists elite and state level. the better cyclists pushed down more and pulled up less, while the less good cyclists pushed down less and pulled up more on the pedals.

i would not bother learning how to orientate the forces when pedalling, just learn to produce more power (i.e., get fitter).

ric
 

Cat1RDR

New Member
Feb 28, 2006
22
0
0
zaskar said:
Where is the proof of this statement?


Ric Stern posted this on the sticky above:

In all honesty this is a waste of time. In the seminal work by Coyle et al, 91, they used force instrumented pedals and compared two groups of cyclists elite and state level. the better cyclists pushed down more and pulled up less, while the less good cyclists pushed down less and pulled up more on the pedals.

i would not bother learning how to orientate the forces when pedalling, just learn to produce more power (i.e., get fitter).

ric
Not to dispute with you the all-mighty God of cycling knowledge, but I do believe that you are incorrect. First of all I would love to see where you got the proof of everything you said above.

You are saying that professional cyclists put little work into pulling up and their entire pedal stroke is based on the power they create in the down-stroke. This would be false... From my friends and coaches with a few of them holding PhD's they say that pro cyclists have a smoother and more efficient stroke.

Next, if you are correct, why do pros have such large calf muscles?

And to continue with that, pros have more developed and stronger hip flexors than amateur riders. As you may know, hip flexors are one of the main muscles in the upstroke.

I would also like you to answer me another question, why are the rotor cranks which act independently of each other to help people develop and more complete and stronger pedal stroke? According to you these have no benefit because you don't need strong calf muscles in cycling.

As a final thought... Why don't we just get rid of clipless pedals? Their main goal is to allow a rider to pull back and up in the pedal stroke. I'm sure you would say this is a silly technological fad.

Good day
icon7.gif
 

whoawhoa

New Member
Oct 28, 2004
1,029
0
0
Cat1RDR said:
Not to dispute with you the all-mighty God of cycling knowledge, but I do believe that you are incorrect. First of all I would love to see where you got the proof of everything you said above.
Chill. He never said anything was proof, merely cited a study and the opinion of a very knowledgable coach/excercise scientist.

Cat1RDR said:
You are saying that professional cyclists put little work into pulling up and their entire pedal stroke is based on the power they create in the down-stroke. This would be false... From my friends and coaches with a few of them holding PhD's they say that pro cyclists have a smoother and more efficient stroke.
Read the study. Ask your PhD friends if they have conducted any studies on the subject. BTW, another PhD who frequents this forum (Andy Coggan) seems to echo the sentiments of Ric.

Cat1RDR said:
Next, if you are correct, why do pros have such large calf muscles?
In my experience, they don't. In fact, many of them have girl calves. :D They do, however, have lots of muscle tone because of extremely low body fat.

Cat1RDR said:
And to continue with that, pros have more developed and stronger hip flexors than amateur riders. As you may know, hip flexors are one of the main muscles in the upstroke.
see above

Cat1RDR said:
I would also like you to answer me another question, why are the rotor cranks which act independently of each other to help people develop and more complete and stronger pedal stroke? According to you these have no benefit because you don't need strong calf muscles in cycling.
Maybe because there are misconceptions about the "ideal" pedal stroke? Maybe they don't have any benefit.

Cat1RDR said:
IAs a final thought... Why don't we just get rid of clipless pedals? Their main goal is to allow a rider to pull back and up in the pedal stroke. I'm sure you would say this is a silly technological fad.
IMO, the main benefit of clipless pedals is more efficient power transfer, less slip between the shoe and the pedal, etc.

Cat1RDR said:
IGood day
icon7.gif
To you, as well.
 

frenchyge

New Member
Apr 3, 2005
4,687
2
0
Bigbananabike said:
Anybody else got any suggestions on the worth of calf work? :confused:
I would suggest that the calf muscles will develop naturally to an extent that they are used in the pedal stroke. If your's don't develop much during your normal training, then perhaps they aren't being utilized much. If that's the case then what benefit would "calf work" provide? OTOH, if the calf is a weakness in your pedal stroke then you'd know it by now (as a result of having sore calves after each ride), and they would develop on their own by just riding more.

I'd be very surprised if someone here said they had *actual* knowledge that the pros do a significant amount of "calf work" (assuming you mean weight training for their calves). As you say, you're a bit vain and would like to have more developed calves, so what difference does it make how they relate to cycling?
 

Spunout

New Member
Sep 21, 2005
667
0
0
Look at the legs of guys in a pro race. All different shapes.

But the calf does actuate the achilles tendon, which stabilizes the ankle on the downstroke.

If you moved your cleat to the ball of your heel, you wouldn't need your calves. I suggest you don't do this:eek:
 

frenchyge

New Member
Apr 3, 2005
4,687
2
0
whoawhoa said:
IMO, the main benefit of clipless pedals is more efficient power transfer, less slip between the shoe and the pedal, etc.
Exactly. The chief benefit is that you don't have to apply *downward* force on the bottom of the stroke, upstroke, and top of the stroke just to keep your foot from slipping off the pedal.

Well said on the rest of the post.
 

AmpedCycle

New Member
Dec 29, 2004
271
0
0
Ever watch a cycling race or triathlon? See that downward "pushdown" their feet do on the downward stroke? That's called a "plantar flexion," defined as 'bending the foot in the direction of the plantar surface (sole).' The muscles that accomplish this are called the "gastrocnemius" muscles, a.k.a. the calf muscles. They also flex the leg at the knee joint. So as you can see, the proof's in the pudding. By the way, look it up an anatomy and physiology book if you don't believe me.
 

zaskar

New Member
Aug 3, 2003
869
0
0
whoawhoa said:
Chill. He never said anything was proof, merely cited a study and the opinion of a very knowledgable coach/excercise scientist.


Thank you, you can read:)
 

Cat1RDR

New Member
Feb 28, 2006
22
0
0
To respond to some earlier comments...

Cycling is a game of efficiency and the way to do that is not through "mashing" the pedals. A smooth and efficient stroke is created by begging the down-stroke early, a strong push down, a pull back at 3 to 4 o' clock, and then unweighting the pedal in the upstroke. Efficiency wins the race, and in the world of professional cycling everyone is at a similar level and the difference between winning and losing is often very small. Take the obvious Lance v. Jan example, both are very comparable people in terms of abilities and I believe I read that they have similar power to weight ratios (?). Point being that they are both very strong but Lance's smoother and more efficient stroke probably helped him out quite a bit.

Calves are also important in all quick bursts in cycling. In a sprint, standing climb, or jump out of a turn you should be pulling quite hard up in your stroke. If you want proof of this watch Tom Boonen in a sprint. You can see the force he puts into the upstroke on his sprint, the tail of his bike gets pulled into the air. Also watch Lance in the Alp d'Huez uphill TT from the tour. You can clearly see his calf muscles being put to work.

Also about the comment of pros having "girlie" legs. I don't know what pros you are talking about, but the ones I know have fairly large calf muscles. Look at most pros and you will see impressive and defined calves. Take Jeremy Powers, he is a Jelly Belly pro and I've heard he has to run a mtb. bottom bracket to stop his legs from hitting the top tube. http://www.jpows.com/Images/001c9842_stdRe.jpg They look big to me, but maybe I just haven't seen a big calf before. Also many cyclists develop the V in their calves and I believe that is mostly developed by the upstroke in pedaling.

Here is an interesting article about the upstroke. I recommend reading it. http://www.fitness-concepts.com/CoachesCorner/May05.pdf

Lastly about the clipless pedals, their main benefit is to allow a person to apply pressure around the entire pedal stroke and we all know that. That is why we use them and a freestyle BMX'er doesn't. Both groups want a stable and non-slippery platform. They just don't need to have the ability to pull up on the upstroke like we do.
 

zaskar

New Member
Aug 3, 2003
869
0
0
Cat1RDR said:
To respond to some earlier comments...


Lastly about the clipless pedals, their main benefit is to allow a person to apply pressure around the entire pedal stroke and we all know that. That is why we use them and a freestyle BMX'er doesn't. Both groups want a stable and non-slippery platform. They just don't need to have the ability to pull up on the upstroke like we do.


I still don't agree. how can you apply the same amount of force on the entire stroke??? can't!
 

Cat1RDR

New Member
Feb 28, 2006
22
0
0
The point was never that you could apply the same amount of force throughout the stroke. The point was that you use your calf muscles in cycling. Obviously you can put more into the down-stroke, your body is built that way and you can put your weight into it. That still doesn't mean that there is not an upstroke and that it is not important. To add to this, like AmpedCycle said, you use your calves in the down-stroke too.
 

wnowak06

New Member
Jun 27, 2005
59
0
0
Since my ride today was a recovery ride, I had no real goals other than to cruise along and stretch out my legs. After reading this thread last night I put some effort into using my calves on the upstroke. I couldn't do it and have it feel natural and also it didn't seem to help me really at all.

When I climb or sprint out of the saddle, yes, I definitely use my calves. But while seated, I can't figure out how to do it. Anyone have any idea in particular to focus on while I'm pedaling that would help me ensure that I use my calf muscles?

Thanks
 

wnowak06

New Member
Jun 27, 2005
59
0
0
hey cat1rdr

thanks for that linked article, it was pretty informative. it mentioned little about using your calves, but the whole idea of the importance of using your hip flexors so much was good to see.

thanks