Longer Achilles tendon and high calves are a blessing to an athlete participating in speed-power dominant events as well as speed endurance events. It’s not a coincidence that the most powerful legs in the world have this combination.
- Javier Sotomayor (High Jump World Record Holder)
- Mike Powell (Long Jump World Record Holder)
- Jonathan Edwards (Triple Jump World Record Holder)
- Cristiano Ronaldo (Football Legend)
- Michael Jordan (Basketball Legend)
- Usain Bolt (Fastest Sprinter)
- Mo Farah (Indoor World Record Holder for the two miles)
- Brock Lesnar (Professional Wrestler and Mixed Martial Artist)
- J. J. Watt (One of the best players in NFL right now)
None of them has big calves. They are all athletes of lower-body dominant sports. Then how come their calves are not big? Well, it’s not just them but all the elite level athletes (jumpers, sprinters, runners) have small calves. There are some exceptions, though. Does that mean that big calves are a curse? Let’s find out.
If you’re born with small calves, you can’t make it significantly big and vice versa. No matter what you do, how hard you train, you can’t make them grow. You can’t go against your genetics. What makes calves appear high (small) or low (big)? Someone born with shorter Achilles tendon has long muscle bellies. Since the muscle is bigger, the potential of growth is more. And people born with longer Achilles tendon has short muscle bellies. This means they do not have enough muscles to grow. Tendons connect muscles to the bones. They can get stronger but can’t grow.
Why are high calves better?
Coaches often look for athletes with high calves insertions. Even though these calves don’t grow in size, it’s believed that people with high calves are more athletic in general. It’s not just because of the calves but the other physical qualities associated with them, which gives a biomechanical advantage.
- Narrow Hip Bones : The narrower the hips, the faster you can run. Women have evolved wider hips which would make childbirth easier. So they can’t run as fast as men.
- Higher Centre of Gravity (COG) : The sitting height of two men who are equally tall can differ. The one with shorter sitting height has longer legs. That means his COG is higher. The one with a higher COG can run faster and jump higher. People born with high calves usually have longer legs and shorter torso. It’s not about being tall but the ratio of the length of the upper body and lower body.
- Fast Twitch Muscle Fibres : Those born with a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibres are more explosive. They can generate more power and are more athletic in general. Fast twitch muscle fibres are encoded by a specific gene : ACTN3. ACTN3 also known as speed gene is what makes an athlete fast and explosive. And you guessed it right. People born with high calves generally have more of these.
- Level of Plasma Testosterone and Basal Metabolic Rate : People who have a higher level of plasma testosterone also have a higher metabolic rate. This means they have leaner, more muscular physique. They have low body fat. Their shoulders are broader, quadriceps are larger, arms and legs more shredded naturally.
Unlike high calves, low calves associate with wider hips, low centre of gravity, shorter legs, heavier lower body and low metabolic rate.
Role of Achilles Tendon in Jumping and Running
Achilles tendon is like a rubber band. The longer the rubber band, the more you can stretch it. The more you stretch it, the higher elastic potential energy gets stored in the rubber band. The higher the stored energy, the greater the force. This is the reason why people with small calves and longer Achilles tendon can run faster and jump higher. Athletes with high calves and longer Achilles tendon have higher rebound height, greater jumping power, and shorter ground contact time.
Also, while distance running the runner with longer Achilles tendon uses the stored energy to move forward instead of glycogen and oxygen. The less oxygen and glycogen you use while running, the better the running economy is.
The good calves in sports are the bad calves in bodybuilding and vice versa. Short Achilles tendon and long cut calves earn you more points in bodybuilding. Because they look bigger and fuller. In the beginning of this article, I told you that you can’t make your calves grow big if you’re born with longer Achilles tendon and high calves. But there must be many bodybuilders out there born with high calves? There are. Ronnie Coleman has high calves. There are some bodybuilders who go for calf implants (silicone to the rescue) or inject Synthol (fake muscle bulge oil) to make them appear big. Athletes of African descent have high calves (Serena Williams is an exception) while Asians usually have low calves.
P.S. I’m born with high calves and longer Achilles tendon.