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Do Hikers Have Big Calves?

do hikers have big calves

Hiking is easily one of the most strenuous activities. It requires a lot of strength and endurance, meaning that avid hikers tend to be in phenomenal shape, both in terms of their endurance and muscle tone. Still, hikers don’t always have the most toned calves. Why is that?

Typically, regular hikers have defined calves, but they aren’t over developed like bodybuilder’s calves. That’s because calves are notoriously difficult to further define since they are in good shape as is. Hikers who prefer inclined trails, however, may have pretty big calf muscles since these trails increase the range of motion, which is required for building calf muscles.

To find out more about hiking and calf muscles, read on. In this article, we look at hiking, how calf muscles are built, and other muscles used during the hike. Let’s get started.  

Do Hikers Have Big Calves?

As we mentioned above, hikers don’t always have the biggest calf muscles. Though hiker’s muscles are pretty well defined, the calf muscles aren’t going to stand out like they would on a bodybuilder. Inclined hikers, however, may have pretty big calves. Either way, calf muscles aren’t going to be the most prominent muscles on a hiker.

Why Not?

To understand exactly why calves act like this, we need to learn more about calf muscles and how those muscles are built. The short answer is that calves are pretty defined as is, no hiking required. As a result, hiking doesn’t do much to define them further, unless you hike on inclined surfaces or trails.

All About Calf Muscles

Let’s take a minute to talk about calf muscles, how they are defined, and why they are notoriously one of the most difficult muscle groups to grow. Even avid gym-goers find calves to be one of the most difficult muscles to intentionally target and grow.

Every day you walk, you activate your calf muscles. Anyone who is in pretty decent health has defined calf muscles already. Once a muscle is already defined, it gets harder and harder to increase the size and definition. Thus, calves are hard to define.

The one way that you can increase definition around your calf muscles is by increasing the range of motion. When we walk, the range of motion is limited. In other words, the entire calf isn’t being worked to its fullest. By increasing the range of motion, you work out the calf muscle more intensely so that it can grow.

What Does This Mean for Hikers?

So, what does this mean for hikers? Simply put, hikers are assumably already healthy, meaning that they have defined muscles whether or not they go on a hike. This will make it more difficult for hikers to build calf muscles simply because the muscle is already there. This is especially true for hikers who prefer more leisurely hikes on flatter surfaces.

Hiking on a flat surface is taxing on other muscles and endurance, but it does not work the calves much harder than a quick stroll. This means that the range of motion is not increased, and your calves aren’t being defined any more than if you were walking.

The Exception

However, there is an exception to this fact. Do you remember how we mentioned increasing range of motion can build calf muscle? Well, hiking on inclined surfaces increases the range of motion, meaning that it can build your calf muscles.

Hikers that prefer inclined trails are likely to have bigger calves. That is because the trails they walk on increases their range of motion and work their calf muscles more intensely. This makes more intense hikers have bigger calves in general.

Even if you hike on flat surfaces, it is still recommended to stretch your calves throughout the hike. This rests other muscles and helps to prevent accidents or injuries. If you are hiking on inclined surfaces, the need to stretch your calves increases even more.

Other Muscles Worked During a Hike

Even though calves aren’t particularly guaranteed to be huge after a hike, there are other leg muscles that are likely to become more dominant or noticeable in hikers. This includes your quadriceps and your hamstrings.


The most important muscle group used during a hike is your quadriceps. This is the muscle that is at the front of your thigh. Whenever you are hiking, this muscle is almost constantly engaged because it propels you forward. Not to mention, the quadriceps allow you to straighten your knee while you are on the trail.

Because of how crucial this muscle group is for hiking, hikers tend to have pretty impressive quads. Although quads are important for everyday walking, they aren’t nearly as engaged on a day-to-day basis as they are on a hike.  


Another important muscle group for hiking is the hamstring. The hamstring, which works with the quads, are located on the back of your upper thigh. They are what allow you to flex your knee. In other words, the hamstring is what pulls the quad back, helping you to move forward.

Hiking is considered one of the most strenuous workouts for a hamstring. This makes it no shock that hikers tend to have pretty impressive hamstrings.

How to Build Calf Muscles

If you intentionally want to build calf muscles, the only way to do this is to increase your range of motion. As we described above, hiking on an inclined surface is one of the best ways to do this. This will obviously be very challenging and work more muscles than just your calves, but it will increase the range of motion dramatically.

Another way to build your calf muscles is to do calf raises. Calf raises allow you to specifically target the muscle group through strength training. This is the better option if you are just wanting to target your calves specifically.

As a hiker, targeting one muscle probably isn’t ideal, but you may be wanting to work on your calves for other reasons.

For proper calf raises, you need to go up as high as you can go on the balls of your feet. Slowly come down, but do not relax at the bottom. Relaxing at the bottom can put you at risk for injury. Throughout the entire extension, be in control of your movements and do not flail about. Repeat several reps.

Even though calf raises aren’t ideal for hikers, they can certainly be added to your routine since they only take a couple seconds to perform. This makes them a great way to workout your calves whenever you are not hiking. Increasing calf muscle will make your hikes easier and increase stability.

Final Thoughts

As a whole, hikers do not necessarily have bigger calves than any other athlete. That’s because calves are notoriously difficult to work out. Hikers that prefer flat surfaces will not have much larger calves than they did before they started hiking.

However, hikers that prefer inclined trails are likely to have bigger calves since the surface increases the range of motion.

In addition to working out the calf muscles, inclined hikes will dramatically workout your quads and hamstrings too. Not to mention, they test your endurance, especially if you hike with a large pack.

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