Question: I’m surprised that you say calves contribute nothing to cycling performance. I’ve had skinny bird legs my whole life — even when I was lifting weights — until I began riding last summer. I didn’t take before/after measurements, but my calves have gotten markedly more muscular. They’re larger and more defined, and a “new” muscle has appeared on my upper, outer shin. This occurred even though I cut out weight work almost entirely. It must mean that my calves are getting a workout when I ride. And if they’re getting a workout, it stands to reason that they’re contributing. Am I crazy? — Jim P.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: I know what you mean, Jim. I can certainly feel my calves working when I ride. But biomechanical studies that monitor the electrical involvement of various muscles show that calves don’t contribute much to the pedal stroke. It’s counterintuitive, but apparently it’s real.
These studies show that while the quads and glutes are quite active during the pedal stroke (as you’d expect), the calf basically holds the foot stable on the pedal. Calves act as a link between the foot and the power production of quads/glutes.
If you markedly “ankle” when you pedal (push through with your forefoot and change the flexion of your ankle) this may explain why your calves are getting more of a workout.