Strengthening and toning your calf muscles is literally an uphill battle. Running uphill, or on an incline, is a tough workout, but doing so can get you stellar results. Exercising on an incline helps challenge your calf muscles more than running on a flat surface. Inclined training also helps tighten and tone your calves, and it can also help burn more calories for a more effective workout.
Targeting the Calves
Your calf muscles are responsible for the power generated when you flex your ankles. This movement is amplified when you are running uphill due to the angle of travel -- running uphill requires that you fight against gravity a bit more. Running on a flat surface activates about 20 percent of the muscles in your legs, including your calves. Running up a 15-percent incline, on the other hand, activates about 75 percent of the muscle tissue in your quads, hamstrings and calves. The steeper the incline, the harder your calf muscles will work to get up the hill. The optimal incline for calf muscle training varies from person to person, so experiment with small slopes first and work your way up to steeper slopes as your calf muscle strength increases over the course of four to six weeks.
Running hills can help improve your speed and power with each stride you take, helping in both long- and short-distance runs. The strength of your calves has a lot to do with your stride and power when running. Hill training helps build strength in the calves, giving an anaerobic benefit in addition to the aerobic benefit that running at any incline offers. This mixed bag of benefits can also help your leg muscles better handle lactic acid buildup that can slow you down at the end of a long run.
Uphill training can really rack up the number of calories burned. The steeper the hill, the more calories you’ll burn. This can really put a strain on your calf muscles -- and all your muscles for that matter. Accordingly, you may have to cut your exercise times and/or work out less frequently to allow your calf muscles ample time to rest and recover. Overworking your calves is a big concern when you run uphill. Be cautious of calf muscle and Achilles tendon pain, as these are signs of putting too much strain on your body.
Treadmill vs. Hill Running
Running on an inclined treadmill is an effective alternative to outdoor hill running when the weather isn’t cooperating. Outdoor running is a bit more challenging because of variances in the incline and wind resistance. You can simulate running outside on a flat plane by inclining your treadmill to about 1 percent. The same is true if you’re used to running up steep-graded hills; crank up the treadmill incline as high as you can comfortably do so.
Joseph Eitel has written for a variety of respected online publications since 2006 including the Developer Shed Network and Huddle.net. He has dedicated his life to researching and writing about diet, nutrition and exercise. Eitel's health blog, PromoteHealth.info, has become an authority in the healthy-living niche. He graduated with honors from Kellogg Community College in 2010 with an Associate of Applied Science.