Ankle Health for Runners

When running, the ankle undergoes a lot of stress. It helps absorb the impact as your foot hits the pavement.  However, when the ankle is injured, the pain will often bring your training program to a dead halt. The problem with ankle injuries is that they can frequently become chronic problems, such as Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, or a recurring ankle sprain.  Most runners neglect the muscles around the ankles until it becomes a problem. And frequently, the problem may result from a too much, too soon approach to training.  Yet, there are ways to prevent and protect your ankle health. For runners, keeping this joint strong and flexible will prove useful in the long-term.

So, how can you keep your ankle strong and flexible?  Performing strengthening and mobility exercises on a regular basis can help you thwart the pain of injury and the frustration from having to put your goals on hold.  But, what exercises should you be doing?  Ankle resistance exercises work best. A resistance band can aid you in completing these exercises. For the exercises outlined below, make sure your knee does not move. You want to isolate the muscles around your ankle.

Perform each exercise at least 2-3 times per week.

Target the muscles that invert and evert the foot.

The major muscles that turn the foot inward include the tibialis anterior and the tibialis posterior. The major muscles that turn the foot outward include the peroneus longus, peroneus brevis, and the peroneus tertius.

  • To strengthen the invertors:
    • Begin by sitting in a chair.
    • Loop a resistance band around your foot and attach it to a sturdy object positioned to the outside of your foot.
    • Slowly bring your foot up and in, inverting the ankle joint.
    • Slowly bring your foot back to the start and repeat the exercise 10 times for 2-3 sets.
  • To strengthen the evertors:
    • Begin by sitting in a chair.
    • Loop a resistance band around your foot and attach it to a sturdy object positioned to the inside of your foot.
    • Slowly bring your foot up and out, everting the ankle joint.
    • Slowly bring your foot back to the start and repeat the exercise 10 times for 2-3 sets.

Strengthen the muscles that dorsiflex the foot.

Dorsiflexion is the action of bringing your toes up toward your shin. The main muscles that are involved in this movement include the tibialis anterior, extensor hallucis longus, extensor digitorum longus, and the peroneus tertius.

  • To strengthen these muscles:
    • Begin by sitting in a chair.
    • Loop a resistance band around the top of your foot. Attach the other end to an object in front of you or have a friend hold the band.
    • Bring your foot up toward your shin.
    • Slowly return your foot back to the start and repeat the exercise 10 times for 2-3 sets.
    • Strengthen the muscles that plantarflex the foot.

The major muscles that plantarflex the foot include the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles.

  • To strengthen these muscles:
    • Begin by sitting in a chair.
    • Loop a resistance band under your foot and hold each end in your hands.
    • Slowly point your toe away from you.
    • Slowly bring it back to start. Repeat the exercise 10 times for 2-3 sets.

Calf raises may also benefit the muscles involved in plantar flexion.

Other exercises that should be completed on the regular include calf stretches and ankle circles. These movements help improve ankle mobility.

Our last 2 tips include wearing proper footwear and checking your running form. Surprisingly, poor or worn down shoes can increase your risk of injury. Bad form can also wreak havoc on your joints and muscles, causing imbalances and misalignments throughout the body.

Keep your ankle joints strong and healthy! Perform the appropriate exercises regularly, wear the right shoes, and check your running form. It will help you keep up with your training program, minus the risk of injury or pain.

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