There are a number of injuries that runners are prone to – and ankles are a common theme. It’s often the case that weak ankles can affect balance and stability. Some of the more common symptom of weak ankles include your ankles turning or rolling to the outside, as well as generally sore ankles and feet, a tendency to twist or sprain your ankle and difficulties keeping your ankles straight in heels.
There will be other ailments connected to ankles, such as bone spurs, or osteophytes (opens in new tab), but the treatment for these will normally need to be advised by a medical expert.
To reduce your risk of common injuries and pain from weak ankles, it’s a good idea to follow a regular program of strengthening exercises for runners.
With all that in mind, here are five straightforward exercises to improve the strength of your ankles when running, and help you avoid injury.
1. Calf raises
The calf muscles – the gastrocnemius and the soleus – come together above your heel and attach to the Achilles tendon. Strengthening these will improve the strength and stability of the ankle.
To do calf raises: Find a step or a sturdy block to stand on. Stand straight and upright with your feet hip-width apart. Move to the edge of the step or block, so your forefoot is on the step and the back of your foot is off the rear of the step.
It's a good idea to have something to hold on to at the side of the step or block.
Raise your heels up, so that you are standing on your toes and then lower your heels down so they are below the level of the step.
Repeat this full exercise 10 times.
2. Heel walks
This is an easy ankle strengthening exercise and focuses on active ankle dorsiflexion, The aim is to strengthen the dorsiflexor muscles for greater stability.
To do heel walks: Stand upright with your feet together. Start walking forwards, but only allow your heels to touch the ground as you walk. Continue for a minute, then rest for a short while and return back to where you came for another minute.
Frequency: 2 x 1 minute daily.
3. Draw the clock
This exercise will aid flexibility in the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the ankle, which should lead to greater strength and stability, especially when running on uneven terrain such as trails and hill paths.
How to the exercise: Either stand with something to stabilise you, such as a chair, or lie on the floor on your back. Lift a leg and flex your foot towards every number on a clock face. Go clockwise, then anticlockwise. Repeat with the other foot.
Complete the clock face several times, one foot after the other.
4. Wobble board balance
This exercise requires proprioception, which is the sense of knowing where your body part is in space. When you ankle is in good shape and pain-free, proprioception happens without thinking. But when you have pain from ligaments, muscles or tendons, they send messages to the brain that proprioception is limited, which leads to a feeling of instability and loss of balance.
By doing balance exercises, we can help to strengthen all the muscles in and around the ankle and calf and therefore increase balance, stability and the all-important proprioception.
How to do the exercise: You can use a wobble board or a Bosu ball turned over with rounded part towards the floor.
On your wobble board or Bosu, stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Rock on the board, forwards and backwards. Do this for two minutes.
To make the exercise harder, stand in the same position and rotate the wobble board around aiming to keep the edge of the wobble board in contact with the floor. Again, do this for two minutes.
5. Hop and land
By hopping on alternate legs and carefully landing and holding the single-leg jump, you will naturally strengthen the muscles and ligaments around the ankle, foot and calf.
To do a hop and land: Start by making a small hop on each leg while staying on the spot. Make sure you properly land the hop and try not to wobble about. You can progress to higher hops on the spot.
You can progress this exercise again by hopping to the left, right, back and forwards as if aiming to hit 9, 3, 6 and 12 on a clock face.
Aim to do each of these exercises for a minute.
By doing regular ankle strengthening exercises for runners, you are more likely to avoid common injuries related to ankle muscle weaknesses.
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Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, who is better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favourite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing, both downhill and back country. Her target for 2021 is to finish the final nine summits in her first round of all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of more than 3,000ft high. Aside from being outdoors, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy the great outdoors, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors (opens in new tab).
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