The ankle is one of the most important joints that we have as endurance athletes. It is constantly being tested on the trails, roads, and pedals. We use our ankles to drive our
power and agility through a variety of endurance activities. Most ankles don’t get the attention that they deserve which often leads to stiffness and weakness. This can cause compensations in movement mechanics which leads to issues further up the body such as knee or hip pain. In order to optimally function, the ankle needs to be both mobile and strong. In this blog series, we will be addressing the importance of different joints of the body and how to make sure that you are functioning at 100%. Here are some tips on how to strengthen your ankles for running.
The main joint involved when we think of the ankle is the talocrural joint. This joint operates primary in two directions dorsiflexion (toes up) and plantarflexion (toes down). In order to have optimal mobility it is important to move fully in both of these directions. When we run it is essential to have good mobility to be efficient in our stride. The ankle needs to have enough mobility at the terminal stance in order to spring to the next step. Without full mobility of this joint, we often shorten our stride or compensate in some way which leads to injuries and decreased performance. Some great functional ways to improve ankle mobility is to run on a variety of surfaces. This forces the ankle into several different positions rather than a straight line. One of the most common areas that endurance athletes are lacking is dorsiflexion(toes up). Try this joint mobility test at home to see if there are differences between ankles.
The ankle has several strong muscles and ligaments that cross it to make sure it is protected. Every time we take a step we are activating several muscles that surround the ankle joint. One of the most important muscles that drives our ability to run and jump is our gastrocnemius or calf muscle. One of the reasons why we can run for so long is that we have the ability to store energy in our tendons. The main tendon that is attached to the ankle is the Achilles tendon which is formed by the gastroc and soleus muscles. These are the primary muscles that drive power and speed during running and cycling that control the ankle. Without having optimal strength in these muscles we lose the ability to be efficient in our endurance activities. Try this ankle strengthening exercise at home to improve your power and efficienc
The final piece to keep in mind when improving the ankle is balance. We use our ankle joint as the primary method to control our body in space. Each time that we walk, run or jump our brain has to send the ankle minor corrections to make sure we don’t fall over. This is especially true when running on trails. Improving balance not only decreases your chances of injury but it also improves your running capabilities. An easy way to work on balance daily is to stand on 1 leg while you are brushing your teeth and switching halfway.
Taking a little time each day to work on a specific area of the body will improve your performance and decrease your injury risk over your endurance career.