Many runners of all levels and abilities claim to have weak ankles. For some, this means that their ankles become sore after hard workouts. For others, this means they feel like they're prone to tripping or rolling their ankles while running. If you're a victim of weak ankles, it's time to take a new stance on the issue. Instead of catering to your weak ankles and avoiding certain workouts and activities because of them, try being proactive about strengthening your ankles and preventing injuries. Follow these tips, and eventually, you'll be saying "I used to have weak ankles" as you tackle your workouts head-on with less fear of soreness and stumbling.
Make sure you're running in the right shoes.
It's probably the most common advice given to runners: wear the proper shoes. Unfortunately, this advice bears repeating because so many runners neglect to have their stride and foot shape analyzed before purchasing their running shoes. If your ankle naturally rolls inward as you run (a motion known as pronation), there are shoes that can correct this motion, so your ankles will be a lot less sore when you're done running. However, you won't usually know if you have this issue until you have a professional at a local running store evaluate your stride. Every runner is different, so do not assume that the shoes that work well for a friend are right for you.
Do your drills.
If you played a sport in high school, or even if you just had a very enthusiastic gym teacher, you probably remember doing plenty of running drills. Maybe you stepped side-to-side through tires, or practiced "high knees" back and forth across the gym. These exercises were not just intended to keep you busy. They actually help strengthen the muscles that stabilize your leg. What this means is, as you train with these exercises, your stride will become more stable -- there will be less side-to-side motion, and thus less strain on your ankle joints.
Work running drills into your training routine two or three times per week. Start with just a few 100-meter repeats of high knees, butt kicks, and running backwards, and slowly work towards doing four 200-meter repeats of each of these exercises. If you have access to a double row of tires, step through them a few times once or twice per week, too.
Remember to strength train.
The words "strength training" make many runners groan, but when your ankles are weak, there's really no way around this necessary evil. Thankfully, you don't need access to a gym to do the kind of strength training needed to build stronger ankles. There are three exercises you can do on your living room floor:
- Calf Raises: Stand on your toes with your heels elevated about 4 inches off the floor (use a chair for support if needed), and hold this position for 1 minute. Take a brief rest, and repeat 2 - 3 more times. This will strengthen the muscles in the top of your foot and those in your calf, all of which work to stabilize your ankle.
- Mini Squats: While holding onto a chair, put one leg slightly in front of you. Rise onto the toe of the other leg, and squat down slightly. Hold this position until you feel the burn in your ankle. Then, switch feet. Repeat the exercise 5 - 10 times per leg.
- The Alphabet: This exercise increases the range of motion in your ankle and strengthens the little accessory muscles that are important for balance. Sit on a couch with one foot out in front of you. Trace the alphabet into the air with the outstretched foot. Repeat with the other foot.
If you implement the techniques above, you should find that your ankles strengthen. You'll experience less soreness, and you'll feel less apt to roll your ankle. If you ever develop ongoing or severe ankle soreness, make sure you take some time off from running to recover, and contact a podiatrist at a clinic like Advanced Foot & Ankle Center of Palatine. He or she will help you identify the cause of your pain and establish a good treatment protocol.