Our ankles aren’t glamorous! In fact, they even cross our mind very often. But the oft-ignored ankle may have the greatest impact on your running performance, especially if you haven’t considered strengthening them. When you run, your feet continuously strike the ground and all of your leg muscles move you forward have an impact on your ankles.
Your ankles are specifically designed to maintain balance – made up of muscles, tendons and ligaments. Running outside on uneven roads or in less-than-perfect weather conditions forces the muscles in your ankles to work overtime maintaining balance. An initial ankle injury can occur from something as minor as “tipping” your ankle from one side or another and tearing the ligaments. Once you’ve injured your ankles once, you greatly increase your risk of re-injuring them.
Yoga is a fantastic way to build ankle strength. Balancing in particular can have amazing benefits to your ankles, helping them endure more during your runs and help to avoid injury.
There are a number of yoga poses to help strengthen your ankles. Below are a few challenging poses that come with big rewards. Remember, when practicing these poses foot alignment is key. Ensure your weight is evenly distributed on your whole foot: this means that your foot is connecting with the ground from your big toe, to your heel. Spread and ground each of your toes to ensure a good foundation for your poses.
A high lunge will actively engage your front ankle while stretching your back foot and ankle. Ensure you practice high lunge with the toes of each foot pointing forward. Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart. Inhale and step your left foot back, placing the ball of your foot on the ground behind you. Your left leg should be far enough back that your right knee bends enough to bring your right thigh parallel to the ground. Ensure you check the alignment of your front knee and do not let your knee extend beyond your ankle. Your knee should rest right above your ankle. It may want lean out to the right so ensure you bring it back to center.
On your next inhale, lift both of your arms overhead and relax your shoulders. To make this pose more challenging, attempt to lower your left knee to the ground on an exhale, and then pick it back up on the inhale. You should feel the muscles in your right ankle engage.
Hold this pose for 10-15 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Stand with your feet flat on the ground, hip distance apart. Lift your right foot off of the floor and place your right ankle over your left thigh. Ensure your right foot is flexed. You will likely feel this in your right hip as well.
Ground your entire left foot. Once you’ve found your balance – it helps to focus on something still in front of you – sweep both of your arms overhead and slightly bend your left knee.
Hold this pose for 10-15 seconds and repeat on both sides.
Reverse plank can help to build strength in both your feet and ankles. It also can increase your foot flexibility by lengthening the top of your feet.
To come into the pose, sit with your legs stretched out in front of you. Place your hands a few inches behind you with your fingers pointing forward and allow your weight to lean into your hands. Bend your knees, pushing your feet flat onto the floor. On an exhale, press your weight equally between both hands and both feet, lifting your hips so you are in a reverse table top. Work towards getting your thighs parallel to the floor. Keeping your hips high, extend each of your legs to they are straight and parallel with the ground. Press your shoulder blades down to lift your chest. Keep your feet connected to the ground, extending your toes forward. If it feels good, allow your head to gently drop back.
Hold this for 10-15 seconds and repeat.