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Foot and ankle mobility exercises for runners

Foot and ankle strength is key for running-injury prevention

Runners’ feet and ankles can get overlooked, but they’re the basis of everything running-related. Paying attention to your foot and ankle mobility is one of the best things you can do for yourself to promote healthy, ache-and-pain free running. Jessica O’Connell is a 2016 Olympian in the 5,000m and a trainer at GRIT athletic coaching who says, “Foot and ankle mobility is important to work on so that force is distributed properly through your body. When you are really stiff, extra force goes through your achilles tendon, plantar and many small foot bones which reduces running efficiency and can lead to injury.” Here’s a short pre-run routine that you can do before your workout to get your feet (and the rest of your body) moving well. 

Foot rolling

Roll the bottom of your feet on a lacrosse or golf ball, pausing for 30 to 60 seconds on any tight spots. O’Connell also adds that if you have plantar fasciitis, rolling on a frozen water bottle may be soothing (however, this is a post-run-only activity). 

Ankle mobility

Stand facing a wall with one foot as far away as possible (but allowing your knee to touch when it’s bent). You should feel this stretch in your ankle and lower-calf. As you improve, move your foot farther from the wall. 

Foot inversion/eversion

O’Connell says this exercise is particularly key. “Ankle strength is important for stability and this exercise will work on that.” Loop a long band around your foot, or anchor to a table or chair. Keeping your knee and hip stationary, move your foot outward and then inward 10 times each. Repeat for a total of three sets. 

Toe raises 

Not to be confused with calf raises (those come later), toe raises work on your toe dexterity and strength. Stand with your feet stable, arches raised and three points of contact with the ground: heel, big toe, and pinky toe. Staying otherwise still, raise just your big toe 10 times. Then, raise just your little toes 10 times as well, (keeping your big toe down). Then, raise all your toes and put them down one by one, starting with big toe, also 10 times. 

Eccentric heel drops

Especially important for runners with Achilles issues, this exercise should be a staple. Stand on the edge of a stair so that your toes are on the step and your feet are dangling and hold on to a railing for support. Raise up on your tippy toes and slowly lower your heels below the stair level. Repeat for three sets of 10, doing so with your knees both bent and straight. Start double-legged and progress to single-leg. 

Trigger point release

Use a lacrosse ball to massage out tight knots in the shin and calf by rolling on the ball and pausing on knots for one to two minutes or until the pain lessens.