The winter is hard on your legs. Slippery surfaces and snowy roads can lead to injuries, but strengthening your lower limbs can help avoid that. Below are a series of exercises that you can do barefoot pre-workout to make sure your feet and calves can handle running during the colder months.
Make sure you warm up before doing these exercises. They’re also ideally done barefoot on a soft surface like a track or a yoga mat.
Isolated Toe Lifts
This is a great exercise to strengthen the big toe flexor which is the main source of balance and propulsion. Sit with your knees bent at 90 degrees, feet on the floor. Lift your big toe while keeping your other toes pressed into the floor. Then press your big toe into the floor as your raise your other toes. Aim for sets of 10 on each side.
Resistance Band Strengthening
This exercise strengthens the peroneal muscles, which are very small but important stabilizers in your lower leg. Secure a long resistance loop band around a fixed point close to floor level. Sit on the floor so that the band is perpendicular to your straight leg. Loop the band around your foot and slowly turn your ankle so that your foot resists the tension of the band, then return to a neutral position. Aim for 10 repetitions on each leg, in both directions.
The marble pick-up can increase foot dexterity and strength. Sit with your knees bent at 90 degrees, feet on the ground. Place a towel on the floor in front of you to prevent the marbles from rolling away. Place a pile of marbles on one side of the towel. Keeping your heel planted on the floor, pick up as many marbles as you can with your toes, and rotate your ankle to deposit them on the opposite side. When all of the marbles have been moved, pick them up from the new pile and deposit them back on the original side. Repeat with the other foot.
Toe Towel Grab
The towel grab uses an easily accessible household item to increase foot dexterity and strength especially in your plantar. Sit with your knees bent at 90 degrees, feet on the ground. Place a towel on the floor in front of you with a one end in front of your foot and a small weight on the other end. Keeping your heel on the ground, rotate your ankle towards the weight and use your toes to grab the towel, pulling it towards you in small increments. Repeat with the other foot.
Single Leg Balancing
Exercises that challenge the small muscles in your feet and improve overall balance are crucial to winter running.
Use an unstable surface, such as an athletic mat, balance pad, bosu ball or foam pad. Stand as steadily as possible on one leg, focusing on pressing all of your toes, the ball of your foot and your heel equally into the surface upon which you are standing. Hold for 30 seconds. Once you get good at this, make it more difficult by closing your eyes.
Calf raises/heel drops
Eccentric loading, which is the active lengthening of muscle under an external load, is a common protocol for strengthening the calf muscles and for treating achilles issues. Stand on one foot on an elevated surface such as a box or step, holing onto a wall or railing for support. Slowly raise up onto your toes, hold for a second, then slowly lower so that your heel drops below the box or step. Aim for 15-20 repeats on each foot. Once this feels good, consider adding weight by holding dumbbells.
Heel & Toe Walks
This simple exercise strengthens the peroneal muscles, which are the small stabilizing muscles around your shins. Roll up onto your toes, and slowly walk forward, staying as balanced as possible. Focus on pressing your big toe into the ground and rolling up onto the balls of your feet, avoiding rolling onto the outside of your feet. Walk about 15 meters forward, then 15 meters backwards. Repeat on your heels, keeping your toes pointed up towards your shins.
Dorsiflexed Bunny Hops
This bouncy exercise strengthens your lower legs and increases your explosive power. Keep your toes pointed up towards your shins, your ankles stiff, and just a slight bend in the knees (locking the knees completely can cause injury). Keeping this position in both legs and feet, hop up and down as quickly as possible, minimizing the time spent on the ground. Aim for sets of 10 hops. If you master the bunny hop, take it to the next level by adding some movement: maintain the bunny hop position of the feet and lower legs while hopping back and forth across a solid line, such as a line on a track. Repeat this movement hopping forwards and backwards across the line.