Utah is home to nearly every form of running—road, trail, marathon, and ultra. With such a diverse terrain comes a diverse group of athletes. Marathoners don’t train the same way as ultra-runners, just as road runners don’t have the same fitness regimen as trail runners. However, every type of Utah runner could significantly benefit from one piece of training advice: strengthen those ankles.
Many runners neglect ankle strengthening exercises. Think about it: with each step, runners hit the ground with a force of up to three times their body weight. The stiffness of an individual’s ankle will determine the force put into the ground. Ankle strength is essential for running faster and longer, as it can allow runners to hit longer strides and more easily pound the pavement.
If you’ve ever paid attention to Usain Bolt’s ankles, you’ll notice something strange: they barely move. His ankle stiffness allows him to keep his posture and transfer power to the ground as efficiently as possible. Weak ankles, by contrast, lose a lot of the stride’s power, and a lack of control over the joint can lead to discomfort and debilitating injury.
Good ankle exercises are key to running better, faster, and longer. The easiest way to stretch and work the ankles is to practice walking on the toes, on the heels, and on both sides of the feet. This should be done without shoes on and on different surfaces. Practice keeping control of the ankle in each walk. Practice for a few minutes every day—just walk down your house’s hallway a few times. This small time investment will have a huge payoff on the trail or road.
Bosu balance balls are also excellent for ankle stability. Simply stand on the ball with one or both feet. Once your stability improves, begin to incorporate small calf raises and small jumps. After just a few weeks, you’ll notice a significant improvement in ankle strength.