When I thought of strengthening exercises I used to think think of exercises like the bench press, squat, chin-ups, etc. Sometimes though it is the little muscles and joints that need to be shown some love in regards to strengthening . That is why people seem to ask about bench press, and squats numbers. I have never had anyone ever ask me how many calf raises I can do. I doubt anyone ever will.
However, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Runners tend to not be very much into lifting for the most part. One of my earlier blog posts discussed the need to be healthier and stronger from the ground up. Now more research seems to continue to bear that out. A recent study was published by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland. My grandfather on my Finnish side would have been proud I am referencing a Finnish study. But I digress. The study examined the muscles that are used to straighten the knee and ankles during walking and running activities. It was determined during the study that the knee and ankle had forces about 8-9 times bodyweight. That is a lot of force which can be detrimental. The ankles though had a lower maximum force. This means if your ankles are weak they can be a limiting factor in your performance.
The latest findings help to support an earlier study done by Kulmala (one of the researchers) that showed that while power output was similar from the hips and knees in runners ages 26, 61, and 78 respectively, there was a marked decrease in ankle power that increased with age.
So, you may ask how can we change that? I like to incorporate a few exercises that are great for strengthening the ankle. I believe it makes sense to begin strength training while you are younger and be proactive in preserving your strength and power. This can also help you run more efficiently. Even if you are not a runner it is still important to maintain a strong base of support.
You do not need to create an entire workout based just around strengthening your ankles. However incorporating a few exercises into an already balanced training program or before a workout as a warmup will be beneficial. Anything that challenges the ankle joint will have a carryover.
- Single Leg Balance on Trampoline or Dynadisc- Stand on one leg with your knee slightly flexed. Balance on the one leg for 30 seconds and then move on to the other leg. Perform the exercise two times on each side. I prefer to do these exercises barefoot to allow the small muscles in the ankle and foot to have an increased challenge.
If you do not have a trampoline available you can use a dynadisc as well.
2. Standing Calf Raises & Single Leg Calf Raises Versions
Calf raises are done by simply rising up onto the balls of your foot. Go up as high as you can. Then lower yourself until you feel a stretch at the calves at the bottom of the movement. Notice I do l not let me feet touch the floor. That would take some tension off the calves.
In the single leg calf raises you would perform the exercise the same as the above. Except you will work one leg at time, unilaterally. This can not increase the challenge but also allows each leg to work fully and help avoid having one more dominant leg and any muscle imbalances. Perform all the repetitions on one side and then repeat for the same amount of reps on the other leg.
3. Lunge Matrix
I like to use the Lunge Matrix at times as a warmup, and also as warm up. I personally like it because it allows you to work on strengthening the legs but also then ankle joint in various planes of movement, frontal, saggital, transverse.
4. Single Leg Squat Touchdowns