Runners may not be prone to kicks in the shins or strikes with the ball like athletes who play team sports, but they are prone to another type of injuries: overuse injuries. This type of injury occurs as the result of the continual impact that running places on the joints in your legs and feet. Increasing mileage too quickly, running in poorly fitted shoes, and doing too much speedwork on hard surfaces can contribute to the development of overuse injuries, which include shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis.
Weakness in the ankles can also contribute to the development of overuse injuries. When your ankles are weak, your biomechanics are affected and your joints are not able to absorb the impact of running as they are designed to do. By strengthening the ankles with these three exercises, you can reduce your risk of most common overuse injuries. Start by doing these exercises just 2 times per week after your easier runs, and progress towards doing them daily as your body adapts.
Exercise 1: Resistance Band Front Stretches
Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Loop a resistance band around the ball of one of your feet, and hold both ends of the band with your hands. With a slight bend in your knee and your leg raised slightly off of the floor, push your toes down towards the floor. Hold this position for about 10 seconds, and then relax. Repeat the motion 9 more times for a total of 10 repetitions, and then switch to the other foot.
As your ankles become stronger, you can increase to 15 - 20 repetitions per foot. You can also use tougher resistance bands to make the exercise more challenging.
Exercise 2: The Pillow Perch
Building stability in your ankles is just as important as building strength, and this exercise does just that. Place a soft pillow on the ground, and step onto it with one foot. Lift the other foot in the air, so you are essentially standing on the pillow with one foot. It's okay to hold onto a chair or couch for support if you need to do so at first. Hold the one-foot position for about 10 seconds, and then switch to the other foot. Do a total of 10 repetitions per foot.
As your ankles adapt to this exercise, you can make it harder by staying on one foot for 20 seconds instead of 10. You can also bend and then straighten the knee of the leg you're standing on to give yourself a real challenge.
Exercise 3: Sideways Lunges
This exercise works more than just the ankles. It also strengthens the muscles in your thighs, making is the perfect move for all-around injury prevention. To perform a sideways lunge, begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, step to the left with your left foot, keeping the right foot in place. You should sink your weight downward, so that your right knee ends up bent at a 90-degree angle and your left leg is stretched straight out to the side. Then, step back so that your feet are shoulder-width apart again. Repeat this motion on the other side, and do a total of 10 - 20 repetitions with each leg.
Remember that no runner, no matter how cautious, is immune to overuse injuries. If you start to feel soreness or tightness in any area, take a few days off and ice the sore area. If the pain does not subside, seek treatment from an ankle doctor or physical therapist who has experience working with runners. The sooner you identify and treat the injury, the sooner you'll be back out on the road.
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