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Ankles of Trail

Most of us have been there. Snap, crackle, POP and your run is done. Just a loose rock, bad foot placement or a moment of distraction, and weeks or months of rehab lie ahead. Our ankles are particularly vulnerable out on technical trail, and once you’ve rolled them once, you’ve weakened one of your most powerful trail weapons.

Ankle strength can be a make or break (literally) for trail running performance. We rounded up two fresh perspectives on ankle health.

The Lyno Guy

Name: Mark Lindenberg

Profession: Lyno Practitioner

Location: Rondebosch Boys High Campus, Cape Town

“First, get a Lyno* Assessment done to see if you have any dysfunctional / inactive lines and are locked in any compensation patterns. Second, spend a lot of time on one leg because that is how you run. Do most, if not all leg exercises on one leg to improve “joint intelligence” from your hip stabilizers through your knee and into your ankle.

If one leg feels weaker or less stable when doing certain movements then work the weaker leg at least 2-3 x more than the stronger leg. 

If you do roll your ankle slightly, one would tend to immediately try immobilizing it to lessen the pain and swelling. However it often is best for a minor sprain to keep moving on it, walking normally to and from work, home etc to ensure that it does not become locked up, which causes further issues and increases the chances of re-injuring it. Obviously, if it is way too painful to stand on then you must immobilize it and seek professional help.

I am hesitant to strap long term without first getting to the bottom of the instability issue that is unique to you. It is important to try to resolve the issue by getting to the root of the problem rather than only treating the symptoms.”   

Mark’s Ankle Workouts

1.Brush your teeth on one leg. Say left leg in the morning and right leg in the evening.

2. Do 10 Single leg squats as if you squatting to sit on a toilet seat (90-100 degree angle behind the knee and ensure the knee tracks straight over the middle of the foot and not beyond the toes). Start with 1 set, 3 days a week and add a set every week until you are up to 3 sets and then add 1-2 reps every week until you are up to 3 sets of 20 reps. You can then start adding 1-2kg each week by holding dumbbells.

3. Do single leg calf raises off a step, following the same formula.

4. Single legged hip lifts (lying flat on your back with knees bent and lifting your hips up with one leg while the other leg hangs in the air). Follow the same formula.

5. Lastly, doing a side plank leg lift on a bunkie as well as a groin side plank on a bunkie are crucial exercises to work your inner and outer thigh. These are complicated to describe but you need to ensure you are doing exercises that work your legs separately, that work the front, the back, the inside and the outside of your legs/hips.

Bounce Back

Name: Lisa Raleigh

Profession: Media Personality and Wellness Expert

Location: Johannesburg

“When training clients who had weakened ankles from running, overuse or poor collagen formation, I found they did a lot of lateral movement sport when they were younger, without doing much conditioning, flexibility or mobility work. I recommend a lot of one-legged work such as deep lunges with one leg balancing off a bench. Anything that requires unilateral work (one leg then the other) will balance strength on both sides of the body, as we all have one stronger side. The key is proper alignment so that you don’t overcompensate.

A Buso ball (flat base down, client positioned on the rounded dome or the other way around) is great for one legged work. I work on balance, moving each foot in to the middle to wobble whilst supporting the client, progressing to no support. Then I throw a light ball to the client whilst they balance on the Bosu, progressing to a heavier ball.

You also get foam balance pads which are great for balance and ankle strength. Again, we add ball throwing, progressing to throwing from further away, adding weight to the balls. The client is forced to use their ankles so as not to fall over, or off the pad.

Rebounding is amazing for ankles. Initially a client will hop on one leg on the rebounder, starting out using a support bar, carefully watching ankle control. Then we take the bar away and get the client jumping left to right, forward, backwards, and around in circles. More and more time is added on each leg using pointy, ballet type conditioning. Over time we add ankle weights, building up strength progressively. Lots of my runners Rebound on their active rest days which helps with inflammation and reducing stiffness through non-impact workouts.

Resistance bands are also excellent, building in some push/pull work with a training partner.

Make sure you have the right supplementation. Collagen is a big one to help with soft tissue damage, which is common with runners particularly in ankles and knees.”

In conclusion, ignore ankle strengthening at your peril. Nobody likes a sprained, strapped, swollen, grumpy runner, limping about on a busted ankle.

Words: Kim Stephens