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Prevent Running Injuries: Calves, Ankles, & Feet

Runners depend on the health of their lower legs. Weakness or damage to the feet, ankles, or calves can lead to stress fractures, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and many other debilitating injuries that can sideline an athlete for week, months, or even years.

The best way to avoid getting a chronic or acute lower leg injury is to strengthen the area ahead of time, before the damage can be done. The exercises below are designed to do just that. Do the entire series or pick and choose your workout to ensure your feet, ankles and calves are ready for the long haul.

Theraband Exercises

For these exercises, you need a theraband—a stretchy, rubbery resistance strap—that can be found at any gym or purchased (cheaply) at any sporting goods store or general discount shopping chain.

Point & Flex

  1. Wrap the theraband around the ball of one foot, with your knees straight and legs out in front of you in a pike position (feet pointed, legs touching). Make sure your back is upright and you’re sitting tall.
  2. Pulling the theraband taut with your arms, slowly point and flex your foot 32 times against the resistance of the theraband.
  3. Switch the theraband to the other foot and repeat.

Wing

  1. To wing, wrap the theraband around the ball of one foot like in the previous exercise.
  2. Pull the band toward the inside of your foot, in the direction of your free leg.
  3. Step on the band with your free foot to hold it down.
  4. Using the resistance provided by your arms and foot, wing your foot by rotating it outward against the band.
  5. Repeat 32 times, and then switch feet.

Sickle

  1. Wrap the theraband around the ball of your foot.
  2. Pull the band across the outside of your foot, away from both legs.
  3. Cross your free foot over your working foot and step on the band with it.
  4. Sickle your foot away from the band. (Sickle means simply to make a crescent shape using your foot).
  5. Repeat 32 times, and then switch feet.

Sans Band

Add to your resistance training and transition into bare feet by working on the floor without your theraband. This will work all of the small, hard to reach muscles throughout your feet and legs that you use running, but without the stress of your resistance band.

Roundabouts

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you in a pike position, spine upright, and knees straight.
  2. Make outward circles with both ankles. The feet should be flexed at the beginning and end, and pointing as your circle goes down to the floor.
  3. Repeat 32 times, then reverse, and do 32 inward circles.

Toe Sit-ups

  1. Sit on the floor in pike position, legs straight, spine lifted.
  2. Point both feet down to the floor.
  3. Flex just your toes, leaving your ankles pointed by pushing them outward and forcing your arch into a vertical position.
  4. Continue to flex and point your toes, keeping the ankles pointed.
  5. Repeat 32 times.

Turn Outs

  1. Begin in a pike position, legs straight, spine lifted.
  2. Slowly point your feet.
  3. As they are pointed, rotate your feet so only the heels touch as the toes aim away from each other.
  4. Hold the position for eight slow counts.
  5. Flex your feet up, and then turn them in (toes pointed up in the same direction, feet parallel).
  6. Hold the flexed position for eight slow counts.
  7. Repeat 16 times, and then reverse. Start turned out with your feet flexed, and then turn in with your feet pointed.

Pencil Pusher

For this exercise, you need a pencil or pen and a place to sit so that your quads are parallel to the floor.

  • Sit in a chair with bare feet and place a pencil on the ground next to your left foot.
  • Pick up the pencil using the toes of your left foot.
  • Pass the pencil to your other foot, using only the toes of both feet to grip and move the pencil.
  • Once your right toes have a firm grasp on the pencil, slowly drop it to the floor.
  • Repeat the pencil pass, this time starting with the right foot. Do the exercise 16 times total.

Slanted Calve Stretch

This exercise will strengthen your calves while also improving their range of motion through steps that over-emphasize the running motion.

  1. Stand facing a wall, approximately 6 to 12 inches away depending on your height. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Slowly bend your knees forward to touch the wall in an exaggerated version of the running motion. Keep your hips forward and centered. You should feel the stretch in your lower calves.
  3. Return to the center with your legs straight.
  4. Bend your knees forward again, only this time, angle to the left. (The right knee may never reach the wall, which is okay, since it is farther back).
  5. Return to the center with your legs straight.
  6. Bend your knees forward again, only this time, angle to the right. (The left knee may never reach the wall, which is okay, since it is farther back).
  7. Return to the center with your legs straight. Repeat center, left, and right wall touches 10 times.

Treat Your Toes!

Strengthen your lower legs with these exercises every day, whether before or after practice, at home, or while sitting in the park. Just make sure to take good care of your tootsies, calves and ankles by massaging and soaking them in cold water afterwards!

The best way to avoid getting a chronic or acute lower leg injury is to strengthen the area ahead of time. The exercises is this guide are designed to do just that.
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