There is a more to trail running than putting one foot in front of the other, especially if you want to go fast. Roots, rocks, loose and uneven surfaces will put more stress on your ankles than running on tarmac. Most of your stability will come from a strong core and glutes, but it is still important to work those small muscles in your feet and lower legs to help become more resilient against rolling your ankles. Here are some really simple exercises you can do at home to help get you ready to run on the trails. For the first 2 exercises you will need a Theraband or resistance band. These are available in pretty much any sports shop and generally come in pack with different strengths of resistance. Start of with a light resistance band, and once you have built up the number of reps you can do progress to a higher resistance band.
1. Ankle Eversions
Sit on the floor with you legs out straight in front of you and place the band around both feet. You can do this with or without shoes but I find the band stays on easier with shoes. Keep one foot still to anchor the band and turn the other foot outwards at the ankle and return to the starting position. The movement should be slow and controlled, both on the way out and on the way back in.
I would suggest starting with 2 x 8 reps on each side and getting comfortable with this before increasing the number of reps.
2. Ankle Inversions
Set up as you did for the ankle eversions, but this time cross one leg over the top of the other. The leg over the top is your anchor. Turn your underneath foot inwards from the ankle and return to the center. Again the movement should be slow and controlled and start out with 2 x 8 reps on each leg.
Tips for exercises 1&2
– You can do this with or without shoes but I find the band stays on easier with shoes.
– If you find it uncomfortable to sit with your legs outstretched you can place a rolled up towel under your knees and/or ankles for additional support.
-Make sure you stay relaxed above your knee, all movement should come from your lower leg.
-Don’t worry if you don’t have much flexibility at your ankle, this will improve. Move within a range that is comfortable and focus on staying controlled.
– If you find using your other foot to anchor the band difficult you can secure the band with a table leg or other fixed object.
3. Single leg balance
Stand on one leg, find your balance, and when you are ready close your eyes. Try and hold this for 30 seconds, you can use your arms for balance.
Start with 2 x 30 seconds on both sides and get good at this before adding time. To progress further you can stand on a cushion or wobble board to make the surface uneven.
Tip – You will be able to feel the muscles in your feet working hard, try to think about activating the glute of the leg you are standing on, and staying strong through your core.
4. Single leg clock face
Imagine you are in the middle of a clock. Standing on one leg, you then move the other to tap the floor at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. Go around the clock twice, this is one rep. Repeat twice on each leg.
To progress you can add in more numbers around the clock, stand on a cushion/wobble board, and when you get really good you can place a TheraBand around your ankle to add in some resistance.
Tip – You will be working the muscles in your lower leg and feet, but the stability in this exercise comes from the glute of your standing leg. Focus on staying strong through your core to keep your hips level.