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6 Effective Exercises to Strengthen Your Feet and Ankles for Running: Prevent Pain and Fatigue on Long Runs

Updated: Feb 28

I was in the final stretch of my long run.

I had one more bend to round until the parking lot.

I was dying to get my running shoes off since my feet were tired, hot, and swollen.


That's when I saw him just starting his.

And with one wrong step, his run came to a very unfortunate end.


He went down with a dramatic, tragic roll off the paved trail into the grass and weeds, clutching his leg to his chest.


Looking very sweaty, gross, and unprofessional, I ran over to make sure he was alright.

He fortunately was, although disappointed.


His warm up had gone amazing, said the weather was perfect, and was about to start speed intervals (I forgot what pace he said...he was obviously very data driven and I was too busy visually assessing his ankle).


But the curb monster came out to play that day and decided this unsuspecting runner, who was admiring the running conditions, was a mid-morning snack.


Curb monsters, man. They love nom-ing on ankles and feet.

The unfortunate runner had to call it and walked/hobbled back down the trail.

But it left me immediately problem-solving and exercise-planning:

what exercises could rehab this stepping-off-the-curb wrong and even potentially help prevent this from happening in the future?

There's no cure for not looking where you're going-sorry.


But there are effective, runner-specific exercises you can do to eliminate weak ankles.


Because when you strengthen your ankles and feet like a runner, long runs aren't as fatiguing and you can actively prevent the aches and pains that can sneak up on you as mileage or pace climbs.


Ready to check these exercises out for yourself?

Let's get to work on ankle, calf, and feet strength and stability.


6 Exercises to Strengthen Your Feet and Ankles for Running

Circuit:

2-3 sets each // a step & medium weighted medicine ball /dead ball /slam ball*

*don't let this scare you away; you can still perform the 4 other exercises!


Mini Circuit 1:

Pogo jumps

  • 12 jumps

Lateral single leg jumps

  • 12 jumps ea leg

Mini Circuit 2:

Sideways Single Leg Edge of Step Balance

  • to fatigue on each side (HOLD ON for balance!) OR 15-30 secs x2

Sideways Single Leg Edge of Step Balance with High Knee Drivers

  • to fatigue on each side (HOLD ON for balance!) OR 15-30 secs x2


Mini Circuit 3:

Runner's Lunge with Foot Elevated on Step Med Ball Slam

  • 8 reps each side X medium med ball weight

Single Leg Hinged Med Ball Slam

  • 8 reps each side X medium med ball weight


Feet and Ankle Strength and Stability for Runners: Reduce Risk of Injury and Pain


Mini Circuit #1

  • We've already talked a lot about pogo jumps. But not so much about sideways or lateral single leg jumping....

  • THE POINT: runners move within the sagittal plan: meaning forwards and backwards. We run here and we strength train here. But our ankles move in 6 different directions, ESPECIALLY when we run!

  • This mini circuit as a whole makes a great warm up to prep and strengthen your feet and ankles for that forward running motion but also for a side-to-side motion that happens deep within your ankle and foot mechanics, and on a bigger scale when you're navigating changing terrain such as trail running or curbs like in my story above.

  • Strengthening your feet, ankles, and calves in all directions is a major key to avoiding running injuries, fatigue on long runs, and general foot aches/pains especially as you increase pace or mileage.

Mini Circuit #2

  • WARNING: These are SPICY. HOLD ON. BE SAFE.

  • it's not necessarily that these are difficult. They're very simple exercises, but if you're like me and have weak lateral (side) ankle muscles, then you're going to feel these.

  • HOW TO DO THESE: these are best done very close to a wall, railing, etc something to hold on to. You're looking to line up all toes but the large toe parallel with the edge of the step. Your big toe is somewhat off of the edge of the step. This position forces you to be in a single leg position. So HOLD on to a wall and don't worry about where you're other leg is at first. Once you're comfortable here, you can add in the high knee drivers.

  • This exercise is an isometric hold targeting the lateral peroneals or side muscle stabilizers of your foot and ankle complex. It will also strengthen your intrinsic foot muscles (itty bitty deep foot muscles), requiring them to help hold your foot and entire leg on the edge of the step.

  • When your foot and ankle get tired, STOP. This might only be 10secs at first. This position will feel awkward and unstable. Proceed with what you're comfortable with.


Mini Circuit #3

  • have fun with these ;)

  • THE FUN PART!: don't forget to play. We take running and training super seriously and we reap the rewards of feeling strong, stead paces, new distances etc. But adding in new exercises that expand our skills also DRAMATICALLY improves our ankle/foot strength and stability.

  • I find runners don't do a lot of dynamic foot and ankle exercises since the internet serves up a poop ton of banded stuff.

  • Let these be a fun challenge. They work on your foot strength and control, ankle stability and overall single leg balance and strength in positions that look like runner and add a moving, dynamic component. Because we don't run in place, not moving. So our exercises eventually need to be up-leveled to match this. And when they do, we train our ankles and feet to handle the physical, fatiguing demands of pace and mileage.

  • The result? Much better ankle and foot strength, improved stability, and decreased ankle/foot pain and fatigue. But you have to Dare to Train Differently.

WRAPPING UP

I know I'm throwing a lot at you this time, running fit fam.

But I KNOW you're up for the challenge.


A lot of ankle and feet exercises "for runners" that I see on google, youtube, instagram, you name it, are a variety of different toe walks and banded foot exercises.


These can be a place to start....

But think back to the runner who got eaten by the curb monster at the start of this blog.

Do you think more banded ankle exercises could have saved him from becoming the mid-morning snack?

Or do you think more dynamic, running-specific, and explosive-jumping-plyometric exercises might have served him better?


You're only as strong as your weakest-running-link.

So you might as well take the challenge and Dare to Train Differently. ;)


A COUPLE RESOURCES FOR YOU....

  • If you're on a mission to build strong bullet-proof feet and ankles and want to train them like a runner with exercises that look like running and not something your grandma would do, you're going to want to check out my Stronger Feet Workshop.

    • I use these same exercises in the clinic with my runners and they immediately help you build a solid foot foundation through exercises that look like every part of your stride. You literally look like you're running up the stairs. It's really cool; I promise it works. Go check it out.


And until next time, running fit fam...


Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit


P.S. no really...check out those resources ;) you can thank me later.

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