Imagine walking as you wear a backpack that weighs four times as much as you do. This is the amount of force your legs absorb every step while running -- four to six times your body weight to be exact. Considering how many steps you take over the course of a run, it is amazing you can still stand. It is no surprise then that you may have sore ankles after a run. Fortunately, specific stretches for ankle muscles and strengthening exercises can help to reduce this soreness.
Shin Muscle Stretches
Sore ankles often result from overuse of the muscles on the front of your ankle. Although these tiny muscles may seem useless, they are important in force absorption in every step. While standing, reach one foot behind you, plant your toes into the ground, and then slowly try to touch the top of your foot to the ground. Stop when you feel a stretch through the top of your foot in your shin, and hold for 30 seconds. You will be surprised what a big difference stretching that seemingly invisible muscle will make.
Your calf muscles also play an important role in cushioning your foot landings during running, but if they are tight, their effectiveness is diminished. Mix a step stretch into your routine, propping one foot up on a step with your heel still on the ground. Slowly push forward until you feel a stretch in your calf, then hold for 30 seconds. You are not done yet, though; next you will need to maintain that forward push as you rock your hips side to side over your leg. This second stretch focuses on the lateral calf muscle fibers that support the ankles and can help to loosen them up.
Strengthening your ankles to prevent future soreness is actually quite simple, and can be mixed into your current strength-training routine. Balance exercises improve ankle strength through increased muscle stability. Take any upper-body exercise you currently do on two feet, and do it on one foot instead. For example, do dumbbell biceps curls on one foot. You are more efficient with your time and you improve ankle strength as well. Most upper-body exercises will work, including rows, shoulder presses and lateral raises. Make sure you spend an even amount of time on both feet to maintain balanced strength.
Strong calves better absorb foot strikes and should be a part of your exercise plan. Calf raises are a great strengthener, but you need to make sure to do two sets of 15 to 20 repetitions of both varieties. Straight leg calf raises are the common variety, and involve standing with your toes on a step and pushing up and down onto your tippy toes. You also need to incorporate bent-knee calf raises to focus on your soleus muscle and achilles tendon. These are done just like standard calf raises, but you simply keep your knees bent at about 20 degrees as you are doing so.
Scotty Brunning is a Chicago-based health and fitness writer. Having worked with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas, he has a plethora of fitness experience. He is an ACSM-certified health fitness specialist and a Cooper Institute master fitness specialist. Brunning holds a master's degree in health and fitness.