Do you warm up before you go for a run?
If you do, I’m guessing it’s a few minutes of jogging and some static stretching for the hamstrings, calves, and quads. Now this is an okay warm up. If this works for you then by all means please keep doing your warm up. But I feel a better warm up can be used to strengthen your ankles and and increase single leg balance.
It’s common for people to have ankle, knee, and hip pain after running. The cause can sometimes be from improper use of the ankle. A warm up that teaches proper use and stimulates balance in the entire leg will set you up for a much better running session.
The ankle when running
When running your ankle should act as a suspension system that cushions your downward force and then extends to push your body forward. A runner who lands with a heel strike is not using the ankle properly. When the ankle is used properly it allows for more efficient use of your energy. Without proper running technique the body will use the wrong muscles and movement patterns that fatigues the body faster. Being able to run with efficiency allows you to run with a more upright torso, lift your foot and knee up for a longer stride, and use your achilles tendon and calf muscles to cushion and spring you forward.
Your foot should strike relatively beneath your hips. Reaching forward too far with a heel strike causes your foot to stay on the ground too long which drains energy and slows you down. The foot striking relatively beneath your body (just barely in front of you) allows for a quick landing at the midfoot finished by an extension of the ankle and hip. The goal is get your foot off the ground as quick as possible. Having your stride last too long results in the muscle contractions lasting too long which is incredibly taxing on the legs.
To keep the ankle functioning correctly we need to warm it up properly before running.
Challenge your balance in the warm up
This exercise is used by many coaches and physical therapists as a rehab/prehab exercise. It teaches proprioception (body awareness) as well as foot, calf, and hip stability. Reach to each spot once and repeat for 3 sets before switching legs. You can eventually work up to doing 5 sets per leg. If you do these correctly you’ll start you feel your feet and calves fatiguing as they.re fighting for balance. You will also feel the glutes and hamstrings begin to burn as you feel the entire leg working to remain stable.
Key points: Reach as far as you can in each direction without allowing the heel to raise on the static foot. Engage your hips and feel your foot and calf muscles struggle to stay balanced. Move slow and controlled.
Become a single leg ninja with single leg hops
Hopping on one leg helps to strengthen the calf muscles by using the ankle to cushion and spring off the ground. The ankle needs durability in order to run multiple miles. When the calf muscles fatigue the body shifts forward in a hunched over position that will exhaust the quads.
Perform the hops front to back and side to side for around 15-20 repetitions each and work up to doing 30 repetitions. The goal is to get “springy” and light on your feet.
Considerations: If this is too challenging you can also start with a two foot hop, or jumping rope. Progress to a two foot hop followed by one foot hop combination. The goal is to learn how to use your ankle as a suspension system that can absorb force then spring you forward.
Adding these little exercises into your warm up will be far more beneficial than a few static stretches. Challenge your balance and use the ankle correctly.