Unlock Your Run: Essential Ankle Flexibility Exercises for Runners

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Cross Training For Runners
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Written by :

David Dack

Looking for the best stretches for improving your ankle flexibility and mobility? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Improved ankle mobility allows for a greater range of motion, helping you navigate uneven surfaces with ease and agility. Conversely, lack of mobility limits our mobility and range of motion, impedes our running performance, and even puts us at risk for injuries.

In short, by enhancing ankle mobility and strength, you’re setting a solid foundation for your running performance. It’s an investment in your running future, reducing the risk of injuries and ensuring your legs can carry you through many more miles.

In this article, I’ll explain the ankle’s role in running, then share with you specific stretches for runners to make sure you keep training comfortably and pain-free.

Sounds like a good idea?

Then let’s get started.

Ankle Anatomy 101

Let’s get straight to the point about the role of your ankles in running.

These are crucial for absorbing the impact each time your foot lands and for pushing you forward efficiently. At its core, the ankle is a hinge joint made up of the leg bones (fibula and tibia) and a foot bone (talus).

This setup is crucial for running movements, and that includes:

  • Plantar Flexion: This is when you push your toes down toward the ground, giving you that oomph in the push-off phase.
  • Dorsiflexion: Here, you’re lifting your toes up towards your shin, prepping for a smooth foot strike.
  • Inversion and Eversion: These side-to-side movements add stability, especially helpful on those tricky, uneven paths.

As you run, your ankles are on double duty – soaking up the shock each time your foot lands and then helping to launch you forward for the next step. This dual role highlights just how vital they are for both the mechanics of running and keeping injuries at bay.

Here are three reasons why strong ankles are key in runners:

  • Shock Absorption and Propulsion: The ankle’s knack for handling impacts and aiding in propulsion is at the heart of running mechanics.
  • Stability: It’s also the anchor that keeps your foot landings safe and efficient, especially important when you’re navigating uneven ground and need that extra balance and flexibility.
  • Injury Prevention: By keeping your ankles strong and flexible, you’re setting up a defense against common running injuries, ensuring stability, and proper force distribution all the way through your lower legs.
Sporty young woman sitting and resting after workout or exercise on the outdoor stairs

Common Ankle Issues Faced by Runners

Let’s explore some common ankle issues that runners face and tips for avoiding or managing them:

  • Ankle Sprains. These are the classic missteps—literally. You might be enjoying a run, hit an unexpected bump, and suddenly, your ankle’s twisted.
  • Achilles Tendinitis. This is what happens when you overwork that crucial tendon connecting your calf to your heel. Too much, too soon, and it gets inflamed, leaving you with a sore ankle.
  • Plantar Fasciitis. It starts in your foot but can throw your whole ankle game off. That band running under your foot? When it’s unhappy, you’ll feel it.
  • Peroneal Tendonitis. This one targets the outer side of your ankle. Repetitive motion can get these tendons all riled up, making every step feel tough.
  • Ankle Arthritis. Think you’re too young for arthritis? Think again. Hard miles on your ankles can lead to stiffness and aching.
  • Stress Fractures. These tiny bone cracks are your body’s way of saying, “Time to take it easy!” Overdoing it with distance or pounding on hard surfaces is often the culprit.
  • Chronic Ankle Instability (CAI). Sometimes after an injury, your ankle might feel a bit wobbly and less reliable, often leading to a cycle of instability.
  • Foot Arch. If your foot’s arch is more flatline than arch, it can lead to ankle discomfort due to altered foot mechanics.
  • Getting Old. It’s not just an age thing. Past injuries or just lots of use can lead to osteoarthritis in your ankles, causing pain and stiffness.
  • Wrong Shoes. The wrong shoes can do a number on your ankles. Always choose the right footwear for your foot type and running style.

Ankle Mobility And Flexibility Explained

Ankle mobility is essentially how freely your ankle can move. This isn’t just about muscle and ligament flexibility; it’s about the overall movement range of your ankle, which directly impacts your running form and foot placement.

Now, while flexibility and mobility might sound similar, they’re different. Flexibility refers to the muscles and ligaments’ ability to stretch, but mobility is about the ankle joint’s range of motion and its effectiveness. Both matter for runners, but mobility gives a more complete understanding of how the ankle functions during a run.

Let me dive a little deeper into the importance of ankle mobility:

  • Injury Prevention: Good ankle mobility helps spread the impact of running more evenly across your lower body, cutting down the risk of injuries.
  • Boosted Performance: When your ankle moves freely, you get a better push-off and transfer energy more efficiently, making your run smoother and faster.
  • Better Terrain Handling: This is a big deal for trail runners. Strong ankle mobility allows you to tackle uneven ground with more stability and flexibility, keeping you safer and more confident on tricky paths.

Ankle Stretches for Runners

Adding ankle stretches to your running routine not only helps you dodge injuries but also improves running efficiency. Imagine if tight ankles were holding you back, making your run more of a hop across the terrain.

Here are my go-to exercises:

Ankle Circles

  • What It Does: Boosts your ankle’s range of motion and loosens up the joint.
  • How to Do It: Whether sitting or standing, lift one foot and draw circles in the air with your toes, moving from the ankle. Do 10 circles one way, then switch directions. Swap feet and repeat.

Toe Walks

  • What It Does: Strengthens your feet and lower leg muscles, giving your ankles more stability.
  • How to Do It: Stand tall and pop up on your tiptoes. Strut forward for 20-30 seconds without letting your heels touch down.

Heel Walks

  • What It Does: Activates the shin muscles and boosts dorsiflexion movement.
  • How to Do It: Keep the front of your feet lifted and tiptoe in reverse, walking on your heels for 20-30 seconds.

Standing Achilles Stretch

  • What It Does: Increases flexibility in your Achilles and calves, key for a smooth foot strike.
  • How to Do It: Face a wall with one foot ahead of the other. Keep your back heel down, lean in, and wait for that sweet stretch in your lower leg. Hold, switch legs, and repeat.

Plantar Fascia Stretch

  • What It Does: Aims at the plantar fascia, increasing flexibility and cutting down injury risks.
  • How to Do It: Sit and cross one leg over the other. Grab the toes of the crossed leg and gently pull them toward you until you feel a stretch under your foot. Hold, switch, and repeat.

Ankle Mobility Exercises For Runners

If you’re a runner, you know all too well how much we rely on those trusty ankles of ours. So, let’s talk about some top-tier stretches and exercises to keep them in tip-top shape.

Standing Calf Stretch

  • What It Does: This one’s a big thank you to your calf muscles for all their hard work.
  • How to Do It: Find a wall, lean into it with your hands, step one foot back, keep it straight, and press that heel down. Feeling that stretch? Awesome, hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch it up.

Seated Towel Stretch

  • What It Does: Dives deep into that plantar fascia and gives a little love to your Achilles and calves.
  • How to Do It: Sit with your legs stretched out, loop a towel around your foot, and gently tug towards you with a straight leg. You’ll feel a solid stretch. Hold, switch, and repeat.

Ankle Circles

  • What It Does: It’s like taking your ankles for a little joy ride, boosting flexibility and movement.
  • How to Do It: Lift a leg and start drawing circles with your foot—10-12 in one direction, then switch. Repeat with the other foot. Feeling looser? Perfect!

Achilles’ Heel (Achilles Stretch)

  • What It Does: Hits your Achilles tendon and those lower calf muscles.
  • How to Do It: Hands on a wall, one foot back, straighten that leg, press the heel down and lean in. There’s the stretch. Switch after 20-30 seconds.

Band Dorsiflexion Stretch

  • What It Does: Strengthens the muscles for lifting your foot, crucial for that push-off.
  • How to Do It: Sit, legs out, wrap a resistance band around your foot, and flex towards you. Aim for 10-15 reps, then show your other foot some love.

Ankle Alphabets

  • What It Does: Works on mobility and stability, plus you get to doodle with your toes!
  • How to Do It:: Sit down, lift a leg, and start writing the alphabet in the air with your foot. Switch after Z. It’s a fun way to end your session!


In a nutshell, mixing up your routine with these ankle-focused stretches and exercises is key for any runner looking to boost performance and steer clear of injuries.

By weaving in dynamic stretches before you run, static stretches after, and regular strength exercises, you’re giving your ankles the strength and flexibility they need.

This little bit of ankle TLC goes a long way in making sure you can keep hitting the pavement injury-free, with better balance and efficiency. So, here’s to happy running and even happier ankles!

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