Balance Exercises to Improve Ankle Stability for Runners and Triathletes

I’ll start off with a disclaimer if you’re having significant issues with your running or exercise routine or things are getting worse, seek professional assistance. There are some awesome physical therapists, athletic trainers, running coaches, triathlon coaches and personal trainers out there. They aren’t hard to find.

In this post I’ll share some of my experiences and provide information in the form of links and videos to get you started. Two years ago my off season began with a running rehab program based on The Running Injury Recovery Program by Bruce Wilk PT. The book and workbook offer a comprehensive guide to recovering from running injuries and become a better runner including exercises, stretches, self mobility techniques and more.

Ankle exercises including stretches, seated exercises, balance activities and functional exercises from Sports Injury Clinic Website

 

For the first time I realized that swimming, biking and running are not enough to progress as a triathlete and really not enough just to stay injury free. Now every off season finds me working on balance exercises for ankle stability and doing barbell weight training.

This season I accomplished my 10 year goal of running a 5K under 30 minutes with a time of 28:42 at the St. Paddy’s Day Dash & Bash, Greenville, SC, and cut more than four minutes off the Medoc Trail Races 10 Miler, Hollister, NC, finishing in 2:00:38. I think the ankle stability work and weight training were the reasons why.

For balance and ankle stability I mostly do proprioception exercises. The webpage below from Sports Injury Clinic gives a pretty comprehensive list of ankle exercises. Be careful performing single leg balance activities especially with eyes closed. They are harder than you might think. Ideally have a partner to steady you or perform them on a mat or near something sturdy you can grab for support. In short, plan on losing your balance.

Tracking Your Progress

One way to benchmark where you are and assess your progress for balance and ankle stability is to time how long you can stand in single leg stance on the floor on each leg before you lose your balance and then do the same on a non-compliant surface like a balance pad or Bosu ball. Record the times for each leg on both the floor and non-compliant surface and compare the numbers from week to week.

Most likely you will find that you can stand easier and longer on one leg than the other. The time you can maintain your balance on each leg should get longer as your ankles get stronger and you get more practice. Again be careful and make sure you are in a safe area in case you fall.

Running Exercises & Drills by Chris Johnson PT & Bruce Wilk PT

 

Importance of Running Cadence Video by John Hinds PT

 

Do you have an off-season rehab or prehab routine? Comments always welcome.

 

More Resources:

New York Times Article on Female Runner Study

2015 British Medical Journal (BMJ) study concluded that “Vertical average loading rate was lower in female runners classified as ‘never injured’ compared with those who had been injured and sought medical attention.”

BMJ Article Link

In NY Times article study’s lead author suggests landing lighter on your feet, shifting your landing to midfoot and increasing your running cadence may reduce injuries.

The Running Injury Recovery Program book on Amazon

Treat Your Own Knees by Jim Johnson PT

Runners Connect Blog Post on Ankle Sprains and Balance

Runners World Article on the 7 Most Common Running Injuries

Garmin ANT+ Foot Pods: Everything you ever wanted to know by DC Rainmaker

Garmin Foot Pod on Amazon (Running Cadence Sensor)

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