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Simple foot and ankle stretches for runners

A Runner’s Guide to Stretching Your Feet

As runners, staying in tune with your ankle and foot health is very important for performance and preventing injuries. Keep your feet in tip-top shape by working on your foot mobility and strength through this series of stretches and flexibility exercises.

Anatomy of the Foot and Ankle
Our feet and ankles are made up of a network of joints, ligaments, and muscles that work in tandem to keep us stable. From the calve muscles to the arches of the feet, all the way to our toes, each of these parts gives us flexibility and stability in our everyday motions.
The foot and ankle move in a variety of angles which give us the dexterity we need to walk and run on different types of terrain. When we keep these parts in good shape, everything stays moving like it’s supposed to. But we typically don’t notice anything is wrong until something starts hurting.
When we are getting ready for a jog, run, or exercise session, we often forget to warm up our feet and ankles before getting started. This can lead to a number of stability issues and even injuries. As such, it’s important to strengthen these areas to prevent stiffness and weakness that can cause injury.

When parts of this network are not strong enough to support the feet and ankles, our bodies create tension and pain in other muscles & tendons, like the calves, ankles, and arches of our feet. Luckily, we have ways of stretching and exercising these parts to help stave off even the most minor of injuries.


Stretches that strengthen your feet and ankles

We can employ a number of stretches and exercises to help build up the muscles around our feet and ankles. Here are some of the essential moves you can do at home before and after a run. These stretches can be done while seated or standing, it’s up to your discretion how you do them.

Starting with the toes & arches

Toe Splays

Starting with your feet planted on the ground, making sure your knees and ankles are in alignment. Placing your weight in your heels, spread your toes out wide and hold for a few seconds before slowly bringing them back together. Do this about three times for each foot.

Toe Lifts

Starting with your feet planted on the ground, making sure your knees and ankles are in alignment. Placing your weight in your heels, trying not to lift your foot from the ground, lift your toes from the floor and hold for 5 seconds before returning them to the floor. Does this about three times for each foot.

Toe Curls

Starting with your feet planted on the ground, making sure your knees and ankles are in alignment. Alternating feet, splay out your toes and gently curl them under as if you are trying to pick something up [it might help to use a towel to actually grab onto something]. Do this about three times for each foot.

Arch Rolls

Begin in a seated position with your feet flat on the floor. Remove your shoe and place a tennis ball under your foot. Slowly roll the ball up to the ball of the foot, rolling along the toes, down the outside edge of the foot to the heel, and press down on the ball with your heel. Then roll the ball back up to the arch of your foot, pressing down to increase pressure where needed to break up tension in your arches. Do this for about two minutes, alternating feet.


Next, let’s tackle the ankles and calves

Seated Heel Raises [Achilles Stretch]

While seated in a chair, lift your feet up onto your toes, raising as high as you can go without pain or discomfort. Slowly lower your heels back to the floor. Repeat this 10 to 20 times in a slow and controlled fashion. You can make this move more difficult by pressing your hands or weight on your thighs.

Standing Heel Drops [Achilles Stretch]

Stand on a chair or raised a platform, holding onto a rail or chair for support, positioning your heel over the edge so that it can articulate upwards and downwards unimpeded. Slowly lift your heels up and lower them down to the lowest part you can. Hold for a few seconds. Repeat this 10 to 20 times in a slow and controlled fashion.

Calf Stretch

Place your hands against a wall, or counter, start by coming into a lunge position with one leg coming forwards and knee slightly bent, sending the other leg straight back with the ball of your foot planted on the floor. Sink into your front bent knee, but not allowing your knee to come past your toes, as you stretch out the calf of your extended leg. Hold this position for 10 seconds, before slowly coming back to standing to switch legs. Repeat this 10 to 20 times on each foot.

If you cannot come to the ball of your foot in this position, you can keep your foot planted on the floor for a slightly different calf stretch.

Calf Raises

Come to a standing position, holding onto a wall or chair for stability. Begin by tightening your core muscles as you raise your heels off the floor and come onto the balls of your feet. Hold this position for a moment before slowly lowering your heels to the floor. Take your time with this move, it’s about the stretch, not how fast you can come up and down.

Now that your feet and ankles are all prepared, go and enjoy that run!