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Training your ankles
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Beth Correira
(Beth) - F

Locale: Beautiful New England!
Training your ankles on 03/26/2007 09:09:50 MDT Print View

Now I know many of you have read Ray Jardine's Beyond Backpacking and I'm curious to find out if there is any truth to his claim that ankle injuries are due to the lack of ankle fitness and strengthening. I've been a long time sufferer of ankle injuries (twists & sprains)some of which were serious. My preference is to wear running shoes or low cut hikers but often I throw in the towel and just take along my boots to prevent disaster on the trail.

Last year in a warm-weather trek up and on Mt. Washington, I used low cut hikers with great success but what surpised me was that the sides of my lower legs and ankles were quite sore...they may have actually got a work out. I have experienced the same thing when I switched my dress shoes to higher & more narrow healed pumps... maybe a great ankle training tool.

So, in short, is it possible to work out your ankles to prevent sprains and strains in the future?

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Training your ankles on 03/26/2007 09:41:50 MDT Print View

Yes, it is possible. We need a trainer on this board to comment. That balance board that one stands on is probably the thing for you. Side stepping hills is what can make my lower leg a little sore while wearing trail runners. I think even low top boots, for me, for side stepping hills would make my legs very sore from the pressure on the leg above the ankle.

Alec Muthig
(Alekat) - F

Locale: Wyoming, USA
Re: Training your ankles on 03/26/2007 10:00:58 MDT Print View

Yep... try a wobble board. (search on Google for "Wobble Board") Get one that can be adjusted so that you start out with minimal height and short workouts. As your ankles get stronger you can increase the height of the board and stay on a bit longer.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Training your ankles on 03/26/2007 10:30:33 MDT Print View

I've started standing on one foot while I'm brushing my teeth or working my part time job behind the cash register at the local Gear shop - just about anytime I'm standing around. Stand on one foot for awhile then switch to the other.

Joshua Gilbert
(joshcgil2) - F

Locale: Seattle
training your ankles on 03/26/2007 12:33:41 MDT Print View

I too have been plauged by bad ankles, ever since I was a teenager up until a few years ago, I badly sprained my ankle a couple times a year, this really cut into my hiking life, as it would take up to a month to fully recover.

so what changed for me?

a couple years ago I started cross country skiing, and the next summer I had markedly fewer problems with my ankles. I realized that the instability of being on skis strengthened all those small stabilizer muscles in my ankle, helping prevent further damadge. I can see how a wobble board would have the same affect.

you can do calf raises, where you stand on the edge of a stair and rock up on your toes, starting with body weight and adding weight with dumbells as you get stronger, also good to do these on one foot.

I've also noted good strengthening results from using a stairmaster machine, but standing on the balls of my feet so that my ankles and calves were targeted.

since you mentioned that this is a recurring problem, I might also suggest some massage therapy to break up old scar tissue in your ankles, allowing the muscles to align properly, thereby helping to prevent further problems.

I've also noticed the majority of my injuries occured at the end of the day, when I was hungry and thirsty. Ever since I've made a point of making sure to eat at the end of the day, rather than stopping after lunch, and I've had fewer problems

plus, the better shape you are in in general, the less likely you are to be fatigued, the more likely you are to not have problems, and the longer you go without injuring your ankles, the less likely you are to injure them in the future.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: training your ankles on 03/26/2007 13:00:53 MDT Print View

Developing the leg, ankle and foot muscles can definitely help, as can a good stretching regime. Don't forget the hamstrings!

I'll caution however, that damaged ligaments can't be replaced by rippling muscles. Ankle injuries due to ligament and tendon damage need adequate time to heal and even then, surgery can still be required. No amount of exercise or Jardine incantations will fix a torn ligament.

I've had both ankles "rebuilt" surgically, but neither is as strong as it was pre-injury so I now use trekking poles and try to keep my weight down. Interestingly, I don't find much difference between low and high-top footwear in how easily I roll an ankle. I do find the fatigue factor mentined above to be huge, so if lightweight and stable trail shoes can reduce fatigue--or push it back to later in the day--they might actually be better than heavier high-tops.

I suspect Ryan, our Fearless Leader, might have a few things to add on the topic as well.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Training your ankles on 03/26/2007 13:01:02 MDT Print View

Those are some excellent tips, Josh.

Stephen Dodd
(stevedodd) - F
Re: Training your ankles on 03/27/2007 12:25:15 MDT Print View

A tip from climber John Sherman, in his book "Better Bouldering" - to be done as you sit with your legs raised on something so that the feet and ankles are free to move. Once in position (Sherman suggests this might be done while watching television) simply trace the letters of the alphabet with your feet, your toes outlining the line of the letters. It probably works like a wobble board in some ways. Anyway, I've tried it occasionally and it feels like it should strengthen the ankles. Sherman swears by it, and boulderers punish their ankles more than most (apart, perhaps, from very jaded and imaginative masochists).
Of course, you do have to know the letters of the alphabet ...

Edited by stevedodd on 03/27/2007 12:26:03 MDT.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Training your ankles on 03/27/2007 15:36:09 MDT Print View

> boulderers ... very jaded and imaginative masochists

There's a difference between a boulderer and a masochist? Hmm, coulda fooled me.

Donita Hohenstein
(mccloudbl) - F

Locale: Sunny California
Training your ankles on 03/28/2007 10:29:43 MDT Print View

Try yoga. It's great for strengthening ankles as well as making them more flexible (along with all the other parts of your body).

Beth Correira
(Beth) - F

Locale: Beautiful New England!
In Training on 03/28/2007 10:39:42 MDT Print View

Excellent ideas and comments everyone. I'm now in training!!

Adam Kilpatrick
(oysters) - MLife

Locale: South Australia
Re: In Training on 03/29/2007 04:00:15 MDT Print View

Another idea, if you do any strength training, try doing some lifts without shoes on. I have ankle problems myself, and also want stronger feet. Ive found that doing simple power/olympic lifts, with free weights, such as squats, lunges, cleans, without shoes has had an immediate effect. If you don't regularly do these excercises I wouldnt recommend it straight away; you are more likely to injure yourself without shoes on until you gain a bit of strength for the excercise as well as the balance and coordination for it. Then drop back down to what would be a pitiful training weight for you (ie if you are squatting 200lbs I would have a go with 25) without shoes, and build up from there.

I am hoping this technique, including walking around on concrete with an extremely heavy pack, will do me some wonders.

Another thing I found useful that I was shown by a physio after I tore off an ankle tendon, is to use a rubber strap. You can get them specially for these excercises-different colours are different strength straps. Tie them around your foot, and hold the strap at all different angles and pull against the band. Ie rotate your foot sideways (while keeping leg still) either way. Pull down on it like you are pushing up on your toes, etc. It seemed to work for me, although I got bored of it-I now do it periodically.

Good luck with the training whatever you decide! There has been plenty of good advice on this forum. Particularly the comments on tiredness and concentration-the KEY factor I believe in avoiding ankle injuries when bushwalking/hiking-its done me in the past every single time.

Colin Parkinson
(parkinson1963) - F
Re: Re: In Training on 04/05/2007 20:38:14 MDT Print View

The rubber band idea combined with writing the alphabet with your toes is the way I fixed my ankle after six severe sprains. Put the band between your big toe and the stayed home toe, the other end of the band looped around a tabel or chair leg. Put some stretch in the band and then write the alphabet with your market toe. Works very fast and develops lovely climbing muscles.

David Thul
(thuldj) - F

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Re: Training your ankles on 04/07/2007 00:52:46 MDT Print View

I would advise running or walking in a shoe by vibram the Five Fingers ( This shoe has basically just a thin outsole to protect your feet from the harsh ground, this lack of insole and other traditional shoe parts makes our lazy feet muscles and tendons actually do the work they were meant to do before we coddled them with amazing shoe technology. This is one of the reasons Kenyans are so seldomly struck by running injuries, their feet and associated ankle muscles work correctly.

It is important to note that for this to work, one must walk with proper mechanics, putting more emphasis on forefoot strike and less heel strike. When one uses a heel strike the natural ability of leg muscles to absorb shock is ruined by rigid alignment of our bone structure. When properly striking the legs have feet of shock absorbing capability, good for muscles, tendons and feet.

I have the "classic" version, I bought them when they first came out for sailing but now they have a "sprint" version which may suit your fancy more.

Patrick Matte
(JPMatte) - M

Locale: N. Georgia
ankles on 04/07/2007 06:09:02 MDT Print View

Back in 2001 I rolled an ankle so bad that I had a cast on for 6 or so weeks and was told by my doctor that I would have been better off breaking my ankle.It would heal stronger and quicker..."Can you break it for me?" I didn't know you could squeeze a grapefruit under that skin.
The intial first few months were slow going as well as the first year.A few occrurences where I re-rolled,just not as bad.My chosen profession has me on my feet alot,lots of stairs to climb,ect...but I soon realized that the best way to strengthen the stabilizing muscles,tendons was to get out and walk on unstable ground;trails,hills whatever you can get your feet on.I also try to pay attention as to where I'm actually placing my feet on trail.
Works for me.

Wayne Kraft
(WayneKraft) - F
Monster Legs on 04/07/2007 12:19:23 MDT Print View

I have run several marathons and countless other road races and even one trail ultramarathon. I've backpacked for years in light/inadequate shoes and even cheap sandals in my early 70's hippy years with a 50 pound pack. I've never had a hint of an ankle problem and I wish I could say exactly why and help all the ankle benders solve this problem. Part is probably genetics, so if you chose the wrong parents, don't come whining to me. I think some of the ideas posted above about training barefoot or close to it have some value. One of my favorite things to do after a run is to take off my shoes and walk on cool, wet grass for a mile or so. It's better than an ice bath and helps build those muscles atrophied from constant shoe wearing.

I also think weight training is one key to avoiding ankle injury. In particular I do calf raises. There are various strategies to do these at home, but nothing beats a calf raise machine for building calf muscles. You will probably find that your calves can take an amazing amount of weight. I do high reps (15-20) with 400 pounds (the max on my gym's machine without lugging a bunch of plates around) on my shoulders on the standing calf raise and find it hard to get a burn. Some years back I regularly used 800 pounds with similar results. Start light and work your way up. An even better option is a seated calf raise, also best done on a machine intended for this purpose. They isolate the calf muscles better and you can get more mileage with less weight.

Some muscles can be worked more frequently with less rest time between workouts. I think there may be some individual variation here. Most people find they can profitably work their ab muscles daily. For me, calves are in that class. Even at my age (55), they seem to recover quickly from a workout.

Now, you don't want to do just calf raises as this will cause muscle imbalances to develop. You'll want to do some work on the quads (squats, leg presses, etc.) and hamstrings (dead lift, hamstring curls) and some work on abdominals and lower back to improve core strength. And you'll look really weird if you work your lower body and do nothing for your upper body, so you probably want to add in some bench press, military press, rowing, etc. for the upper body. Just go the gym and make like Ahnold.

As always, the best training for backpacking is . . . backpacking.

Timothy Howe
(buckyllama) - F
Running in Crocs on 04/10/2007 08:00:03 MDT Print View

I've recently started running in crocs (yes, the cheap foam/plastic clog things) and they are doing wonders for my lower legs in general. They seem to have worked out some nagging achilles probelms I've had from wearing "proper" shoes. They are supportaive and cushioning enough that I haven't had to relearn my running technique much, but flexable and soft enough to really work lower leg stability. They work surprisingly well as trail runners.

One warning, if you try this, I'd cut your mileage to about a third of normal at first.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Training your ankles on 04/14/2007 08:55:34 MDT Print View

>> So, in short, is it possible to work out your ankles to prevent sprains and strains in the future? <<

For me, definitely yes. 'Beyond Backpacking' was also my inspiration to switch to trailrunners. To strengthen my ankles from numerous past rolls/sprains, (1) I would try to walk on uneven ground whenever possible, (2) always walk up stairs on tiptoes, and (3) after long walks, while sitting would lift legs and move toes around clockwise and then counterclockwise several times, and (4) when standing, routinely do calf raises.

This training as worked well. On the trail I use hiking sticks most of the time. On rough terrain I've rolled them here and there, but my stronger ankles + the sticks have kept me from getting an ankle injury.

The lighter weight of the trailrunners on my feet reduces the fatigue on my legs. Also, I pay closer attention to my steps than I did before with boots.

You can do it, too. Good luck.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: training your ankles on 04/15/2007 02:32:17 MDT Print View

Yes, you can strengthen your ankles with exercise.

> a couple years ago I started cross country skiing, and the next summer I had markedly fewer problems with my ankles.
Yeah, very true!

> I've also noticed the majority of my injuries occured at the end of the day, when I was hungry and thirsty.
My worst ankle sprains have been on boring gravel 4WD roads, when I was tired and not paying attention.

But as Rick impled, it takes time to build up the strength and clean up any injuries. But it IS worth it!

Andrew :-)
(terra) - F

Locale: Sydney, Australia.
Go offroad! on 04/15/2007 06:41:05 MDT Print View

Get off the pavement. We evolved to walk on uneven surfaces.
First off a quick disclaimer: With any training start slowly and up the volume/intensity as your conditioning improves.
So whenever possible put on your hiking shoes and walk ON the grass. Not on level paved surfaces.
Flat, level surfaces are the reason a lot of us have foot/ankle and hip problems.
Failing access to unpaved, uneven walking surfaces, one of those wobble boards is a good idea. The key to training is not to built huge dumb muscles but to train the proprioception so that the muscles and joint structures can respond to ankle movement/stress and keep it dynamically stable and in the correct position whilst walking/running/jumping etc.
At kickboxing we draw a circle on the floor (3' diameter) and play "tag the opponents shoulder" by sidestepping left or right around the circle. This is an amazing workout for ankle stability among other things. Be careful if you try it, limit your "tag games" to 2 minute rounds or you may fatigue and injure your ankles etc.
Also, if warranted, get a Chiro/Physio etc to check your posture. Things like an anterior pelvic tilt can cause medial rotation of the tibia and poor biomechanics at the ankle and subtalar joints (not to mention fallen arches, sore kness etc) - it's all connected.

Failing all this learn how to stirrup tape your ankle - only do this when necessary of course or your ankle will never get trained.

(This is not medical advice, just a heads up on some possible issues).

Hope it helps.