How to strengthen a weak ankle

It appears that, when I rolled my ankle so badly in November, it was pretty bad. It FELT pretty bad, let me assure you. But I suffer from that British problem of reacting to injury with ‘Oh it’s fine, thank you so much, I’m so sorry I hurt myself’ and so I didn’t really acknowledge it fully. After ten days’ rest, it felt fine. I got back running again and all was well.

Just in case you forgot what a cankle looks like
Just in case you forgot what a cankle looks like

However it feels like pretty much every time I run on unpaved ground, I roll my ankle again. I did it with Jen at Briones and  Oops, I did it again this weekend at Pacifica, resulting in a DNF and missing out on some trails I really wanted to run.  I’ll be honest and admit I’ve rolled it during hikes as well. For the record, when I’ve run on pavement, it feels TOTALLY fine and strong…which is why I’ve ventured back onto the trails again. The obvious solution is to avoid the trails but that’s not a long term solution.

Clearly my ankle is chronically weak and needs strengthening. I have a phone consultation with a physio today (weird, eh?) but in the meantime, I did some googling on how to strengthen my ankle and this is what I found.  Please note that I am NOT a doctor or a physio, I am just a runner with a weak ankle who’s trying to make it a little stronger. You take my advice at your own risk. This blog post is primarily for me, as a reference for next time (sigh) but it may be useful for other Bambi-ankled maidens.

Obviously, start these exercises when your ankle no longer hurts!!


This is what Runners’ World recommend.

  • Stand on one foot while holding your arms out to your sides with your eyes open. When you can do this for 60 seconds, try closing your eyes. Then repeat for the other leg.

(You can add weights to this to make it harder, or stand and balance on an uneven surface).

  • Stand on the edge of the stairs and let the ball of your foot hang off the edge (“hang 10” like a surfer; only the back half of your foot is in contact with the floor). With a handrail nearby, close your eyes and hold that position for 60 seconds.
  • Now, turn around and stand on the edge of the stairs and let your heels hang off the edge. Again, with a handrail nearby, close your eyes and hold that position for 60 seconds.
  • Next, stand on the edge of the stairs, hold on to the handrails, and let your heels hang off the edge. Gently lift your heels (like standing on your tip-toes, so you are standing on the balls of your feet) and hold that position for 10 seconds. Gently lower your heels as far as you can; hold that stretch for 10 seconds (repeat six to 12 times).

After you are able to perform the above exercises with minimal difficulty, then stand with one foot on a wobble board or pillow disk for more of a challenge.

  • Finally, get a resistance band and sit on the floor. With one end of the resistance band tied around your foot and the other end attached to a fixed object that is out in front of the foot. Slowly pull the foot back toward the knee (dorsi flexion). Complete 20 repetitions every other day. For more resistance, you can double up the elastic band.
  • Remain on the floor, this time with one end of the resistance band tied around your foot and the other end in your hands. Slowly push your foot forward (plantar flexion) and then return to the starting position. Do 20 repetitions every other day.
  • Try a little barefoot jogging. Jog barefoot slowly for five to 10 minute on a football field once a week, which may help strengthen feet and ankles.

Or try this one from Livestrong.

  • Add a movement exercise to strengthen your ankles. Walk on the outsides of your feet by turning your soles toward each other. Walk on your heels with your toes lifted. Walk on your tip toes. Walk slowly and begin with five to 10 steps. Gradually increase your number of steps as your ankle strength improves.

Wikipedia have some exercises to do with a resistance band here.

And finally, Page wrote a useful post about how to treat a newly sprained ankle.

I’ll be starting these at the weekend, assuming my ankle feels good. Wish me luck!

9 Comments Add yours

  1. NicJ says:

    I was going to ask if you had found any physio exercises to do. In an attempt to continue lengthening my long runs (2-3 weeks x 7 miles ish) I decided to get beyond 8 last Sunday and ended up doing nearly 9. The whole run felt like I was moving through treacle, and when I paused to take a breather, restarting again was agony in a sprained-ankle kind of way. Must have been a sympathy pain in line with you! Worse on the right than the left, and bad enough to think I couldn’t continue and would need to get himself out of bed and into the car to come and rescue me. But I persevered and eventually the discomfort subsided (or I numbed it completely). I’m also prone to going over on the ankle, although more the left I think, than the right. Annoying. You did the right thing by withdrawing though – brave and sensible! Will try your exercises and let you know if I see any improvements on this side of the pond! Good luck with recovery (they tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no….. 🙂 )

    1. Cathryn says:

      I wonder what your ankle pain was…how weird. I shall choose to see it as sympathy pains with a long-distance friend 😉 Glad it got better too. Chatted with the physio this morning, got some more exercises to do. Feeling positive. I def made the right call at Pacifica, which makes the disappointment totally worthwhile.

  2. Bean says:

    I hope your ankle is super strong soon! It is no good not to be able to do what you love and I miss living vicariously through you trail adventures;). Sending you good healing vibes!!!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you 🙂 Had a good chat with the physio today and am feeling really positive.

  3. Michaela says:

    Found your blog through our Twitter conversations about ginger cats! 🙂 I had a similar problem with my ankle — had a bad sprain a few years back. To strengthen it, I was told to do balancing exercises using things like a Bosu ball or a foam roller sawed in half (you stand on the flat part and balance on it). I was also told to write my name in the air with my foot several times a day — the rolling motion strengthens the ankle and helps with flexibility. Good luck!!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Hey! Thanks for reading and commenting – our twitter conversation made my day. Anyone who loves running and ginger cats is probably a soulmate 😉

      Thanks for the exercise ideas as well – like the idea of writing my name in the air (or should it be YOUR name??) I also heard about balancing on unbalancy things. I’ve got a lot of work to do but I’m hopeful!

      1. Jen says:

        I was also going to recommend “writing” with your foot. You can do the whole alphabet to be comprehensive about it!
        I have this balance/torture device:
        I can’t tell you if it works very well because I’ve hidden it from the cat (he has punctured too many things), so I never remember to use it! But my friend Dave has one and swears by it.

  4. Good Luck! I hope they help you get strong so you don’t have the issues anymore.

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