Runners at the start of a race on a track field.

7 Ankle Exercises for Runners

Strengthening your ankles might not be very high on your priority list, but the truth is: the stronger your ankles, the faster you can run.

If running speed and performance are important to you, every little thing counts, right? Not to mention strengthening your ankles will also help prevent pesky ankle injuries that can prevent you from maintaining your weekly running routine.

Find out more about why ankle strength is important and then build these simple ankle exercises for runners into your daily or weekly routine to enhance your ankle strength and stability or recover from an ankle injury.

Why is ankle strength important for runners?

A group of runners on a trail.

Without your ankles, you couldn’t walk, let alone run! They play a crucial role in running by absorbing the shock when you land and pushing back off as your feet leave the ground. Your ankles also help stabilize your feet as they hit the ground or treadmill if you prefer indoor running with Vingo.

Trail runners, especially, need strong and stable ankles to help them navigate uneven and unpredictable terrain.

As a result, keeping your ankles strong and healthy as a runner has many benefits:

  • Protection from injuries: Runners are prone to shin splints, knee pain, Achilles tendon overuse, and plantar fasciitis. Research indicates by strengthening your ankles, your foot will remain more stable while you run and help prevent these types of issues.1 You’ll also be less likely to sprain or strain your ankles and more likely to maintain good running form, resulting in less foot pain.
  • Better running performance: The stronger your ankles, the faster and better you run. One study monitored athletes during a fast 10K and found that, as the race progressed, the slower group of runners worked their ankles less and did more with their hips and knees.2 
  • Faster recovery from an ankle injury: If you’ve injured your ankle while running, it will need some time to recover. But when you’re ready and your doctor gives you the okay, gentle ankle exercises for runners can help you regain your strength and bounce back quickly.

7 Ankle exercises for runners

You may already prioritize strengthening other body areas, such as your abs, glutes, legs, or arms. However, regularly strengthening your ankles can also help you maintain good running form and improve your ankles’ stability and strength over time. Try the following ankle exercises for runners:

1. Calf raises

Two women doing calf-raises on a step at the gym.
  • Use a stair or low stool to step up onto one leg.
  • Push up onto your toes and lower back down. (Your heel should be slightly below the step.)
  • Keep your movement controlled and slow. Repeat 10 to 15 times on each leg.

2. Heel walks

A woman walking on her heels to strengthen her ankles.
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart.
  • Lift your toes off the ground and walk on your heels for 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Walk backward while staying on your heels.
  • Repeat.

3. Toe walks

Woman walking on her toes outside.
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart.
  • Lift your heels off the ground and walk on your toes for 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Walk backward while staying on your toes.
  • Repeat.

4. Ankle alphabet

A woman on the couch about to do some ankle exercises.
  • Start in a standing, seating, or lying position.
  • Lift your right leg and extend your knee.
  • Use your toes to draw the letters of the alphabet, starting with A and ending with Z.
  • Return your foot to the floor, lift your left leg, and repeat.

5. Lateral hops

A man doing lateral hops at the gym.
  • Start in a standing position.
  • Lift your right leg and hop back and forth, from side to side over an imaginary line.
  • Continue for 30 seconds.
  • Return your right leg to a standing position and lift your left leg.
  • Repeat on the left side for 30 seconds.

6. A-skips

A woman doing a-skips at the beach in the morning.
  • Start in a standing position.
  • Begin skipping forward, maintaining a “hop” in your step and pumping your arms to add momentum to your legs. Bring your legs up to hip height each time.
  • As you skip, bring your right hand to your left knee as it raises and your left hand to your right knee as it raises. 
  • Repeat for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

7. Towel grab

A man grabbing his towel with his foot.
  • Lay a small hand towel on the floor.
  • Start in a standing position.
  • Lift your right foot and curl your toes around the towel to grab it with your foot.
  • Lift it off the ground.
  • Hold for 3 to 5 seconds and release.
  • Repeat with your left foot.

Other effective ways to strengthen your ankles

A woman walking on her carpet at home.

Whether you’re more prone to ankle injuries due to genetics or you want to maintain your strong ankles, here are a few additional ways to enhance your ankle mobility and strength:

  • Always warm up before you run. (Dynamic warmups are best.)
  • Wear good running shoes with ankle support.
  • Practice proper running form to keep your body in alignment as you run.
  • See a doctor or physical therapist about any recurring or ongoing ankle pain to determine and treat the cause.

Key Takeaways:

Ankle strength is vital for runners because it helps reduce injuries and improve performance and speed. Completing simple ankle exercises like A-skips, heel and toe walks, lateral hops, and calf raises can help you maintain strong and healthy ankles no matter where your running journey takes you.

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  1. Mahieu, N., Witvrouw, E., Stevens, V., Van Tiggelen, D., & Roget, P. (2006). Intrinsic Risk Factors for the Development of Achilles Tendon Overuse Injury. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(2), 226–235. https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546505279918 
  2. Sanno, M., Willwacher, S., Epro, G., & Brüggemann, G. (2018). Positive Work Contribution Shifts from Distal to Proximal Joints during a Prolonged Run. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 50(12), 2507–2517. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001707 

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