One area runners need to spend more time emphasizing within their dynamic warm-up is the calf complex and ankle joint. Since running adds a lot of forces on the musculoskeletal system and these areas are so active throughout the running cycle, preparation is key to reduce the likelihood of injury and improve performance.
Let’s be honest, the lower leg often gets neglected in most dynamic warm-up and strength training programs. This is can be a problem since it’s generally an area which experiences a higher volume of running-related injuries. Therefore, properly preparing the ankle and calf for running can increase resilience to injury and preparation for subsequent runs.
In this video blog, I will outline a series of drills that progressively load the calf and ankle. Next time you warm-up for a run, follow this protocol or utilize specific exercises to fill in the gaps. This will ensure you are best prepared for the rigors of distance running.
Calf & Ankle Range of Motion
In the general context of this article, you might be wondering why I am recommending calf stretching and ankle mobility. In no way will this help prepare you for the amount of loading that the lower leg endures while running. However, ankle dorsiflexion is an important range of motion needed during the mid to late stance phase and where many runners are often limited. If you have limited range of motion at the ankle joint, I recommend addressing this early in your dynamic warm-up with some simple flexibility and mobility drills for no more than 60-90 seconds.
With any dynamic warm-up, it’s important to start simple before progressing to more specific drills that introduce higher loads. That’s why the calf raise is a logical entry point. To perform the calf raise, simply raise the heels off the floor while keeping all of your weight evenly distributed across the toes. If you need assistance with balance, hold on to a wall or sturdy object and focus on moving through the full range of motion. Perform 10 to 20 repetitions to increase tissue temperature, lubrication of the ankle joint, and activation of the calf complex.
Single Leg Calf Raises
Specificity is important as you are preparing the body for a particular sport. In this case, since running is so single leg dominant, you must incorporate drills that take this into consideration. The single leg calf raise is the unilateral version of the calf raise demonstrated previously. This further challenges the ankle and calf, as well as increases tissue temperature and joint lubrication. Perform 10 to 20 repetitions before completing the following drills.
The next two exercises are typically where most runners fail to connect their dynamic warm-up with the plyometric-like demands of running. Since running imparts 2-4 times bodyweight on a single leg, while essentially bounding from one leg to the other, the dynamic warm-up must account for this. Ankle hops is a great “in-between” exercise that places the ankle and lower leg under greater load and replicates the elastic and shock absorption demands of running. Complete 2 sets of 10-20 repetitions while gradually increasing the intensity of each hop.
Single Leg Ankle Hops
The last drill that is a perfect segue to running is single leg ankle hops. The theme continues in which we are progressively increasing the amount of load and demand on the ankle and calf to replicate what the body will endure while pounding the pavement. Single leg ankle hops is a challenging single leg plyometric activity that targets energy storage and release. For the purpose of improving readiness to run, you don’t want to over exert yourself with this drill. Instead, complete 2 sets of 5-10 repetitions as the final step before you set out on your run.
What’s important to realize about this progressive dynamic warm-up for the ankle and calf is that the same principles can be applied to any and every area of the body. By no means do I recommend only warming up in isolation. But, if you have a history of lower leg and foot injury, or feel like these areas need extra TLC, then by all means utilize the drills outlined to better prepare for running.
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By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART