10 Ankle Stretches For Runners To Improve Mobility & Strength

Do you have tight ankles when waking up in the morning and taking those very first steps of the day? I know I do, and it tends to be a common issue for most runners. It limits our mobility and range of motion, impedes our running performance, and even puts us at risk for injuries. 

Ankle mobility exercises and ankle stretches for runners can help improve mobility and, in turn, improve running performance. 

Warming up our bodies before running is crucial to ensure all muscles and joints are primed and ready for the workout to come. Adding specific ankle stretches for runners into your warm-up, and cool-down routines will improve mobility and reduce your risk for injuries

In this guide, we will explore the ankle’s role in running, specific ankle stretches for runners, and how to take good care of one of our most precious assets. 

We will delve into detail about: 

  • The Ankle And Its Important Role In Running
  • Ankle Stability and Strengthening Exercises
  • Ankle Mobility & Dynamic Ankle Stretches For Runners
  • Static Ankle Stretches For Runners

Ready? 

Let’s stretch!

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: toe walks.

The Ankle And Its Important Role In Running

The ankle is a hinge-type joint that connects the bones of your leg, the fibula, and the tibia, with the talus of your foot. This joint performs important everyday movements for walking and, of course, running.

The main movements of the ankle joint are: 

  • Plantar flexion (pushing your toes toward the ground) 
  • Dorsiflexion (bringing your toes upward) 
  • Inversion (bringing the bottom of your foot toward your body’s midline)
  • Eversion (bringing the bottom of your foot away from your body’s midline)

When running, your ankles are involved in absorbing the shock while landing and pushing off while launching. Those are some pretty essential jobs, aren’t they? Without our ankles in tip-top shape, we wouldn’t even be able to make it out the door. 

Not only is the ankle needed for the movements involved in running, but it also takes on other responsibilities such as working as a stabilizer as each foot lands. 

A woman stretching on railroad tracks.

Trail runners can relate to this one very well. Suppose you are running on tricky, uneven terrain. In that case, you’ll want to have some stable, strong ankles to support each step, whether landing on uneven surfaces or steadying yourself on piles of wet leaves. 

This being said, not only do you need to use ankle stretches for runners to improve your mobility for your running gait, but you also need to strengthen leg muscles so, in turn, your ankles can work for you when you need them most.

Let’s take a look at some stability and strengthening exercises you can add to your routines to help keep your ankles strong and healthy:

Ankle Stability and Strengthening Exercises

  • Balance board work: single leg balance, squats, single-leg deadlifts, and lunges
  • Proprioception exercises: single-leg balance while catching a ball, cone pick-ups, tight-rope walk, slackline work 
  • Plyometrics: squat jumps, jumping lunges, star jumps, single-foot hops 
  • Strength Training: Calf raises, single-leg, double leg, heel drops, single-leg, double leg

Adding some of these exercises to your strength training program will be an excellent way to work ankle strength and stability.

Two people doing calf raises.

Ankle Mobility & Dynamic Ankle Stretches For Runners

As runners, we should take the time to work on our ankle mobility as they tend to get quite tight and stiffen up after hours and hours of repeating the same running motion. The steps we take while running lack an adequate range of motion in the ankle joint to keep them as mobile as we would like. 

Running on stiff ankles can hinder your lean while running, forcing you to oscillate and move up and down more than necessary. This vertical movement unnecessarily wastes energy, which could be used by launching yourself forward!

Improving your ankle mobility can improve your running economy overall, using your energy more efficiently to run faster and longer. 

I have put together a list of exercises I like to include before my running sessions for ankle mobility. The following ankle stretches for runners are dynamic mobility stretches, which means done in movement.

This is opposed to static stretches, which means holding the same position for an extended period. We’ll get to those later.  

Dynamic Ankle Stretches For Runners

#1: Ankle Circles

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: ankle circles

Ankle circles can be done just about anywhere or in any position. They can be done while standing, balancing on one foot, seated in a chair, or lying down as you wake up in the morning before your run.

The following instructions are performing this exercise from a seated position.

  1. Begin seated in a chair with both feet on the floor. 
  2. Lift your right leg in front of you and extend your knee. 
  3. Gently make circles with your right foot beginning toward the left and repeat 10-12 times. 
  4. Then draw circles toward the right and repeat 10-12 times. 
  5. Bring your right foot back onto the floor.
  6. Lift your left leg and repeat on the other ankle, making circles in both directions.
  7. Repeat for two sets on each side.  

#2: Ankle Alphabets

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: ankle alphabets.

This exercise can also be done from a standing, seated, or lying position. Done from a standing position, this exercise also works ankle stability as you need to balance on one leg by making each movement.

The following instructions are performing this exercise from a seated position.

  1. Begin seated in a chair with both feet on the floor. 
  2. Lift your right leg in front of you and extend your knee. 
  3. Gently draw the letters of the alphabet with your right toes from A-Z. 
  4. Repeat on the left side. 

The following two exercises are great to add to your dynamic warm-up before each run. They get your ankles, feet, and legs ready to go. 

#3: Toe Walks

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: toe walks.
  1. Stand tall with your legs hip-width apart. 
  2. Standing on your tiptoes, take small steps forward.

#4: Heel Walks

10 Ankle Stretches For Runners To Improve Mobility & Strength 1
  1. Stand tall with your legs hip-width apart. 
  2. Standing back on your heels, take small steps forward.

#5: Quick Calves

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: quick calves.
  1. Begin in a plank position and bring yourself up to a downward dog pose. 
  2. Press your left heel backward until you feel a stretch in your calf and bend your right knee slightly. 
  3. Hold the position for a couple of seconds, and then switch legs, alternating for 20 repetitions. 

#6: Seated Ankle Inversion Stretch

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: inversion stretch.
  1.  Start in a seated position with our feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Place your right ankle to rest comfortably just above your left knee.
  3. Grab your right toes and pull them gently toward you with your left hand, turning your active ankle inward. 
  4. Bring your right foot back to the starting position. 
  5. Repeat 10-12 times.
  6. Switch sides and repeat the left ankle. 
  7. Repeat for two sets on each side. 

#7: Seated Ankle Eversion Stretch 

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: eversion stretch.
  1. Start in a seated position with our feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Place your right ankle to rest comfortably just above your left knee.
  3. With your left hand, grab your right toes and push them gently away from you, turning your active ankle outward. 
  4. Bring your right foot back to the starting position. 
  5. Repeat 10-12 times.
  6. Switch sides and repeat the left ankle. 
  7. Repeat for two sets on each side.

Now let’s move on to some static ankle stretches for runners, done after a workout or light warming up. Remember, we never want to stretch statically without warming up our body first, as it could lead to injury.

Static Ankle Stretches For Runners

#8: Achilles Stretch

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: Achilles stretch.

For this stretch, you can use a chair or wall for support in front of you if you would like. This stretch differs slightly from your typical calf stretch as the back knee also bends, focusing more on your Achilles.

  1. Stand tall and step your right foot forward.
  2. Keeping your left heel flat on the floor, slightly bend your right knee until you feel a stretch in your left leg. 
  3. Simultaneously bend your left knee to deepen the stretch to your Achilles tendon. 
  4. Hold this stretch for 45-60 seconds. 
  5. Repeat on the other side. 

#9: Point and Flex Ankle Stretch With Resistance Band

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: point and flex.
  1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. 
  2. Place a resistance band around the balls of both feet. 
  3. Point your toes using the band as resistance. 
  4. Hold for 45 seconds. 
  5. Flex your feet, pulling them back toward your body, holding for 45 seconds. 
  6. This stretch may also be done with dynamic repetitions in constant movement.

#10: Chair Pose

A woman doing ankle stretches for runners: chair pose.

As we have seen in our other stretching articles, yoga poses can be beneficial for stretching. This includes a stretch in our list of ankle stretches for runners. 

  1. Stand tall with your feet at hip-width apart. 
  2. Raise your arms overhead with your elbows next to your ears. 
  3. Bend your knees, trying to get your things as parallel to the ground as possible. 
  4. Bend your torso slightly forward over your thighs.
  5. Hold the position for 45-60 seconds.

After all of the important roles our ankles play in running, aren’t you ready to get them in tip-top shape with our awesome ankle stretches for runners?

We have also compiled lists of the best glute, hip flexor, and quad stretches for runners in this series of articles. Check them out! 

A close-up of a trail runner's feet.
Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community she is known for her ear to ear smile even under the toughest race conditions. She loves sharing her knowledge and experience with everyone and has a great desire to motivate others to hit the trails alongside her. Run for fun!

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