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The top 4 exercises to bulletproof your ankle against sprains on trail runs

Roots, rocks, potholes. All of these are dangerous obstacles for your trail running enthusiasts. When not paying close enough attention, a cruising pace can easily be halted by one of these hazards. The end result can be a fall or maybe a sprained ankle. This type of injury can be painful and challenging to heal if not cared for properly. A sprain is an injury to a ligament, which is what connects one bone to another in our bodies. The most commonly affected ligament in the ankle is the ATFL, which goes between the ankle and the foot on the outside parts of those structures. So let’s talk about how to avoid this in the first place. Get ready to learn 4 exercises that are going to train your ankles to lower your injury risk!

  1. The first one requires a small piece of equipment. Find a stretchy band you can use for some resistance. Many are readily available for purchase at sporting goods stores or on Amazon. Lighter resistance ones are good to use to start and you can find ones that are thicker and more challenging as strength increases. Loop the band around the bottom of your foot, near the toes. Push down like your foot is on the gas pedal. Slowly bring it back. Along with this, you can work different movements of the ankle. Hold the band further out to the side on the same side as your foot. Now turn the foot inward against the band resistance. Move the band across the midline toward the opposite side of your body. Turn the foot outward. That’s three different positions to hammer down your ankle stability!
  2. The best way to stabilize yourself, however, is to get on your feet and train in more functional positions. Putting yourself on one leg will do the trick. While standing on one leg, take your leg that is off the ground and trace the alphabet with it. Keep that ankle and knee relatively stiff. Create all of the movement from the hip, so the whole leg is moving. As this throws off your balance, the ankle on your stance leg has to work a little harder! If you are worried about throwing off your balance a little too much, just keep a countertop or other support nearby to use if needed.
  3. Keeping with the theme of staying on one leg, get back into that position. The instructions for this one are simple, as you simply take a single-legged hop forward and stick the landing! When you land, be sure to bend your knees a bit to absorb some of the impacts. Continue on that same leg for a few hops, then switch legs and return to your starting point.
  4. The final exercise is a side skater. Hop to your left and land on the left leg. Keep your right leg off the ground and finish with it in a position directly behind you to help provide some counterbalance. Once you are balanced, hop to the right and land on your right leg (left leg behind to provide counterbalance).

So there you have it. Four exercises (ok, I guess the first one was technically 3-in-1) that can aid in solidifying your ankle for those runs! Keep these in mind to prepare yourself for the next time you hit the trail! Ankle injuries can slow down your training, so take the time now to avoid them. If you want more info, please email me at or reach out on Backcountry Physical Therapy’s social media pages. Be sure to check back on the website for more blog posts and follow us on social media for helpful tips to keep yourself pain-free!

a man standing with his arms crossed in front of him.

Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!