Trail running commonly consists of running over uneven & sometimes loose terrain. One of the common concerns for people starting out trail running is rolling/spraining an ankle. Below are a few exercises and tips to help you get your ankles ready for your next trail run!
Trail running vs road running; how different is it?
Simply put, quite a bit. It is still an area where we have a lot to learn; but the body responds very differently to running over uneven terrain than a smooth, consistent surface. We see an increase in energy expenditure (leading to earlier fatigue), increase in stride variability (both length & step width), increase in leg stiffness & vastly different ankle biomechanics.
So what does this mean to you?
Trail running places very different stresses on the body to running on the road. If you were swimming you wouldn’t only practise breast-stroke & then go compete in freestyle even if they were the same distance. Why? Because it’s a different event. Prepare your body for running off-road; it’s a different event, it places different stresses on the body & the body needs time to adapt.
What can you do get your ankles ready?
It's not possible to completely remove the risk of ankle sprains in any circumstance, but there is a number of systems you can train to reduce your risk.
There are 3 types of exercises you need to do to get your ankles ready:
You require a baseline level of strength of both the muscles and the supporting ligaments & tendons around the ankle and foot. Especially if you have had a previous ankle injury, some of these support structures may be compromised and it is important to ensure they are strong enough to support the body on uneven terrain.
Balance (proprioception) training
As you run along uneven terrain your body needs to gather information about what is happening correctly, quickly interpreted a correct response & then execute that response accurately.
There are a couple of different systems within the body that help you stay upright, balanced & avoid injury as we move.
- Eyes: our eyes have a horizon levelling reflex. In other words, our eyes want the world to stay upright and level.
- Vestibular system: organs within our ears that determine head positioning and movement. As we age, often this system becomes less reliable.
- Information from ligament/muscle/tendon tension & joint positioning: This system lets us know what’s happening through the rest of the body; not just the head.
These systems are important & work together to let the body know what is happening. We want to train each of these systems; firstly in isolation & slowly progress them to a functional activity such as trail running.
Terrain Specific Running
As mentioned above trail running is different to road running. Gradually and consistently increasing trail difficulty will have you running on more technical trails safer than throwing yourself down a steep, loose rocking trail once every 6 months.
Over the coming weeks we will be releasing videos that demonstrate various ways of training the above systems. We will start with basic; easy exercises and progress to harder, more challenging ones.
So stay turned and get those ankles up to scratch this trail running season!
If you have any questions that are specific to your ankles or running, or would like a program tailored to your current ankle stability, we will be more than happy to help.
Dr Adam Rowney -