In my recent post on how to manage slowing down with age I mentioned that older athletes tend to lose their lower leg strength. This will gradually alter our stride. We often overuse our quads and hip flexors to compensate for this lack of lower leg strength. We push off the ground at a less optimal angle and get less power out of each step. This inefficiency requires us to put forth more effort to run the same speeds than in the past.
Below is a breakdown of my Beginner Lower Leg Strength Circuit. It consists of 6 exercises. Begin with 2 sets of 6-8 reps and build up to 3 sets of 10-12 reps. Do them 3 times a week if the circuit is difficult, and 2 times a week for maintenance. It will only take about 8-10 minutes. It’s worth the small time investment to keep your lower legs strong and keep that power in your stride!
ANKLE DORSIFLEXION: Wrap or tie a band around something stable and then loop it around your foot just above the arch. Keep your back straight and dorsiflex the ankle, keeping even tension in the band on the way up and back down to the starting position. This exercise can be done seated on the floor or in a chair, and with both a straight and bent leg (straight leg version shown in the video). Increase the band thickness as you get stronger.
ANKLE INVERSION: Wrap or tie a band around something stable and then loop it around your foot just above the arch. Keep your back straight and invert the ankle, keeping even tension in the band on the way in and back to the starting position. This exercise can be done seated on the floor or in a chair, and with both a straight and bent leg (straight leg version shown in the video). Increase the band thickness as you get stronger.
SQUATS WITH ANKLE INVERSION: Place a band around both ankles and place your feet shoulder width apart. Invert your ankles to raise your medial arches up and hold this position while doing a body weight squat. Focus on pushing your big toe into the ground while maintaining the high arch position. Only go down as deep into the squat as you can while keeping the ankles inverted and arches raised. Avoid arching your back while doing the squat and keep your knees in line with the middle of your feet.
SPLIT SQUAT WITH ANKLE INVERSION: Wrap or tie a band around a piece of stable equipment and loop the other end of the band around your leg just below the knee. Stand in a split squat position with the band around the working leg and step away to create enough tension on the band so that you have to work against it pulling your leg in. Next, invert the ankle on the front leg to keep the arch raise up while keeping the big toe down. Begin to do a split squat in this position, holding the ankle in inversion and keeping the knee of the front leg steady and in line with the foot. If this is difficult start without a band and work up to the added challenge.
ECCENTRIC HEEL DROPS: Find a step or stair to use where you can gently hold on to something in front of you. Start on your toes with your calves fully extended. Slowly lower down to where your feet are neutral. The count for this exercise is 3 seconds down, 1 second back up. To increase the difficulty go down using just one foot and then return back up to the starting position using both feet. Once you have mastered both the double leg and single leg down exercises you can then advance on to just using a single leg for the entire exercise.
EXPLOSIVE HEEL RAISES: Find a step or stair to use where you can gently hold on to something in front of you. Start with your feet dorsiflexed and calves in a fully stretched position. Explode up on to your toes. This may not feel "explosive" at first; just do the movement as quickly as possible and look for improvement over time. Once you have mastered the double leg heel raises you can then advance on to just using a single leg for the entire exercise.