Training Three Ways to Build Joint Strength

Three Ways to Build Joint Strength


Robyn Baldwin is so passionate about obstacle course racing, she won’t let anything slow her down, not even an impinged ankle. Here are three exercises that this avid racer is now using to strengthen her ankle and get ready for the racing season ahead.

By: Robyn Baldwin

I love obstacle course racing. I love being out in nature and running through trails, climbing over obstacles and proving to myself that I’m stronger and faster every day. You know you love obstacle course racing even when during a race you twist your ankle pretty badly and keep running on it and then do another obstacle course race the following weekend.

I love obstacle course racing so much that even when my talus (ankle) bone dislodged due to weak ankle stabilizers from the twisted ankle I still continued to run on it despite having zero dorsiflexion range of motion (flexing my foot up).

It took six months for me to actually figure out my talus bone had been displaced and was causing an impingement. In the process, I had run six races on the impinged ankle which led to an ankle bone bruise. During all this time I had sought out physiotherapy and they had treated me for tight calves, shins, abdominals & hamstrings thinking they were the source of the ankle impingement.

It wasn’t until I went to see a sports doctor, got an MRI on my ankle and then went to my chiropractor Dr. Joe Vomvas [hyperlink:] that I began to see the light of day. Vomvas looked at my MRI results and we began treatment immediately. I made a promise that I would halt all run training. I survived the entire season by racing and then recovering fully and allowing my ankle to heal in between races. It wasn’t the smartest but I made it happen. I would head up to my chiropractor’s office every week for manual therapy, acupuncture and to review strengthening exercises. Although this method took longer to heal I avoided further injury to the area.

For these three exercises that you can incorporate into your weekly routine to strengthen your ankle stabilizers, I enlisted the help of Dr. Jo Vomvas, to describe the science behind each move.

Balance Pad One Leg Balances

Description: Stand on Balance Pad with one leg for 20s, switch legs several times (I do this while brushing my teeth in the morning)

Why It Works:  The key with all these exercises is Proprioception. Proprioception by definition means joint position sense. Furthermore, it is the relative sense of neighbouring parts of the body. When we get injured we lose this ability and this can cause a chance for greater injury or re-injury. By using simple balance exercises like one legged stance we can help to strengthen our proprioception and increase healing time. Gradually increase the time as you get better (45 secs) and then try doing this while closing your eyes.

Balance Pad Lunges

Description: Step forward into a lunge position with your forward foot on the balance pad. Try 3-5 reps on each side before you switch

Why It Works: Introducing a lunge component onto a balance pad is also needed. In this case we are dealing with gait so we want to add a dorsiflexion component to the exercise program ( looking at initial contact to mid stance phase). Most of us get some decrease in dorsiflexion through training and strain. This makes sure the muscles of both front and back, and each side of the leg are firing together.

Balance Pad Toe Raises

Description: Stand with both feet on pad and slowly rise up onto your toes. Slowly lower down, repeat 10 times.

Why It Works: Since we used dorsiflexion in the last exercise we should also use a plantar flexion movement as well (mid stance to toe off phase of running). Again with this exercise we are strengthening proprioception and working the stability muscles of the lower leg and foot while also making sure the ankle and foot joint are moving properly through their full range of motion. As you get better at this you can add an eyes closed component to increase the degree of difficulty.

Find out more about Robyn Baldwin’s running journey.