As you push up a hill, it’s normal to feel some discomfort from exertion. Climbing demands a lot from the body, and sometimes this can show up as pain or a lagging in your feet and ankles. If you’ve ever experienced that sloppy feeling as you pedal, the uncoordination that comes with fatigue, then you know the toll it takes on your power output. It can also disrupt your cycling posture, putting your knees at risk. The best way to prevent this is to do some foot and ankle exercises off the bike to correct form and activate dormant muscles. You are essentially unlocking muscles that will then kick in on your next ride and pick up some of the slack.
Foot and Ankle Exercises for Cyclists
A combination of stretching and compound exercises can help correct imbalances that are created in the cycling motion. They will help strengthen and create stability in the ankle by activating multiple muscles and joints that will in turn step in and help the ankle out.
Sounds simple, but balancing on one leg works to improve your balance and ankle stability. Simply raise one foot off the ground, bending it at a 90 degree angle at the knee. Hold your arms out for balance if need be. The key here is to focus on activating your ankle to stabilize your body. Hold each side for 30 seconds, doing 5 reps in total.
The ankle rotation will help increase your range of motion in the ankle. Sit with one leg up on your other knee, fingers locking into your toes. Then rotate your foot around with your hand, stretching out the ankle joint and getting the blood flowing. Start with small circles and slowly increase to larger circles.
Not only do calf raises help strengthen your ankle muscles, but they target your calves as well. Although the calves take a bit of a back seat when you’re on your bike, they are important for the downstroke on the pedal. They are also connected to your ankle and heel bone, so they are important to the overall stability of your ankle. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder distance apart. Slowly raise up onto your toes and the balls of your feet, holding onto the back of a chair or countertop for stability if needed. Hold for 30 seconds then relax back down onto your heels. Repeat 10 times. You can also opt to do one leg at a time to make it more challenging.
Everything in the body is connected. So, although most your power comes from your quads, your calf muscles also play a major role. Muscle tightness and strain can be a direct result of keeping your foot and ankle stable while pedaling. Improper bike fit, in particular cleat position, may be a contributing factor, but it is a very normal issue to have. Regular and targeted stretching can not only help keep your calves from tightening up, but also help them keep the foot and ankle stable.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Step your right foot forward, placing your hands on your hips. Gently push your hips forward, bending your right knee. You should feel the stretch in your left calf. Hold for 45 seconds. Repeat with the right leg.
Stand facing a wall, about one foot away. Place your hands on the wall and step one foot to the wall, digging your heel into the floor while resting your toes on the wall. Hold for 30 seconds an then alternate calves.
The downward dog, focused on your shoulders, calves, and hamstrings. From a standing position, kneel down onto all fours on your mat. Plant your toes and straighten your legs, pushing your body up. Slowly drive your heels toward the floor, bringing your head in between your arms. Focus on driving you hips towards the ceiling, planting the heels on the floor.