Sam asks: I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago. I still can’t run. I’m a bit disheartened, and I can’t seem to get motivated to go to the gym. Do you have any tips to maintain my mojo and get me back to running again?
Getting hurt can be a blow to your running mojo, especially when it is in the middle of the summer season. When you no longer get your regular dose of feel-good endorphins, boredom and depression can set in. The good news is there are plenty of strategies to help jumpstart your motivation and ease you back into running.
Phase 1: Invest in Healing First
Although you’ve already done this, it is worth mentioning that you need to invest time in healing after a sprain. The RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is the most effective response for most injuries for the first 24 to 48 hours. It helps reduce swelling and pain and speed the healing process. There are three grades of ankle sprains, and it pays to consult with a doctor to identify the damage.
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Phase 2: Restore Ankle Range of Motion and Strength
Once the swelling is down and you can stand on your ankle again—and with your doctor’s approval—focus on the simple range-of-motion exercise of pointing and flexing your elevated foot. As your ankle heals in the second and third week, add in slow foot rotation by spelling all the letters of the alphabet in the air with your foot in an elevated position.
Phase 3: Return to Activity
In the early weeks, focus on any activity that doesn’t aggravate your ankle: upper-body strength training, seated battle-rope exercises, and possibly swimming. The key is to go shorter and harder to boost your endorphins and maintain fitness (for example, by performing a high-intensity interval workout with a battle rope). You’ll get your heart rate up and boost your metabolism and circulation without aggravating your ankle.
Phase 4: Strengthen Your Ankle
Once you can bear weight comfortably and you’re at nearly full range of motion, it is wise to invest time in strengthening exercises for your ankles, especially if you regularly run on trails. Start with isometric exercises—where you push against resistance in a fixed range of motion—and progress to isotonic exercises (using your ankle’s range of motion against a resistance).
Isometric Ankle Strengthening Exercise
Point your foot in a downward and inward position against a fixed object such as a wall and hold for 10 seconds. Then reverse it by pointing your foot in an upward and outward position and holding. Follow with an downward and outward position then an upward and inward position. Repeat all exercises 10 times.
Isotonic Ankle Strengthening Exercise
Using a resistance band around your forefoot, attach the other end of the loop on something stable or hold it in your hand and gently push your foot through all four ranges of motion, down, up, internally and externally.
Phase 5: Set Goals and Transition to Running Strategically
Once your range of motion and strength in your ankle have returned, add in non-impact activities like cycling and swimming and set goals for how often and how long you’ll do each activity. Having a carrot to reach will activate your mind and keep you on target.
Progress to weight-bearing modes of exercise, including using the elliptical and walking on a predictable surface (like a treadmill or paved path). This is an effective way to transition to weight-loaded activity.
Finally, test the waters by sprinkling short running segments into your cross-training workouts. This will allow you to get in solid workouts without pushing too hard and running too much initially. For example, one workout might include 15 minutes of hilly cycling, five minutes of walking on a treadmill, five minutes of running at an easy effort, then five to 10 minutes of moderate to high-intensity work on the elliptical.
The key is to give yourself plenty of time to regain range of motion and strength in the ankle before you try to run, and to keep the running time short at first.
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