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Our feet are what carry us. They take us through mountain ranges, down steep singletrack and over rocks, roots and streams.
So why not show a little love to our lower half, and train our ankles and feet with stabilizing yoga exercises?
We don’t always think of yoga as a cross-training tool, but this ancient practice is full of balancing postures that test our ankle strength and stability. In particular, the following eight poses isolate foot and ankle strength, as well as the stabilizing muscles in our core and legs.
Incorporating these poses into your cross training even just once or twice a week will improve your stability on the trail.
Yoga for trail runners
1. Tree pose
Root down through one foot and lift tall through the crown of your head. Slide the opposite foot up the base leg, resting the foot on the ankle, calf or inner thigh. (It’s important here to avoid putting any pressure on the knee). The knee of the raised leg points out to the side, and both hipbones face forward.
This single-leg balance requires you to find balance and stability through your supporting leg, ankle and foot.
2. Awkward pose
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Rise onto the balls of your feet and bend at your knees (but not your hips), keeping your heels lifted high off the ground. You can rest your hands on your hips, or reach your arms in front of you at shoulder height, palms facing down.
This pose calls upon your ankles and knees to provide stability, to prevent you from rolling onto the outside edges of the feet. The lower you bend towards the ground, the more your balance is tested, which strengthens the muscles in the feet and ankles.
3. Extended hand to toe
Root down through one foot and lift tall through the crown of your head. Pull the opposite knee up towards the chest, and wrap your fingers around the big toe. Keep that foot flexed, and begin to kick the heel forward, straightening the leg. Engage your core, lifts your chest, and slide your shoulder blades down your back. Hold here for five breaths, and then open the raised leg out to the side, reaching the other arm out from the shoulder to provide some counterbalance.
Knee hold variation: Root down through one foot and lift tall out through the crown of the head. Pull the opposite knee up towards the chest, finding a grip on top of the shin. Hold here for five breaths, and then open the knee out to the side, still holding the shin, reaching the other arm out to provide some counterbalance.
This single-leg balance pose helps strengthen and stabilize your ankle, while also requiring you to lengthen your spine. The resistance created by holding your toe with a flexed foot will also help to strengthen the top of the foot and ankle.
In a standing position, sink your hips back slightly, as if making your way into a chair. Lift and cross your right leg over your left leg, keeping your knees bent and hips back. If you’re able to, tuck the toes of your lifted leg behind the opposite calf; otherwise, rest heel on shin.
Wrap your left arm underneath the right and twist so that your palms can touch. Raise your elbows even with your nose, and keep your chest forward.
Repeat on both sides, switching the arms as well as the legs.
Another single-leg balance, this pose strengthens the foot, ankle, leg and trunk. It also challenging you to keep your hips squared while twisting your legs, a movement that calls upon your core strength.
5. Toe tuck
Sit with your legs tucked under you, so your hips are over your heels and your knees are touching. Making sure that your toes are completely extended beneath you. Stay sitting back on your heels or put a pillow between your seat and heels to relieve pressure in the knees and feet.
The goal of this pose is to stretch your arches, toes and the balls of your feet. Make sure your ankles are square, and not rolling in or out.
6. Warrior I
From a standing position, step one foot to the back of your yoga mat. Stack the front knee over the ankle and drop the back heel down, pivoting the toes forward 45 degrees (they will likely be pointing towards the top corner of your mat).
Keep the back heel pressing down into the ground (you may need to step the back foot in a bit to shorten the stance) and sink deep into the front leg, working the knee towards a 90-degree bend. Pull the hip of the front leg back, and the hip of the back leg forward, working to have both hipbones pointing forward, squared to the wall in front of you.
Pressing the back heel towards the mat will stretch your Achilles tendon. The separation between your feet also means that your feet and ankles will work to find stability. To help with balance and to strengthen your ankles, you can imagine pulling your feet closer together across the mat without actually moving your feet.
7. Warrior II
From Warrior I, pivot the back heel so the side of the foot becomes parallel with the back of the mat. Turn your hips so that they now facing the side of the room, and reach your arms out at shoulder height, reaching forward and back in the same direction as your feet. Look past your front fingertips, pressing into the back foot to keep your body stabilized.
This position stretches the side of the back foot and ankle, and also calls upon stabilizing tendons and ligaments on the inside of the ankle. As in Warrior I, you can imagine pulling your feet closer together across the mat without actually moving your feet.
8. Warrior III
From a standing position, root down through one foot. Begin to hinge your whole torso forward, lifting the opposite leg behind you. Continue to lower your torso and lift your leg back until your body is one long horizontal line (like a T shape). You can reach your arms out for the wall in front of you, or point them behind you, parallel with your torso.
Because of the perpendicular placement of your torso and leg, this pose encourages you to engage your thigh muscles to keep yourself balanced. As with the other single-leg balances, you’ll also need to find stability through the foot and ankle.