(pron.: PRO-pree-o-SEP-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.[1]

Say What? Say it With Me: Pro-pree-o-sep-shun
This has been a big buzz word in the running industry lately as barefoot running has spawned a league of unshod runners or at least minimal runners, trying to achieve “natural running form”.  We use it at the Village Runner all the time when helping runners find the right shoe for their foot, but we especially use it when someone is interested in a lighter, more minimal running shoe.  These shoes don’t force you to run any differently than you already do; however, with lower heel-to-toe drops, forefoot lugs, active/reactive technology, toe flex, et cetera, all these elements in shoes are there to help runners and their proprioception while running. They’re all there to encourage a mid-foot or flush landing rather than a heel strike-to-toe off gait. 

New Ankles Please
While training for the Long Beach marathon last year, I unfortunately injured my ankle so badly that I had to take four months off from running since any type of weight bearing activity including walking up and downstairs caused pain. Boo 🙁  I went to an ortho doc and PT to no avail (apparently I’ve been cursed with very flexible ankles and therefore led to messed up ligaments).  I tried kinesio tape, athletic bandage wraps, and neoprene sleeves with no pain alleviation.  In the end, I was prescribed this beefy ankle brace from a gem of a store in Torrance called See the Trainer.  I started using it religiously while walking and working out, and a lengthy four months later (with no running), I was gingerly back up and running…er, jogging.  

Fast forward to now.  Our GM Jeff has been taking me on beautiful trail runs in Palos Verdes the last couple of months with very rolling and unsteady terrain.  I lose my footing all the time and he’s always so encouraging saying, “This is great training!  All this unevenness is going to really help your proprioception and make your ankles stronger!”  While I believe him, and I’ve noticed an improvement in my footing and recovery to ankle rolls, I still can’t help but wonder if there’s more that I’m missing.  Google searches and running website trolling provide several tips to help ankle proprioception, so if you share this curse… let’s take a journey together and hope that some of these tips work. 

Ankle Sprain Tips from Runner’s World

Balance Exercises Outlined by Runner’s World
1.  Single-Leg Balancing – Easy exercise on the ground and can be practiced while brushing your teeth… or washing dishes!  There’s always time!  Make it advanced by using the Bosu ball.

2.  Single-Leg Hops – This can be a great exercise, but not wise if you’re currently experiencing pain in the ankle as it will likely aggravate it further.
3.  Single-Leg Squats – This is an absolutely fantastic exercise, but can be rather difficult for beginners.  You can work from this beginner version, to this advanced version.

Beginner Single Leg Squat
Advanced Single Leg Squat

4.  Single-Leg Reaches – Another easy-to-perform-anywhere exercise while concurrently working out your core, balance, and ankle instability.

Ankle instability / Balance Training Study
This 2008 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise concluded that “four weeks of dynamic balance training led to improved ankle stability and function. The researchers found that the balance training helped participants improve sensorimotor objectives, which in turn allowed them to overcome chronic ankle instability.”  I’m always leery of research based upon super small sample sizes, but at this point, I think it’s worth a shot.   Have any of you tried any other ankle proprioception exercises with successful outcomes?  Please share in the comments below!