Host: Dr. Matt Minard

Episode Summary

Dr. Matt Minard, the owner of Learn 2 Run, is a Physical Therapist who enjoys both the physical and mental benefits of running. He is passionate about helping others run safely.

In today’s episode, Dr. Minard continues with strength training; this time spotlighting the knee and ankle joints or the “Kankle.” He explains ways to strengthen the muscles around these joints along with when, and what muscles should be strengthened.

If you prefer to watch this episode, you can!

Strength Training for Runners: Knees & Ankles

Top Takeaways

  • “The muscles are responsible for all things movement.”
    – [Dr. Matt Minard]
  • “Team ‘Kankle’ is always on to cushion for the tush pushing but they will work overtime for hills.”
    – [Dr. Matt Minard]
  • “Don’t bonk your shins on the cart.”
    – [Dr. Matt Minard]
  • “If a muscle is weak, why is it weak?”
    – [Dr. Matt Minard]
  • “We’ve got to stop wasting people’s time strengthening things that hurt.”
    – [Dr. Matt Minard]
  • “Are we strengthening for rehabilitation or are we strength training for performance?”
    – [Dr. Matt Minard]

Episode Highlights

  • [01:32] Today’s topic is Strength Training; the knees and ankles.
  • [02:54] Identifying the muscles of the lower leg.
  • [06:07] Wrong uses of lower leg muscles in running.
  • [07:10] The correct use of knee and ankle muscles.
  • [12:36] Challenging the muscles more than they are used in running:  3Rs and S.
  • [25:18] Addressing muscle weakness; strengthening for rehabilitation or performance?
  • [31:53] A recipe to run faster, safer, and smarter.

Episode Notes

Diagram of leg muscles

Today’s discussion is the 2nd of the 3-part series on strength training. This time we’re focusing on the knee and the ankle. The approach is similar to the one used in our last episode on strength training your glutes. It is important to train the muscles “how they are used in running,” and “more than they are used in running.”

As previously discussed, the 3 main functions of muscles:

  • lift the body
  • hold the body
  • lower the body

Identify the lower leg muscles

  1. Slide your hand above your right knee cap to feel the quadriceps muscles. When the foot is off the ground, the quadriceps can activate to straighten your leg. When the foot is on the ground as in sitting, it may act to straighten your leg and stand you up.
  2. At the back of the thigh is the hamstring muscle which bends the knee when the foot is airborne or helps in stooping forward when seated with the foot on the ground.
  3. Moving your hands down to the shin and outward, lift your ankle like you are trying to tap it, and you will feel the tibialis anterior which is responsible for dorsiflexion. When the foot is off the ground, this muscle lifts the ankle, but when on the ground, it adjusts the body forward.
  4. Behind the shin are the calf muscles whose function is to lift the body if the foot is grounded, while it simply points the toes downward when the foot is off the ground.

It is important to note the wrong applications of these muscles in running. The muscles at the knee and ankle should not be used when running on flat surfaces because they are meant to propel you up if on an elevated surface. If you remember from our last episode, the hip muscles should be used to propel you forward.

How to use the knees and ankles when running

person running with a knee brace on

The correct use of the lower leg muscles can be divided into groups based on the position of the body: when your body is grounded and when your body is airborne.

In the grounded position, the quadriceps and the calves collectively work together to lift the body when moving on an upward surface like a hill, then they lower the body when landing.

Team Kankle (knee & ankle) has a mission statement:  it is always on to cushion for the tush pushing. But they will work overtime for hills. The cushion refers to the process of lowering the body as its weight is transferred to the ground. They serve as shock absorbers.

In the airborne position where the foot is off the ground, the idea is to not bonk your shins on the cart. Without training, you are unlikely to use the hamstrings to pull your foot back towards you. This causes you to keep landing and loading in front of your body, slowing you down.

Challenge the knees and ankles


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To challenge the muscles more than running, there are 4 components to manipulate

  • Resistance
  • Repetitions
  • Range of motion
  • Speed

For the quadriceps, resistance can be increased by:

  • holding dumbbells while doing step-ups
  • doing more reps of step-ups
  • increasing the range of motion by using a higher step such as a 14-inch step
  • manipulating speed by going faster when lifting but slower when lowering. The slower you go when lowering your body, the more of an exercise it is for the muscle as less momentum is helping you.

Calf muscle exercises

An exercise that helps to challenge it the way it is used in running is a Single Leg Heel Raise. To challenge the muscle more, during the exercise, you can also use dumbbells, do more reps, increase the range of motion, as well the cadence up to 2 steps per second.

Knee focused exercises

An exercise that focuses on their work at the knee is called Nordic Curls. While kneeling straight up, lean forward while someone holds your ankles from behind. Lean forward continuously till you can go no further and you have to come back up. The hamstrings work at the knee to eccentrically lower or control you as you lean downward.

Another useful exercise is the Hamstring Curls on a Stability Ball. While on your back with a stability ball under your legs, elevate your hip and bend your knees to roll the ball in towards you and back out. To make this more challenging, roll in with both legs, then raise one leg before rolling out. Lower that leg after.

The function of the tibialis anterior muscle is to fold at the ankle when the foot is off the ground. Based on that, strengthening this muscle is not very necessary in running unless it is truly weak.

Muscle weakness


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In a situation where there is muscle weakness, the first step is to identify the cause. This may be bounding or braking which puts an immense amount of pressure on the knee. Eventually this can cause pain, which leads to weakness in the muscle. Because of this, strengthening exercises should not be the only focus in cases of muscle weakness. The problem may even be pathology or injury at the back and simple movement exercises for the spine will improve the strength of the leg muscles.

It is crucial to distinguish between the 2 different goals, rehabilitation and performance, when doing strength training. You don’t want to get distracted by treating only the symptoms with strength training.


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To run faster, safer, and smarter, there are a few things to do. The first step is to join the Learn to Run Club. Next, fill out a “goals and history” intake. After which, you film yourself running. Then an exhaustive zoom session with Dr. Minard to delve deep into your running. Visit the Learn to Run website to start today.

To vote on the next topic that will be discussed follow Dr. Minard on Instagram. For professional help with running smarter, safer, and faster, check Dr. Minard’s online membership on his website.


Find | Dr. Matt Minard’s LEARN 2 RUN