Shin splints and weak ankle exercises

(1) Wall Shin Raises: Simply stand with your back to a wall, with your heels about the length of your feet away from the wall. Then, lean back until your buttocks and shoulders rest against the wall. Dorsiflex (flexing the foot towards the body)  both ankles simultaneously, while your heels remain in contact with the ground.   Bring your toes as far toward your shins as you can, and then lower your feet back toward the ground, but do not allow your forefeet to contact the ground before beginning the next repeat. Simply lower them until they are close to the ground, and then begin another repetition. Complete about 12 to 15 reps.

Once you have finished the reps, maintain your basic position with your back against the wall, flex your ankles to close to their fullest extent, and then quickly Dorsiflex and Planterflex (extend your ankles away from the body)  15 times over a very small range of motion (smaller than the nearly full range you use for the basic reps; the emphasis here is on quickness). These short, quick ankle movements are called pulses.
As you gain strength over time, make the wall shin raises progressively more difficult by advancing from one set of 15 reps to two and then three sets of 15 (for the basic raises and the pulses). It's okay to walk around for 15 to 30 seconds between sets.
Once you can quite comfortably complete 3 x 15 of the double-leg raises (both basic and quick), progress to the single-leg wall shin raise. The basic position for this exercise is as before, except that you begin with only one foot in contact with the ground; the other foot rests lightly on the wall behind you. Now, full body weight is on one foot - as it is during running - as you carry out the overall routine, and the exercises are considerably more difficult. Begin with 12 to 15 reps per foot (both for the basic exercise and pulses), and progress to 3 x 15 (basic and pulse) on each foot as your strength increases. There's no need to rest between sets; simply carry out 15 reps on one foot plus pulses, shift over to the other for 15 repetitions and pulses, return to the original foot, and so on until you have completed three sets with each foot.

(2) Heel Step-Downs: These are simple but devastatingly effective exercises for preventing medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) (shin splints).  Begin with a natural, erect body position, with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and then step forward with one foot. The length of the step should be moderate - as though you were walking in your normal manner. When your heel makes contact with the ground, stop the foot from fully straightening, e. g., use your shin muscles to keep the sole of the foot from making contact with the ground. After heel contact, the ball of your foot should descend no more than an inch toward the floor or ground; your foot is held in check by the eccentric contractions of your dorsiflexors (shin muscles). Return your foot to the starting position (back by the other foot), and repeat this basic stepping action a total of 15 times. Then, shift over to the other foot and complete 15 steps. As with the wall shin raises, progress to three sets of 15 reps over time.
Once you are the master of the basic heel step-downs, perform the same exercise - but with dramatically longer steps. Using lengthier steps will increase the accelerating forces placed on the dorsiflexors and force them to work more forcefully and quickly, as they must do during running. Start with one set of 15 reps of long steps per foot, and progress to 3 x 15 on each foot over time.
Finally, you will be ready to carry out the heel step-downs from a high step, which will increase the forces on your shin muscles to the greatest extent - and build the greatest amount of strength. Use a bench or exercise platform which is about four inches off the ground to carry out your stepping. Aside from beginning each step from a bench, your movements are the same as they are in the basic step-downs; the idea is to land on the heel of the forward foot and then use the shin muscles to prevent the sole of the foot from making contact with the ground. The actual length of the step is moderate at first (you can progress to long steps later). As before, begin with 15 reps per foot, and progress to three sets of 15 reps as you gain strength and coordination.

Other exercises to try
Both the wall shin raises and heel step-downs can be carried out three to four times a week, along with your other strength-building exercises (you can complete them more often if you've had lots of problems with shin splints in the past - don't do them to the point of pain, however; naturally, if you are currently suffering, be very cautious and progressive with the exertions).
Along with these two key exercises, other activities which bolster the shins include walking on toes (with toes pointed straight ahead, out, and in), walking on heels (toes straight, out, and in), skipping on toes (ahead, out, and in), and even skipping on heels (on a soft surface).
Remember that any activity which improves the coordination of your ankles - and their strength in various planes of motion - will limit the risk of shin splints.  


Another great exercise to strength the entire ankle is to take a towel/piece of surgical tubing/theraband/etc. and while sitting on the floor, loop the band around the bottom of the foot and apply tension so that the foot is flexed.  Now rotate the ankle inward and outward.  Move the toes in a circular motion, up/down/side to side.  Due 15 repetitions of each movement, in each direction.  Work up to 3 sets of 20.  If using a theraband, increase the resistence rating of the band when able to perform 3 sets of 20.


Towel pickups are a great ankle strengthening exercise, especially for those recovering from ankle sprains.  Place a towel flat on the floor, while sitting in a chair with bare feet, use your toes to pull the towel toward you.  Continue pulling in short pulls until the whole towel is pulled under your foot.  Straighten the towel out and repeat 15 times.  Repeat the exercise now grabbing the towel with your toes but rotating the ankle inward to collect the towel.  Repeat 15 times, then collect the towel by rotating ankle outward, repeat 15 times.  When this becomes easy, place a shoe on the end of the towel to add resistance.


As with any injury (strain, sprain, etc.) always start slow.  Thoroughly warm up before any stretching.  Work just to the point that discomfort begins.  Always apply ice after your workout, 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off x3.  The reusable gel type cold packs work great for this as they form around the shin.  Bring a couple to practice frozen then you can slip them into your socks for the ride home.