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August 2011 Issue
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It takes more than good boots

Walking boots in amongst fresh green grass. Photo: Deb Hurdle

Consider how much time you spend thinking about which tramping boots to buy, trying them on and breaking them in. Are they a good fit, do they have good ankle support, will they protect me if I roll my ankle on a tree root?

All good things to consider – sturdy well fitting footwear is always advised, particularly if you are going to be walking on uneven terrain. But it is not enough to rely on your boots to protect you. You actually need to do some work on your ankles to make sure they are ready for the journey. Anyone who has broken, sprained or strained an ankle will tell you that it takes a long time to get back to full strength and confidence, so making sure your ankles are strong before you head out the door is the answer.

There are also some simple things you can do at home or work to strengthen your feet and ankles in the lead-up to your next tramp. The simplest of these is to walk around in bare feet as much as you can, inside and out, and if you can make it to the beach and walk on sand, even better.

The more often you do these simple exercises described below, the stronger your ankles and feet will become and the less reliant you will be on your boots to protect you. Just don’t leave it until the week before your next tramp.

– Deb Hurdle is the manager of recreation at SPARC

Walking backwards
As funny as it sounds, walking backwards is also a really good way to strengthen your feet and ankles. You usually walk in a heel-toe motion, but when you walk backwards, you reverse that. Just make sure you do this on even terrain – the aim is to strengthen your ankles, not sprain them.

Either do this with someone who can act as your guide or regularly check over your shoulder to make sure you are not going to run into or over anything.

Ankle circles
An easy way to work on your ankles is to turn your feet in circles at the ankles. You can do this anytime you are sitting – in front of the TV, on the bus, in meetings or under your desk at work. Turn them both ways and do the same number each way on each foot.

Stork stands
Standing on one leg in bare feet will strengthen your ankles and markedly improve your balance.

Lift one foot off the ground so your knee is at right angles to your body. Start out by standing on a flat foot and as you feel more stable rise up on the toes of your balancing foot, with your weight through your toes and the ball of your foot. Try and hold yourself steady for as long as you can, without dropping the heel of your balancing foot down to the ground, or lowering your other leg.

Swop sides and balance on the other foot. Try to increase your balancing time each time you do this, aiming for minutes rather than seconds.

If you find it too easy, you can make it harder by balancing with your eyes closed.