Your Achilles tendons connect your calf muscles to your heel bones. It’s important for these tendons to be strong because they deal with a lot of pressure when one walks, runs, and jumps. When recovering from an injury or trying to improve your running, taking the time to strengthen your Achilles is well worth the effort. With proper stretching and strength training you can either help your Achilles recover from damage or improve your running and jumping performance.
EditWorking With Your Doctor After an Injury
- Discuss rehabilitation with your doctor. After an Achilles injury it’s important to get clearance from your doctor before starting rehabilitation and strengthening. Your doctor can assess the health of your Achilles and suggest exercises that are appropriate for your specific condition.
- If your Achilles injury was severe, your doctor may instruct you to keep it immobile for a period of time so that the tendon can heal properly before being stressed.
- Go to a physical therapist for rehabilitation. In many cases, your doctor will refer you to a physical therapist so that you can build your strength back up in a safe manner. You will do exercises with the physical therapist that are designed to increase flexibility and strength in the tendon while avoiding reinjuring it.
- If your doctor doesn't automatically refer you to a physical therapist but you think that you need help rehabilitating your Achilles, ask them for a referral.
- How often and how long you go to physical therapy will vary depending on the severity of your injury and how quickly it heals.
- Follow the plan given to you for post-injury stretches and exercises. In addition to doing stretches and exercises during your physical therapy appointments, your therapist will tell you what exercises to do at home. Follow the plan and do all of the exercises and stretches as directed.
- Your physical therapist should show you how to do each stretch and exercise during an appointment so that you can do them with proper form at home.
- In order to improve your condition, you need to do exercises and stretches daily. If you don't keep up with them, you will greatly slow down your recovery.
EditStrengthening Your Achilles After an Injury
- Give your Achilles time to heal after an injury. Use caution when strengthening your Achilles after an injury. If it has been torn or ruptured, it can take weeks, or even months, to get strong enough to bear weight.
- The length of time it takes to get your Achilles working after an injury depends on the type of injury. If you have a bit of inflammation, called tendonitis, staying off the tendon for a few weeks usually works. However, if you have a rupture and need surgery, you will need to stay off the tendon for quite a while.
- Stretch your Achilles before strength training. To safely get the tendon warmed up, do gentle stretches for several minutes before exercising. You can do this either standing or sitting:
- Sitting stretch - Stick your leg out in front of you while keeping the knee bent. Put your heel on the ground and lift your toes up towards your shins. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and do the stretch 2 to 4 times before exercising.
- Standing stretch – Stand in front of a wall and put your hands up on it. Put one leg forward and bend that leg at the knee. Gently lean forward into the bent knee until you feel a stretch in your Achilles. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and then release the stretch. Do this 20 times to get the Achilles stretched out.
- Do sitting heel raises. Begin in a sitting position with your feet flat on the floor. Raise your heels off the ground while keeping the pads of your feet on the ground. Once you have raised your heels as far as you can, lower them back down to the ground.
- Do this 20 to 25 times and then rest. Repeat this sequence 5 to 6 times a day.
- Use a resistance band to strengthen the Achilles. Get a light resistance band, which are available from online retailers. Sit on the floor with your feet out in front of you and your knees slightly bent. Wrap the band around the ball of your foot and hold both ends in your hand. Pull the band towards you and try to resist the pressure by flexing your foot away from you. Hold this position for just a few seconds and then release it.
- Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps but be sure to rest the Achilles between each set.
- Progress to standing heel raises. Stand next to a wall or railing that you can use for support. Begin with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise your heels off the floor until you can’t go up any further. Then gradually move your heels back down to the floor. Do this 20 to 25 times.
- This exercise is most effective when it's done very slowly.
- Standing heel raises should be done once you feel comfortable putting weight on the Achilles.
- Do heel drops once your Achilles feels strong. Start by standing backwards on a stair or platform that has a railing to hold on to. Position yourself so that your heels are hanging over the edge. Lower your heels a few inches and then raise them back up. Next, raise your heels up and then lower them down to level. Go up and then down 20 to 25 times.
- It’s best to do this exercise on stairs with a railing so that you can hold onto it for stability.
EditStrengthening Your Achilles for Running and Jumping
- Stretch the muscles around your Achilles tendons. Before doing any strength exercises it’s important to stretch out the area. To stretch your Achilles, sit in a chair and stretch your leg out in front of you with your knee still bent. Place your heel on the ground with your foot flexed. Grab your big toe and gently pull it back towards you until you feel a flex.
- Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Do this stretch 2 to 4 times before each strengthening session.
- Use a resistance band or belt to strengthen your Achilles. Sit on the floor with your feet straight out in front of you but with your knees slightly bent. Loop the band or belt around the ball of your foot and put the ends of the band or belt in one hand. Pull the ends towards you but resist the pressure by flexing your foot away from you. Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds and then release the pressure.
- Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 exercises on each leg.
- Do straight-knee calf raises. In order to have a strong Achilles, you need to strengthen the muscles around it. One great exercise that can be used to strengthen the gastrocnemius, which is the largest muscle in your calf, without the use of equipment is the straight-knee calf raise. To do this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Slowly lift your heels off the floor as far as you can and then lower them back down to the ground.
- To get more resistance on your Achilles, increase the amount of weight you are lifting by holding hand weights as you do the exercise.
- Try doing 3 sets of 10 reps during your workout.
- Try a variation on this exercise by bending your knees. This focuses the exercise on the smaller calf muscle, the soleus.
- Do double leg heel drops. Stand backwards at the edge of a stair or platform that has a railing next to it so that you can steady yourself. Position yourself so that your heels are hanging over the edge of the stair. Slowly lower yourself down as far as you can go with the pads of your feet still on the stairs. Then raise yourself back up to your starting position.
- Do this 20 to 25 times.
- Try jumping jacks and skipping to target the Achilles. These exercises are a great way to improve your tendon strength for running. They work out your Achilles tendons and calves in ways that running doesn't.
- Do 3 sets of 15 to 20 jumping jacks. Follow that by 3 sets of 15 to 20 skips.
- You can also do one set of jumping jacks, then one set of skips, and then continue to switch between the two.
- Work on strengthening the rest of your leg muscles. Having strong muscles in your legs will take some of the pressure off your Achilles and will make them function better. Areas to focus on during your workouts include: