It’s easy to ignore (or maybe just not realize) the tremendous role that healthy ankles play in our daily lives. Keeping your ankles strong and flexible is important because they’re a major weight-bearing joint in our bodies. Think about it: they’re essentially the base holding everything up! One key to having good ankle strength is being aware of your body’s movements and positions. The brain plays a part in this – signaling us to stabilize our bodies before we hit the ground. Working on ankle strength regularly will help the brain to know when and how to stabilize the ankle joint.
The importance of ankle strength
Strong ankles help to improve balance and stability, which prevents injuries from falling, tripping, slipping and rolling your ankles. Ankle strength and flexibility also is important for sports performance and athletics, especially for running, walking, tennis, CrossFit and intermural sports such as basketball or volleyball.
Additionally, keeping ankles strong helps us to walk properly, which, in turn, keeps our hip and knee muscles from weakening.
Caring for your ankles
In order to reap the benefits of healthy, strong ankles, be sure to care for them as follows:
- Warm up ankles before working out or participating in sporting activities
- Improve flexibility with stretches (see below)
- Build ankle strength with exercises (see below)
- Wear the correct athletic shoes with good support
- Replace shoes when the heels wear down and support feels loose
- Watch for uneven surfaces
Having greater mobility of the ankle joints, tendons and surrounding muscles gives you a greater range of motion during a workout session. These stretches can be done as a warmup before workouts or even on a daily basis to develop and maintain ankle flexibility.
- While sitting on the floor, place a foam roller (or rolled up towel) under your right ankle.
- Moving clockwise, circle your ankle slowly 10 times, moving only your foot and ankle.
- Repeat with the left foot.
- Sit on the floor and extend both legs straight in front of you.
- With feet flexed, wrap a towel around the balls of both feet.
- Pull the towel back slightly until you feel a stretch at the very bottom of your feet and along the back of your lower legs; hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
- Stand close to a wall; place your hands on the wall at eye level.
- Position your right leg approximately a step behind the right leg.
- Keep the left heel on the floor while bending the right knee until you feel a nice stretch in your left leg.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat 2 to 4 times.
Exercises to strengthen your ankles
Ankle exercises will help to teach the ankles to stay in control when the body is shifting weight. Aim to perform these exercises at least three times a week.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Shift weight onto your toes, then slowly lift your heels off the ground.
- Concentrate on keeping both ankles in a neutral position (this helps to prevent them from rolling out).
- Repeat 10 to 12 reps, rest and repeat for another set.
- Stand on your right foot bending the knee (standing knee) slightly while also bending the left knee slightly.
- Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. (Note: If you start to shake, that’s OK; it’s a sign that your muscles are working to keep control. Concentrate on keeping the ankle stable.)
- Repeat for left side.
*For a more difficult version, try this exercise on the round side, soft side of a BOSU ball.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Lower down to the ground slowly in a squat position, then jump straight up, pushing off of your toes.
- Continue jumping, making sure to squat between each jump for 20 to 30 seconds. Rest and repeat for 3 to 5 sets/rounds.