An active body that endures rigorous training demands for a stronger base, at the ankle. Do we not understand the importance of a firm base and balance in a game of Jenga? Similarly, to keep our towering body from collapsing during a physical activity, it is necessary to have a pair of dependable and stronger ankles, for that winning performance. Hence to make the ankles strong and tough, you need to do ankle strengthening exercises regularly.
Runners, generally, undergo strength training routines to induce muscle contraction in order to build strength, anaerobic endurance and increase the size of skeletal muscles. In addition to that, strength training workouts provide functional benefits as well.
While the jocks and the fitness nerds usually adopt a holistic approach to building and strengthening their body muscles, more often than not, they neglect the ankle workout. It is true that strong muscles improve posture, render support to the joints, and reduce the risk of injury from the strenuous working conditions. But it is equally true that it is the ankles that help you to maneuver swiftly. So, the stronger your ankles are, the more dexterous you are and the better your performance is.
Importance of Ankle Strengthening Exercises
Ankles are the humble joints where the foot and the leg meet. Any type of physical activity that uses leg movements needs the support of the ankles and if they are not strong enough, these humble joints are quite exposed to injuries like sprains, etc.
When you are running, the muscles around the ankle is subjected to tremendous stress. If your ankle musculature is strong then it will withstand greater force before an injury is sustained. Furthermore, ankle and lower leg strengthening exercises will also prevent chronic conditions like Achilles tendonitis and shin splints.
Before we discuss the best exercises to strengthen the ankles, let us first understand the concept of proprioception.
What is proprioception?
In simple words, proprioception is the ability to grasp or realize the position of one’s body parts and strength of effort in space i.e. when one is in motion.
Proprioception is an interoceptive sense by which we perceive the pain and the stretching of internal organs.
Training of the proprioceptive senses will alert the individual of the potential ankle-spraining danger and thereby reduce injury risks. The efficient way to train proprioceptive senses is through balance exercise.
It’s all about Balancing!
Stand on one leg for about 30 seconds to a minute (per leg). Next, play the catch and throw a ball game with a partner while standing on one leg; at least perform three sets of 30. Lastly, do a half squat on one leg keeping the opposite leg out in the front for 10 reps, out to the side for another 10 reps, and behind for 10 reps. Repeat the drill thrice.
Best Ankle Strengthening Exercises for Stronger Ankles
A robust tree, like the banyan or the eucalyptus, has firm roots to uphold its giant body. Likewise, an athlete’s body must also achieve a strong foundation to endure the arduous activities. Here are 6 ankle strengthening exercises which is a must for every runner.
1. Peroneal Stretching
According to experts, the peroneal tendons that run along the outside of the ankle are very crucial for strength and support. Dancers and athletes who are engaged in sports like running, football, etc. must perform peroneal stretching to warm up the peroneal tendons.
Gently roll onto the outside of your feet and walk for 60 seconds maintaining it. This simple workout not only enhances strength and flexibility but improves the proprioception sense.
2. Ankle Circles
Moving the ankles in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions will help strengthen the muscles in and around the ankle region.
To do this exercise, sit on a chair with a straight back, extend your right leg, knee straight, and rotate the foot 10-20 times clockwise.
Take a break of 5 seconds and rotate it again in anti-clockwise the same number of reps. Repeat the movement with alternate legs, doing 3-4 sets per side.
3. Dorsiflexion Stretch
This exercise isn’t as complex as it sounds. In fact, it just means to bring the toes closer to the shin. This type of stretching helps to strengthen the ankle muscles and the tendons.
While doing the dorsiflexion stretch, you will feel the stretch in the thigh, calf, and Achilles. Sit upright on the floor with both the legs.
Place a Thera-band or a towel under the ball of either foot and gently pull the toes up towards the shin. Repeat the stretch 4 times before switching the legs. Do not stretch it too hard, it should be mild to a moderate stretch.
4. Trace the Alphabets
If you know your ABCs well then, this particular exercise shouldn’t be a pain. However according to physiologists, writing the alphabets with the big toe is a challenging strength workout for the humble ankle.
To do this exercise, sit on a chair, stretch out either leg and using the big toe, try to write the alphabets in capital letters. Next, repeat the process with lower case letters and then switch the feet. Repeat for 2 times each.
5. Achilles Stretches
The stretching and strengthening of the Achilles tendon should be performed athletes as well as aging people. As we grow old, the risk of rupturing the Achilles tendon increases. Therefore, regular stretching of the Achilles tendon will improve its flexibility.
Assume the standing position, take a step back with one of the legs. Keep that back leg straight (grounding the heel), and push the hips forward while bending the knee of the front leg at a 45 degrees angle. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds and switch legs; repeat 2 to 4 sets on each leg.
6. Polymetric workouts
In this type of training, jumping movements are performed to strengthen ankle muscles and make them more explosive. Workouts like scissor hops, standing squat jumps, and bounding is a part of the polymetric workout.
- Scissor Hop
Take a lunge position and jump. Switch feet in mid-air and land with either of the feet forward.
- Standing Squat Jumps
Assume the quarter squat position, jump and land softly.
Stand on the toes and take large steps at about 50 percent of your maximum running speed. One repetition should be about 50 feet.
And those were the six exercises to bulletproof your ankles and dodge relate injuries. But let’s assume you encounter a stinging sprain on a fateful day- what do you do then? How do you find a quick recovery and bounce back on your feet? Read on to know.
How to Treat Sprained Ankle
Before you lurch onto doing ankle strengthening exercises right after a sprain, give a maximum amount of rest to the injured ankle, keeping it in a leveled position. Start the healing process of the sprained ankle with the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) therapy.
After a span of two-three days of complete rest, start with strengthening exercises. Any kind of lateral movements must be avoided as it will put stress on the injured ligaments. Gradually, when the pain reduces, start doing lateral movements that involve sideways motions as well.
Post ankle sprain, ankle strengthening exercises should be performed when you can bear weight comfortably and have an almost full motion range of the ankle. Among the several types of ankle strengthening exercises, begin with the isometric exercises.
The isometric exercises are the easiest ankle strengthening exercises and involve pushing the ankle against a stationary object. Keep the injured ankle in the “down and in” position against a fixed object. Now hold the position for 10 seconds; repeat 10 times. Next, place the same ankle in the “up and out” position against the same object and hold the position for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
After this, perform the mobility exercises with a Thera-band. Place it around the forefoot and slowly push the ankle up as far as you can. Then, gradually return to the initial position. Repeat the motion 10 times. Next, place the foot on the inner side of the band and slowly push the ankle down as far as you can. Return to the rest position slowly; repeat it 10 times.
Now, tie the band to an object to the outer side of the ankle, place the foot diagonally on the band. From a relaxed position, gradually push ankle down and in as far as you can. Slowly return to the original position; repeat it 10 times. Next, tie the band to an object to the inner side of the ankle. Place the foot diagonally and push it up and out as much as you could. Bring it back to the relaxed position slowly; repeat it 10 times.
Once you regain the strength and mobility in the sprained ankle, you can begin doing light sporting activities like jogging and biking at a gentle pace.
Common medical conditions like foot pain, Plantar Fasciitis can also be beaten with ankle strengthening exercises. The foot is structured of 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles and over 100 ligaments. And problem or abnormality in any one or combination of this anatomy can cause pain. By the age of 70, we would have walked a distance equivalent of four times round the earth! Some exercises to relax and strengthen your foot muscles doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?
One of the most common reasons leading to painful foot conditions is ankle stiffness after ankle injuries like sprains, etc. If complete recovery is failed to gain in the foot movement then symptoms of pain persist even after healing of the injury. Therefore, foot and ankle strengthening exercises are very important to perform during the healing process.
Here are some foot and ankle strengthening exercises to heal and improve mobility around the ankle joint after an injury, try out!
Foot & Ankle Stretches
1. Heel Slides: Sit on a chair with the toes pointing forwards and the heel resting on the floor. Maintaining the foot position, slide the heel backward and hold the position for a couple of seconds. Repeat 20-30 times.
2. Foot Pulls: Sit with the foot to be stretched crossed over the other leg. Clasp the foot at the middle and slowly pull it downwards and stretch the front of the ankle. Hold the position for a few seconds, repeat 10-15 times.
This will stretch the front ankle muscles and improve plantar flexion at the ankle joint.
3. Passive Stretches: This kind of stretches will improve inversion and eversion of the foot. For inversion improvement, grasp the outer border of the foot and slowly pull the foot upwards and inwards until you a stretch down the outer side of the ankle. Next, to improve eversion, hold the inner border of the foot and push it down and outwards until you sense a stretch on the inner side of the ankle.
This stretching exercise will improve the foot movement.
4. Heel Sit Backs: Start by kneeling on a flat surface with the middle of the foot off the edge. Slowly, sit back onto the heels until the ankles are stretched at the front and hold it for a few seconds. Repeat 10-20 times.
To improve plantar flexion of the ankle and toes, do this ankle stretching exercise regularly.
5. Foam Roller Stretches: Start by placing the foot on a half foam roller. Gradually, tilt the roller outwards to experience a stretch down the outer side of the ankle (foot moves into inversion), or inwards to stretch the inner side of the ankle (foot moves into eversion). Repeat the exercise 10-20 times.
Foot and Toe Stretches
1. Standing Foot Stretch: Stand with support against a wall or a counter, curl the toes underneath and try to fold by placing the top of the foot on the floor. Next, gradually bend the knee and lean forwards. You will feel a stretch in the top of the foot/toes. Hold for a couple of seconds and repeat 10-25 times.
To improve ankle and toe plantar flexion movement, this stretching exercise is best recommended.
2. Toe Stretches: Sit with the foot to be stretched crossed over the other leg. Grasp the middle of the foot and hold the toe to be stretched by the other hand. Slowly pull the toe down until you feel a stretch on top of the toe. Similarly, draw the toe backward and sideways as well. Hold each position for a couple of seconds and repeat 20-30 times.
You can do the stretching by wearing toe stretchers too. They help with foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, and foot corns.
Heel Stretches for the Calf
The calf is made up of two muscles; the larger muscle is called gastrocnemius and the smaller muscle is called soleus. The gastrocnemius muscle arises just above the knee while the soleus muscle arises below the knee. Both the muscle run down back of the calf before joining together to form the Achilles tendon that attaches to the back of the heel.
Below are the three ways to stretch calf muscles-
1. General Calf Stretch: Stand on a step with your heel hanging off the steps. Now slowly drop the heel of the standing leg until you feel a stretch in the calf. Sustain the position for about 30 seconds; repeat 3 times each leg. This stretching exercise targets both the calf muscles.
2. Gastrocnemius Stretch: Balance against a table with the leg to be stretched behind, toes pointing forward. Keep the heel down and the knee straight. Gradually, lunge forward onto the front leg until you feel a stretch in the calf of the stretched leg. Hold the position for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times each leg.
3. Soleus Stretch: Stand to face a wall with both hands on the wall and the leg to be stretched behind, toes pointing forward. Bend both the knees and gently lean into the wall. Hold the position for 30 seconds before relaxing the muscle. Repeat 3 times each leg.
Ankle strengthening exercises are a significant part of your training routine. The ankles are the parts of the body which play quite an important role in keeping you nimble in your movements. And if you are an athlete then ankle strengthening exercise is something that you must take very seriously because it is that part of your body which, with appropriate training and attention could greatly impact your sports performance and make you a game changer!