Try these ankle strengthening exercises to improve ankle flexibility and mobility.
The ankle is a complex hinge joint that is primarily defined by the shin bones (tibia and fibula) and their meeting with the talus bone on top of the foot. There are several other muscles, ligaments and tendons that support these bones. Let’s focus on how to prevent ankle pain and injury by improving the joint’s overall function.
Running and sports that involve agility are usually the cause of most ankle injuries, and these usually stem from the joint and tissues that surround it not being strong, mobile or stable enough to control the joint when asked to perform a task. If you include the following exercises before going out for a run or doing agility work they will prepare the body for movement and possibly prevent future injury. These exercises for the ankle and foot will help strengthen the joint by creating stability and mobility in the surrounding regions.
The peroneals are a group of muscles between the knee and the ankle that run down the side of the lower leg. Their respective tendons run around the foot and ankle and can cause pain and increased tension when these muscles are tight. Using a foam roller or tennis ball to perform self myofascial release therapy, can help muscles release tension and, as a result, relieve the stress being placed on the attachment points in and around the foot and ankle. Begin with the foam roller or tennis ball beneath the lateral aspect of the knee (remember to roll only on soft tissue, not across bone). Slowly work toward the ankle, stopping up to 30 seconds at any spot that may feel tender.
Because the hamstrings and gastrocnemius/ soleus are the major muscles in the posterior aspect of the leg, they are primarily responsible for pointing the foot and can become tight when there is an issue of mobility in the ankle. There are several ways to effectively stretch both areas. One example uses a stretching strap (yoga strap or belt) while seated. With one foot in the strap and the other resting on the floor with the knee bent, pull back while trying to keep the leg and back straight. As soon as you begin to feel tension in the muscles of your calf pause and hold for 15-30 seconds or until the tension eases. When the leg can no longer stay straight, bend the knee and continue to pull back on the strap, this time focusing on pulling the toes toward the shin. This will stretch both the upper and lower portion of the back of the leg. A second, more common, method is standing, hands on a wall or chair back. The affected leg is paced behind you keeping the foot flat on the floor as you carefully bend the front or unaffected leg. Stop and hold 15-30 seconds when you feel mild tension along the back of the affected leg.
CREATE AN ARCH
A week foundation is often to blame for other areas of the body becoming injured, so a good place to begin training is improving the support system. Strengthening the arches in the feet will help provide additional support to the ankle. Think of the foot as a tripod: one leg under the big toe, one under the pinkie toe and one under the heel. Now press those three points into the ground and try to squeeze them together. This will force a contraction in the arch of the foot, pulling the bottom of the foot off the ground. Practice holding this for five to 10 seconds and then releasing, complete five to 10 reps.
CREATE AN ARCH (PART 2): Toe Curls
Toe curls using a towel are another great exercise for creating and strengthening the muscles that support the arch. Sit with shoes off and place the edge of a towel under the foot. Using only the toes, pull the towel in toward the heel which will force the arch of the foot to work. This exercise will create a stronger foundation.
ENGAGE SUPPORT MUSCLES: Proprioception
By including dynamic movement patterns, especially when barefoot, the muscles that support the foot and ankle movement will be engaged to further improve stability of the joint. Try performing single-leg exercises using a slab of high density foam, a wobble board or standing on the floor may be a challenge. If you find it easy to simply stand on one foot, challenge your balance by slowly swinging your non weight bearing leg or try juggling a few small balls in the air. An option you can try is simply closing your eyes while attempting to maintain your balance. For safety, make sure you are performing balance work close to a fixed bar or stable surface in case you need quick support.
Pat Wallace has worked in the fitness and health industry for 35 years and currently is a certified Health Coach now specializing in plus size fitness. Pat also is an exercise therapist and competition prep coach at Maritime Physiotherapy.
More Inspiration: Check out this other article by Pat Wallace on the “new shape of fitness“