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Your ankles, together with your feet, are the very foundation of your body.
Collectively, they allow you to perform activities such as walking, running, and balancing on one leg.
They are designed to take significant impact forces but, if you have weak ankles this can result in several injuries such as sprains and fractures.
There are several potential causes of weakness to the ankle joint and these include being overweight, pre-existing ankle injuries, weakness to surrounding muscles and wear and tear as we age.
However, the good news is that by incorporating a range of ankle-strengthening exercises into your day, you can improve ankle strength whilst increasing range of motion, stability, and balance.
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The ankle joints are activated by the surrounding nearby muscles, including the calf muscles, tibialis anterior (shin muscle) and the muscles of the foot.
Whilst the muscles within the foot are responsible for plantar flexion, ankle dorsiflexion along with inversion and eversion, the ankle joints essentially act as the hinge of the foot’s movement.
This means it’s important to build strength to the surrounding muscles to help with ankle stability.
If you want to be able to run faster, jump higher, squat deeper and even balance better, then be sure to spend some time and implement the following exercises into your week.
Recommended Exercises For Ankle Strength
The following strength training exercises are easy to perform and can be done either at home or in the gym.
The heel walk is a great body weight exercise for the lower legs, specifically targeting the tibialis anterior (the shin muscle).
It can also help to loosen up stiff ankles and is a good way of helping to prevent shin splints.
How To Perform Heel Walks:
- Start by standing upright with feet hip width apart.
- From here, raise your toes off the ground so you are balancing on your heels.
- Keeping your legs straight, take small steps forward whilst remaining on your heels.
- Hold your arms out to provide balance if you need to.
- Walk for around 30 to 60 seconds.
- Keep your body up straight throughout and always remain on your heels.
The toe walk is essentially the opposite of the heel walk and will work the calf muscles.
Both the heel walk, and toe walk exercise requires a certain degree of balance so by default you’ll also be working the core muscles.
How To Perform Toe Walks:
- Stand upright with feet hip-width apart and raise up onto your toes.
- Keep your arms out to your sides to help give you stability.
- Take small steps forward and with each step raise the toes up as far as possible.
- Walk for around 30 to 60 seconds.
Performing ankle pumps can help to improve range of motion and reduce any ankle pain.
You can make this exercise a little more challenging by placing a resistance band around the foot (make sure it rests on the ball of your foot) and hold the other end so there is a little tension in the band.
When you point your toes forward, this increases resistance in the band.
How To Perform Ankle Pumps:
- Start by sitting on the ground with your legs extended out in front of you.
- Place a small foam roller or rolled up towel under the ankle of your right foot.
- Slowly and with control, start to lower the top of your foot so that your toes point forwards.
- Pause briefly and raise the foot back up and pull it towards you.
- Repeat this exercise for around 20 repetitions and then switch to the left leg.
Reverse Calf Raises
The reverse calf raise is an effective exercise to work the muscles to the front of the shin bone and also the calf muscles.
You’ll need to perform this exercise on a raised platform or the stairs and be sure to complete it with a full range of motion.
How To Perform A Reverse Calf Raise:
- Stand on the edge of your platform so your heels are supported but your toes are hanging off the edge.
- Slowly raise your heels so your toes lower towards the ground.
- From here, push back up and then raise the toes as high as is comfortable.
- Perform 4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
Single Leg Swings
As far as balance exercises go, the single leg swing is a great exercise for improving stability and building strong ankles.
Once you become accustomed to this exercise you can progress by performing stability exercises on something such as a wobble board.
How To Perform A Single Leg Swing:
- Stand upright with feet hip width apart.
- Raise one foot so it’s slightly elevated from the ground.
- Begin to swing this leg backwards and forwards to create some momentum.
- Swing your arms simultaneously, as though running.
- You should feel a little instability to the ankle joint as you move which will help to activate the ankle muscles.
- Complete 3 to 4 sets of 20 swings and then switch to work the other leg.
The arabesque exercise is a great way of activating the hamstrings and glutes.
As it’s a single leg balance exercise it will requires good stability so will also work the hip extensors, core and ankles and even help strengthen muscles to the bottom of the foot.
This is quite a challenging exercise so rest one hand on a sturdy piece of furniture until you are able to perform it freestanding.
How To Perform The Arabesque Exercise:
- Start by standing upright and lift your left foot off the ground so you’re now standing on one leg.
- Keep your arms out to the sides for balance.
- Hinge forward at the hips so your upper body begins to lower towards the ground.
- Simultaneously take your left leg behind you whilst keeping it straight.
- Try to get your torso and left leg so they are around parallel to the ground.
- From here, raise back up to a standing position and bring your left knee up in front of you so it’s bent to 90 degrees.
- Complete around 10 to 15 repetitions before switching to the right leg.
By incorporating the above ankle strength exercises into your week is the best way to improve muscle strength and mobility to the surrounding muscles as well as leading to good balance and better ankle health.
As some of the exercises are easier to perform than others, it’s a good idea to address any pre-existing injuries or muscle soreness before you undertake them to limit any risk of injury.
If you’re unsure, always seek medical advice before starting a new exercise program.