For those of us who exercise regularly, our muscles are the stars of the show. We train to make our muscles stronger, bigger, and more defined. But what about our joints? Unless they are hurting, it’s easy to overlook these workhorses. And when our joints are hurting, they make our lives miserable.
One of the most neglected joints is the ankle. That’s a shame, too, because the ankle joint connects us to our base of support, the feet. That makes them integral to keeping us upright. You might say that our ankles are the real heroes of fitness since weakness in the ankles can result in injuries such as ankle sprain, ankle fracture, or tendonitis in muscles surrounding the ankle.
Using Ankle Braces
We often see athletes using ankle braces during sports such as gymnastics, cheerleading, basketball, or running events. Braces offer compression for support, but also limit the amount of movement in the ankle. Prolonged use of a brace can affect what trainers and doctors refer to as the proprioception of the ankle. Proprioception is our sense of knowing what position our body is in and the type of surface we are standing on. Good proprioception in the ankle helps us avoid the risk of injury. Using ankle braces can help provide support to the ankle, but they are no replacement for a good strengthening program.
Ankle Strengthening Exercises
There are tried and true exercises you can add to your fitness regimen to strengthen your ankles.
- Calf Raises: Stand or sit with your feet directly beneath you and rise onto your toes, lifting your heels off the ground. Ensure equal weight between your big toe and little toe to prevent your ankles from falling in or rolling out. Once heel raises become easy, challenge yourself by using one foot at a time. Or stand on a step and drop your heel past neutral to get a bigger stretch in your calf.
- Resistance Bands: It is important to strengthen your ankles in all four directions — up, down, in and out. Resistance bands can be a cost-effective tool to help you do this. These resistance bands, like TheraBand®, come in different levels of resistance with yellow, red, and green being the beginner levels. Begin with a red band and move your ankle in all directions 20 times. As you gain strength you can move to higher levels of resistance. Focus on only using your ankle and not your entire leg.
Balance and Proprioception Exercises
Adding exercises to help improve your balance can help improve ankle strength and make you more aware of how your ankle is moving.
- Tandem Balance: Stand with one foot in front of the other, heel-to-toe as if on a balance beam. Hold your position for 10 seconds, 10 reps each. Perform on both sides: right in front of left and left in front of right. Once this becomes easy, upgrade the exercise by closing your eyes for the 10 seconds.
- Single-Leg Balance: Balance on one leg and try to hold for 10 seconds, 10 reps on each side. Once this is mastered, perform on a soft surface (like a pillow) or with eyes closed.
Jumping requires strong ankles for both takeoff and landing. Proper landing after a jump requires that your feet be shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly over your toes in a squat position. You should have the tendency to fall backward.
- Star Hops: Stand on one leg and practice hopping forward and sideways as if tracing a star on the floor. Perform 5 sets on both the right and left foot going in alternating directions.
Exercises can help strengthen your ankles to minimize your risk of injury, but it is critical that you pay attention to your body and seek treatment should pain or injury occur. Working with a 2Perform Fitness professional trainer can help you develop proper form and get you on the path to your fitness goals. Your overall health and wellness are important to us! We can help you design an exercise program that gets you the muscle conditioning you want but doesn’t neglect those hardworking parts of the body like the ankle that don’t get the attention they deserve.
Call or stop in today to see how our personal trainers can get you on track to 100% fitness—faster!