With the feet and ankles vital for running, it’s important to keep them healthy and strong to avoid ankle injuries. Doing exercises to strengthen your ankles allows you to increase agility and maneuverability while offsetting aches and joint pain long-distance runners may experience.
However, by reading this article and doing a few of the exercises on a regular basis, you’ll be on your way to stronger, more agile ankles in no time—and reduce the risk of ankle sprains.
Solo Leg Lifts
This is a directional hop that helps improve both ankle and knee stability. It allows for a stronger push off and landing when running track especially.
What you do is stand on one of your legs, say the left leg. With the other knee raised to about hip height, hop forward and land softly. Hop back to your original position, then hop diagonally to the left, then return to center. Hop completely to the left, then return to center. Then start again by hopping forward. Do twelve reps of this exercise, switching legs after each set.
Negative Calf Raises
No, it’s not a calf raise that complains about its day, it is a calf raise that goes the opposite direction of a regular calf raise. Start by standing on a step or some other raised surface (a curb will do). Then, let your heels hang down off the curb slowly, taking about ten or 15 seconds to go all the way down. You should feel a stretch in your calves as you do this. Repeat 12 times. For added difficulty, do one leg at a time.
This exercise strengthens your thighs as well as your ankles and acts like a full-leg workout. Doing squat jacks will increase the amount of power in your push off, as well as improve the strength of your ankles.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and shoulders straight over your hips. Quickly move your legs out so that they’re to the side of you. Your arms should go above your head at the same time like a normal jumping jack. Thus, instead of making the regular ‘X’ shape of a jumping jack, returning to a loose standing position, your “standing” position in a squat jack is your legs shoulder length apart that goes into a squat.
Incorporate both a regular jumping jack and a squat jumping jack into your ankle strengthening routine for maximum results.
The Crane Game
Place ten or more small objects on the floor, such as marbles, Legos or Monopoly pieces, and put a cup nearby. Using only your toes, pick up one of the small pieces at a time and drop them in the cup. Do three sets of ten with each foot. If you want, you can turn this into a challenge with a friend or family member to see who can pick up all tiny pieces the quickest. Who said strength training has to be boring!?
Single Leg Mountain Climbers
Get into plank position, making sure your back is straight and abs are tight. Bend your right knee and place it against the left knee. Hop on your right foot towards your waist, landing softly, then land lightly back to your original position. Always keep your right knee from touching the ground. Do this ten times then switch legs. Do this often enough and you’ll be climbing actual mountains in no time.
Sit in a chair and cross your left leg so that your ankle sits on your right thigh. Hold your toes and bend gently towards the shin. This stretches the plantar fascia or the ligament near the heel that connects heel to the toes. Since the heel is so close to the ankle, it’s integral that the two are strong and working properly, so stretching and strengthening the plantar fascia will help your ankle out too in the long run (pun intended).
Stand with your feet together, arms by your side. Lunge with the right leg forward. Then, with quick force, push off your right foot and land diagonally to the right. Then push off again and land completely on the right side. Make sure your hips are straight all the while. Repeat this with the left foot. Do six or more reps as they’re pretty quick to do and require relatively little effort.
Remember the flamingo toys that you tipped it over and it drank water out of a small cup? You’re going to be doing much the same thing. Standing loosely on solid ground, grab one foot and control your balance. Then, bend over until your free hand can touch the ground. All the while your ankle should be jostling like crazy trying to keep you balanced. Do this again with the other foot. Once you’ve got the hang of that, move onto more unstable ground, such as a mini-trampoline. This exercise will work your ankles as well as control, giving you improved overall balance.
When we try to stretch out calves with straight legs, we’re not targeting all the muscles or tendons that we could, leaving some not properly stretched and won’t be strengthened over time. Thus, here’s an exercise the soleus, a muscle often forgotten in calf stretches and connects the calf to the heel, involving the ankle throughout.
Stand up straight, palms flat against the wall. Place one leg forward, then another leg back. Gently lower yourself into a seated position, so it should look either like there’s a really wonky chair under you or you’re preparing for fierce battle. Lean forward until you feel a pull in the back of your calves. Hold the seated pose for 30 seconds to a minute and then switch legs.
Get an exercise band and loop it around the arch of your foot. Loop the other side around something sturdy or heavy, such as a bedpost. Place your foot at a distance so that the band is taut, then point your toes so that your ankle flexes.
Do ten to 15 reps and then switch feet. For added resistance, loop the exercise band around the balls of your feet or toes.