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  • Writer's pictureAlison @ BodySoulMovement

Give yourself a spring in your step. 15 ways to strengthen your ankles.

Updated: May 13



Photo by Kajetan Sumila on Unsplash




Reduced flexibility as we age


As we get into middle-age and beyond, our joints become less flexible and more prone to weakness, and that's without any injury.


Weakness can be developed through everyday movement patterns, past injuries, our activities, as well as what we wear on our feet.


As a pilates instructor, I notice that most clients pay little attention to our ankles.


Ankles are the joints that fix our legs or our feet, they absorb impact.


They allow us to move, walk, run, jump and dance.


And yet often they are the last on the list to consider focusing on working on helping to mobile and strengthen like we would other parts of our body. 


Until they give us feedback by way of aching, pain or we suffer an injury. 


Or perhaps we start to notice we can no longer comfortably kneel down or find crouching difficult, our lower legs feel under tension, our walking becomes less stable or our balance starts to change..


Movements focused on supporting our ankles are essential, to not only creating a spring in our step, but to help us avoid injury that can occur from everyday actions. 


A recent study showed the benefits of ankle strengthening on proprioception (knowing where our bodies are in space) and balance. 


Ankles are our foundations


Consider our ankles as our roots. Like a tree, shallow roots make it more likely that the tree will fall in a storm, however strong and flexible roots ensure that that tree, aka us, will weather the storm, no matter how strong the wind blows. 


When our ankles are unstable, it’s like we have wonky foundations.

Strengthening our ankles not only helps prevent injuries like sprains and twists but also improves your balance and stability, making you feel like you could take on the world.


I recommend adding some ankle exercises into your daily routine to build their strength and mobility. These can work for every body, we should all do them.


These suggestions are easy to fit in your day and can even be done whilst you're working or watching TV.



Photo by Vultar Bahr on Unsplash


15 'at home' exercises to support your ankles


Just starting:


  1. Point and Flex: Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Prop a cushion under your bottom if you find this hard or lean onto a wall or your sofa if it makes your back ache. Flex your feet, send your heels away to whatevers is in front of you, feeling the length in the back of your legs, and then point your toes, feeling the stretch in the front of your ankles.Do this 10 times.

  2. Ankle Circles: While you're still sitting, draw circles with your toes, going clockwise and then anti-clockwise. You can circle your feet together, or in concentric circles. Do three circles one way, then three the other.

  3. Calf Raises: Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. Have a wall or a chair close to you if your balance is having an off day. Rise up onto your tiptoes as high as you can, then lower back down.Do this 5 times.

  4. Pilates V heel raises: Stand up, have your heels together and toes turned out slightly, just like a ballerina. Rise up onto your tiptoes and hold for a moment before lowering back down. Repeat 5 times.

  5. Balance Challenge: Stand with your feet hip joint width apart. Be close to a wall, or in between a doorframe or on the kitchen floor. Stand on one leg, place your foot by your ankle or calf and see how long you can hold your balance. Be sure to stand by a wall or something solid in case you wobble.Start with 30 secs and build up to 2 minutes on each side over time.


Progressing:


  1. Resistance Band Flexion: Similar to no. 1, use a resistance band to increase the load on your feet. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and a resistance band wrapped around the ball of one foot. Point and flex your foot against the resistance of the band, 5 times then release. Repeat each set of 5, three times.

  2. Toe Walks: Similarly, walk around on your tiptoes to strengthen the muscles in your calves and ankles. This exercise also improves balance and proprioception.Start by walking the length of a room, and then introduce stairs or multiply the room walks.

  3. Single-Leg heel raises: stand in front of your kitchen work top and touch the counter lightly. Bring one foot to your ankle and raise the standing heel three times. Repeat each set, three times.Repeat on the other leg. Repeat 3 times.

  4. Ankle Alphabet: Sit on a chair with one foot lifted off the ground. Pretend your big toe is a pen and write the alphabet in the air with your foot. Write the alphabet once with both feet.

  5. Dead Bug: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg up into a tabletop position, point your toe and tap your toes down to the floor and lift back up to target those ankle stabilisers. Do 5 taps on each side, repeat three times.


Been doing this a while…


  1. Step Calf Raises: A build on the standing hell raises. Stand on the edge of a step with your heels hanging off. Rise up onto your tiptoes, then lower back down. Repeat 5 times, ensure that you allow your heels to drop down lengthening the back of your ankles.

  2. Heel Walks: Walk around on your heels for a set distance or time. This strengthens the muscles in your shins and calves, which play a crucial role in ankle stability. Start by walking the length of a room and back, and then multiply the room walks.

  3. Resistance Band side to side: Wrap a resistance band around one foot holding each end tightly. Move your foot in different directions – up, down, left, right – to challenge your ankle muscles. The band adds resistance to your movements, making them more effective for strengthening.Move each foot in all directions five times.

  4. Standing lunges and dips: Stand with your feet wide, and turn to face one way. Bend the front knee so it is directly over the ankle, creating ankle flexion. The back leg is long, and the heel raised.  Bend the knee of the back leg and let the ankle flex, then straighten by focusing on sending the heel of the rear leg away. Press through the front leg to straighten. Repeat 5 times on each side.

  5. Single-Leg knee bends: Stand on one leg with the thigh of the other leg at right angles to your body. Bend the supporting knee three times and change leg.  Repeat three times on each side.


Top Tips 


Start slowly and then build up. 


Start with the first 5 and do them every day for a fortnight. 


Then move to the next section, and then the next. 


Once you’re comfortable with them all, try a mix and match approach.



Multi-task throughout the day


The exercises can be habit stacked into times when you’re doing something else, like waiting for the kettle to boil, washing up, waiting for a bus, in a queue. 


Pilates is one of the most excellent exercise systems to support your ankle mobility. 


If you don’t have a pilates studio close by, then you could always join us for our online group classes, and these are all simple exercises to build into your day wherever you are.


Find out what you need for an online class here


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1 Comment


Emma Morton-Turner
Emma Morton-Turner
Apr 09

This is great. I'm going to forward it to my daughter who has just started taking her running seriously. Great stuff. x

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