Your ankle is one of the most important joints in your body. It plays a crucial role in movement, stability, and locomotion to keep us moving forward. One of the most critical ways to protect the ankle and keep it healthy is by performing strengthening exercises.
The stronger that the ankle is, the less likely someone is to fall, sustain an ankle sprain, and will have an improvement in your athletic performance. Ankle strengthening exercises are essential for keeping this joint stable and healthy.
In this article, we will discuss the best ankle strengthening exercises and how to perform them correctly. We will also look at the anatomy of the ankle to understand why these exercises are so important and answer many of the frequently asked questions about strengthening the ankles.
Anatomy Review of the Ankle
The ankle is a hinge joint made up of three bones: the Tibia, Fibula, and Talus. The Tibia and Fibula are the two long bones in your lower leg, while the Talus sits on top of the ankle and acts as a pivot point. These bones are connected by ligaments, which help keep the ankle stable.
There are also two main muscles on the back of the ankle that help with movement and propulsion: the Gastrocnemius and the Soleus.
The Gastrocnemius is a large muscle that covers the back of the calf, while the Soleus is a smaller muscle located underneath it. These muscles help point your foot downwards, otherwise known as Plantarflexion.
On each side of the ankle is a group of muscles and tendons that control the side-to-side stability of the ankle. These muscle groups prevent the ankle from “rolling,” as many people know with ankle sprains.
These muscles on the sides of the ankle also help with the stability of the foot’s arch. The most well-known muscles in these groups are Tibialis Posterior and the Peroneals.
Finally, the group of muscles on the front of the leg or shin help pull the toes and the foot up off the ground. These muscles stabilize the front of the ankle and also help with the stability of the foot’s arch.
Now that we’ve reviewed the ankle anatomy, let’s look at the research on why ankle strengthening is essential for everyone.
Why is Ankle Strengthening Important?
There are four main reasons why ankle strengthening is so significant.
- First, strong ankles can help to prevent falls and ankle sprains.
- Second, ankle strengthening can help improve your balance and proprioception (your ability to feel where your body is in space).
- Third, stronger ankles can improve performance in sports and other physical activities.
- And finally, ankle strengthening can help prevent injuries to other body parts, such as the knees, hips, and back.
Strong Ankles Prevent Injuries
One of the most important reasons to perform ankle strengthening exercises is to prevent ankle sprains and other ankle-related injuries. Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries, particularly in sports. It’s estimated that ankle sprains account for 16-40% of all sports-related injuries.
A study by Gribble et al. looked at the ankle injury rates in a group of high school athletes. They found that the ankle injury rate was significantly lower in those who performed ankle strengthening exercises than those who did not.
Another study by Hertel et al. looked at college athletes and found that those with stronger ankles were less likely to suffer from an ankle sprain.
The resounding results of the research show that the more you work on strengthening and balancing at the ankle, the less frequent and the less intense your future injuries will be.
These studies show that ankle strengthening exercises can help prevent ankle injuries in athletes. However, these results demonstrate the need for an ankle strengthening program for the general public and not just athletes.
Ankle Strengthening Decreases Fall Risk
Falls are the leading cause of injury in adults aged 65 and older. In fact, one in four adults aged 65 and older will fall each year. Falls are the leading cause of hip fractures in this age group.
Several factors can contribute to falling, such as muscle weakness, balance problems, and poor vision. However, one of the most critical risk factors for falling is ankle weakness.
A study looked at a group of older adults and found that those with weak ankles were more likely to fall than those with strong ankles.
Another study by Maki et al. found similar results; they found that ankle strength was a significant predictor of falling in a group of older adults.
These studies show that ankle strengthening exercises can help to reduce the risk of falls in older adults.
This is likely because these exercises improve ankle strength, balance, and proprioception.
Improves Balance and Proprioception
We often lose muscle mass as we age, but we also lose our balance and proprioception. Proprioception is your ability to feel where your body is in space. If your ankles have poor proprioception, it increases your falling chances.
Ankle strengthening exercises can help to improve balance and proprioception.
A study by Shumway-Cook et al. found that ankle strengthening exercises improved balance in a group of older adults.
Another study by Di Fabio et al. found that ankle strengthening exercises improved proprioception in a group of healthy adults.
These studies show that ankle strengthening exercises can help to improve balance and proprioception. This is likely because these exercises improve strength and challenge the nervous system and our internal balance systems.
Improves Athletic Performance
Stronger ankles can lead to improved performance in a variety of sports. Strong ankles lead to faster sprinting, higher jumping, and an overall improvement in landing mechanics.
Another study found that ankle strengthening exercises improved agility and speed in athletes. It is essential to athletic performance to include ankle strengthening in any program.
Ankle strengthening exercises can also help decrease ankle joint stiffness and poor range of motion. The stronger the ankle muscles are, the less guarding and protecting the joint that the body feels it has to do, thus allowing for a better and more pain-free range of motion.
If you want to be able to sprint faster or jump higher, start with strengthening the ankles. The ankle joint is the closest joint to the ground and produces the large forces needed for athletic performance.
Our Favorite Exercises for Stronger Ankles
Now that we know the benefits of ankle strengthening exercises, let’s look at some of our favorite exercises to improve strength. We’ll break it down into different categories of exercises and provide links to pictures or videos if you want to try to perform some of them independently.
Resistance Exercises for the Ankle
The first type of ankle strengthening exercise is resistance exercise. These exercises involve moving the ankle against a resistive force, such as a resistance band or ankle weight. To get a resistance band, check out this post on our favorite resistance bands.
Many different resistance exercises can be done to strengthen the ankle. Here are a few examples:
- Ankle Dorsiflexion: Sit with your leg extended in front of you. Place a resistance band around your foot and pull the band towards you, keeping your knee straight.
- Ankle Plantarflexion: Sit with your leg extended in front of you. Place a resistance band around your foot and push the band away from you, keeping your knee straight.
- Ankle Inversion: Sit with your leg extended to the side. Place a resistance band around your foot and ankle and pull the band towards the other leg, keeping your knee straight.
- Ankle Eversion: Sit with your leg extended to the side. Place a resistance band around your foot and ankle and push the band away from your other leg, keeping your knee straight.
These are just a few examples of resistance exercises that can be done to strengthen the ankle. Many other exercises can be done with a resistance band; these are simply classic exercises.
Balance Exercises for the Ankle
The second type of ankle strengthening exercise is balance exercise. These exercises challenge your balance and help to improve proprioception. These exercises are perfect for improving the strength of the stabilizers of the ankle.
Several different balance exercises can be done to strengthen the ankle. Here are a few examples:
- Single-Leg Balance: Stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
- Heel Walks: Walk on your heels for 20 meters. Repeat this movement multiple times.
- Toe Walks: Walk on your toes for 20 meters. Repeat this movement multiple times.
- Balancing on a soft surface: Stand on a soft surface, such as a balance disc or pillow. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
- Single leg squat on foam pad: Place a foam pad on the ground and stand on it with one leg. Lower your body into a squat position and return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
A foam balance pad is an excellent tool to have at home to challenge your balance and also use as a cushion for kneeling or other activities. To learn more about a home foam balance pad, check out the link below.
These are just a few examples of balance exercises that can be done to strengthen the ankle. Many other activities can be done to challenge your balance, but this is plenty to get you started on improving your balance.
For related topics, check out the blog articles listed below.
- The Best Bosu Ball Exercises for Stronger Legs and Better Balance
- The Best Geriatric Exercises to Improve Balance
The third type of ankle strengthening exercise is proprioception exercise. These exercises challenge your balance and help to improve proprioception or your ability to adjust your movement in space.
Several different balance exercises can be done to strengthen the ankle. Here are a few examples:
- Single-Leg Balance with Head Turns: Stand on one leg with your arms at your sides. Slowly turn your head side to side while holding this position for 30 seconds, and then switch legs.
- Eyes Closed Heel-Toe Raise: Stand on one leg with your arms at your sides. Raise your heel off the ground, and then raise your toe to stand on your heels. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then switch legs.
- BOSU Ball ankle rolls: Place a BOSU ball on the ground and stand on it with both feet. Slowly roll the BOSU ball in different directions with your feet.
- Single-leg balance on a foam pad with reaching in multiple directions in a slow and controlled manner without losing your balance. Try this with your eyes open and with your eyes closed.
Plyometric Ankle Exercises
The fourth and final type of ankle strengthening exercise are a plyometric exercise. These exercises involve explosive movements and help to improve power and athletic performance.
There are a number of different plyometric exercises that can be done to strengthen the ankle. Here are a few examples:
- Ankle Hops: Stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent. Bend your ankle and rapidly extend it, propelling yourself into the air. Land softly on the balls of your feet and then repeat the movement.
- Figure 8 Hops: Place 2 cones 8-10 feet apart and stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent. Hop in a figure-eight pattern around the cones as fast as your can in 30 seconds. Repeat this movement for 30 seconds on the other leg.
- Side-to-Side Hops: Stand on one leg with your arms at your sides. Hop from side to side, landing softly on the balls of your feet each time. Repeat this movement for 30 seconds on each leg.
- Box Jumps: Stand in front of a box or platform about 12 inches tall. Bend your knees and then jump onto the box, landing with both feet on the top of the box. Step off the box and then repeat the movement.
As you can see, several different ankle strengthening exercises can be done to improve ankle strength, balance, and proprioception. These exercises can be performed by anyone, regardless of their fitness level. So, if you are looking to improve your ankle strength, be sure to give these exercises a try.
Do you have any favorite ankle strengthening exercises? Let us know in the comments below.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.