Adequate ankle mobility reduces injury risks, increases range of motion, and improves movement control. When ankles are too flexible and weak, your movements may feel uncoordinated, risky, and unstable. If your ankles are too stiff, you may be limiting your mobility and putting undue strain on other joints such as your knees and hips. Use the ankle mobility exercises below to stretch and strengthen this important lower-body joint. Always warm up your ankles prior to an exercise session. Start with a five-minute walk in place, or five-minute cycle to increase blood flow to your ankles and prepare them for exercise. The strength-training exercises should be performed every other day and the flexibility exercises can be performed daily. If you are completing both on the same day, execute the strength-training exercises before the stretches.
Ankle Strength Exercises
Ankle mobility is important to allow your foot and leg movement through a complete range of motion. However, if your ankles are flexible and weak, your movements are unstable, and you risk ankle injuries such as twisting and rolling. Complete two to three sets of eight to ten repetitions of the following exercises to strengthen your ankles and improve their mobility.
Stand with your feet flat on the floor, toes forward and ankles spaced hip-distance apart. Exhale, and raise your heels off the floor as you shift your weight onto the balls of your feet. Raise your heels as high as possible. Pause at the top for one to two seconds, inhale and slowly return to the start position. For balance assistance, place one hand on a wall or the back of a chair. To increase the challenge of this ankle mobility exercise, perform on one leg at a time, or place the balls of the feet on a step and allow your heels to lower beyond the step.
Grasp both ends of a bath-size towel and compress the ends together to flatten the towel. Sit on the floor or on a bed with your legs straight out in front of you. Place the ball of your right foot into the center of the towel with your toes up. Pull the towel tight against your foot. Sit up as straight as possible. Exhale, point your toes away from you as you press your foot into the towel. Inhale and return to the start position. Complete the same number of repetitions on your left ankle. To increase the challenge, this can be performed with an exercise resistance band.
Single Leg Balance
Stand with your right foot on the floor. Raise your left foot by bending your left knee to hip height. Then, straighten your left leg and extend your left foot slightly behind you. Next, extend your left leg out to the left. Finish by crossing your left foot over your right knee. Slowly place your left foot on the floor and complete the pattern with your right foot.
Ankle Range of Motion Exercises
Ankle flexibility is the key to improving your mobility. Flexible ankles increase your range of motion so when walking or participating in sports, your feet and ankles have the freedom to move in any and every direction you choose. Flexible ankles also reduce discomfort from tight muscles that may seize or cramp during movements or when resting. Perform two to three sets of ten to twelve repetitions of each exercise. Warm up prior to performing the workout.
Sit on a bed or couch with your legs straight in front of you and your feet hanging off the edge. Point your toes toward the wall in front of you and rotate your ankles clockwise. Then, rotate your ankles counter-clockwise. Aim to move both ankles in the same direction and then try a set with your ankles moving in opposite directions.
Perform this exercise standing or seated. Position ankles a hip-distance apart. Begin tapping your right foot as if keeping time to music. Everything but your heels should be lifted off the floor. Slowly begin moving the toes of your right foot to the right side. Continue tapping as you return to the center position and then tap your right foot toward the left. Think of this as tapping toward North, East and then West. Repeat the exercise on your left foot and then aim to do the exercise with both feet at the same time.
This exercise is similar to the calf raises, but is performed at a quicker pace. Stand with your feet a hips-distance apart. Shift your weight onto the balls of your feet and raise your heels. Then, quickly lower your heels, shift your weight toward your heels and raise your toes. Move from the heel to toe raises at a fast pace, but one that allows you to maintain a straight back and neck. In other words, continue to look forward and try not to bend forward from the waist to enhance your balance.
Ankle Stretching Exercises
These flexibility exercises are static exercises designed to increase the flexibility of your ankles. Remember to warm up your ankles prior to stretching them. Perform two to three repetitions of each stretch. Maintain each stretch for fifteen to sixty seconds and breathe comfortably during the stretch. Hold the stretch to the point of tension, but not to the point of pain.
Stand facing a wall. Keep your right heel on the floor and place the ball of your right foot on the wall. If you feel the stretch here, hold this position. To increase the stretch, slightly bend your right knee toward the wall until you feel the stretch in your lower leg and ankle. Repeat on your left leg.
Using the towel from the above section, place the ball of your right foot into the center of the towel and an end in each hand. Sit with your right leg straight in front of you. Gently pull back until you feel the stretch in your right ankle. Breathe comfortably and as you feel your ankle relax, aim to deepen the stretch. Repeat on your left foot.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent, your feet under you and your backside on your heels. Your shins and the tops of your feet are on the floor and your toes are pointing behind you. Feel the stretch along the fronts of your ankles. To reduce the stretch, raise your backside off your heels. To increase the stretch, raise the tops of your feet of the floor and rest your toes on the floor instead.
Daily Ankle Tips
An ankle workout routine will improve ankle mobility while at the same time keeping your ankles strong and flexible. In addition to a designated workout, there are daily tips you can use to enhance ankle mobility and decrease your ankle injury risk.
Your feet and ankles were designed to be in perfect alignment for your body. Walking barefoot when possible helps to maintain your ankle mobility and keep your ankle joints in alignment. Shoes that are too high over the ankle can reduce your ankle mobility. Shoes that are too high in the heel can upset your body's natural alignment, so taking a break from restrictive footwear and walking barefoot helps your ankles reset.
Choose Proper Footwear
Ankles are designed to help support your body weight and support your weight in proper alignment. Shoes that have high heels or are too tight, place unnecessary strain on your ankles and can limit your ankle mobility. Look for shoes that keep your ankles in alignment, which means those that resemble your bare feet. Zero drop shoes that allow your toes and heels to be the same distance from the ground help to improve and maintain your ankle mobility.
The muscles surrounding your ankles can benefit from massage whether from you or a professional. At the end of a long day on your feet, spend a few minutes easing the tension in the muscles of your lower legs and feet to increase your ankle mobility. Use your hands and locate the spots that feel tender and using a circular or upward motion, apply pressure to ease the tension. Your footwear choice will affect the amount of stress on your lower-leg muscles, so remember to be mindful in your choices to treat your ankles well.
Ankles may not be something you think about every day, yet your ankles provide a solid base for many of your daily movements. From those first steps in the morning when you rise to the last steps of the day that bring you back to rest, your ankles are there to support you. The more mobile your ankles are, the less likely you are to suffer from an ankle-related injury. Treat your ankles well by performing weekly strengthening exercises and your ankles will remain strong and mobile for all your daily activities. Perform daily range of motion and flexibility exercises to enhance your mobility and decrease your injury risk. The more flexible and strong your ankles are, the better you will be at your chose sport activities, leisure activities, or working on your feet. When your ankles are mobile, the other joints of your lower body including your knees and hips are able to function better together and keep you strong throughout the day. These small daily choices add up to large improvements in your overall comfort and productivity. Plus, use the above daily tips including choosing barefoot, zero drop or minimalist shoes to allow your ankles to remain in your natural, healthy alignment.