Attending to this tiny detail will make all the difference!
If you want to maximize the strength and functionality of your lower body, you must pay attention to the ankles. Far too often we get caught up in trying to fix the spine, hips, or knees, and completely forgo any work on this key area. The reality is, your body operates as a chain, so if the section grounding you to the floor is immobile and weak, the rest of your tissues will suffer.
If you find weightlifting uncomfortable, or you feel as if you’ve plateaued, take some time to improve your ankle health. By enhancing the stability and mobility of your ankles, you’ll finally have the proper foundation to take your lower body strength to the next level. This will have an immediate impact on your running performance and overall injury prevention!
5 exercises to improve ankle health for better strength.
Whether you’re doing lunges or squats, the robustness of your ankles can make or break your lifts. If you lack stability, you’ll struggle to feel grounded in your lunges or other dynamic leg exercises. If you have a poor dorsiflexion range of motion (raising the foot towards the shin), you won’t be able to maintain your center of gravity without compensating higher up the chain. Consequently, progressing these exercises becomes a great challenge and can even be dangerous.
To solve these common issues that athletes have, here are 5 easy ankle exercises. The first 2 are focused on mobility and the last 3 will improve the stability/robustness of the ankle. For frequency, try doing this routine 1–2 times per week. If you have concerns about the movements below, please reach out to your health professional.
Without further ado, let’s dive into your new ankle routine!
1) Ankle dorsiflexion drill
Application: 2 x 10/side
Cues: Get into a comfy, passive lunge position using a pillow or towel. To go through a rep, slowly lean to bring the knee forward while keeping the front ankle completely on the floor. After a 2-second hold at the end range, reset and complete another rep. Dorsiflexion, or bringing the toes up, is often the weakest motion for the ankle. This is an easy and effective way to restore mobility in this important range of motion.
2) Ankle ABCs
Application: 1 x 26 (full alphabet/side)
Cues: This can be done seated or standing. The goal is to fully maximize all your ranges of motion at the ankle by spelling out the alphabet. Ensure you don’t rush this! Try to make the letters as big as possible to help improve your active mobility. This can also serve as a fantastic rehab option if you’ve sprained your ankle.
3) Running man
Application: 1 x 10–15 reps/side
Cues: Whenever we can make training relevant to running form, that’s a big win! To start, stand on one leg. Lift the other knee towards your chest and make sure your arms are in the corresponding runner’s position. In slow motion, bring the raised leg back and down towards the ground without touching the ground with the toes. Be sure to bend your hips — not your back — as you reach backward with the moving leg. Swing your arms in a running motion as you move your leg back and forth.
4) 4-Point hops
Application: 10–15 reps
Cues: Set up 4 markers in a diagonal fashion in front of you. Hop from each one and focus on landing and finding your balance before moving to the next hop. To progress, simply move the markers further away to create a more dynamic drill. Please be aware, this is a more explosive and ‘advanced’ drill, so start light and work your way up.
5) Multidirectional lunge
Application: 2 x 10/side
Cues: This is the ultimate ankle stability/strength challenge. Start by standing in a neutral position. Now, move through a set of 10 reps per side with each lunge taking on a new angle. Just picture your legs moving through a clock, with the right side going from 12 to 6, and your left side going from 6 to 12. If you’re a beginner to strength training, start with regular lunges before applying this modification.
If you want to maximize the strength and functionality of your legs, you must be willing to spend time on the ankles. Improving the mobility and stability of this area will undoubtedly improve your training on and off the roads. Additionally, completing the program above will work wonders in preventing lower-body injuries. The little time it takes to maintain ankle health is nothing when you consider the vast benefits you’ll receive.
If you forgo training one portion of the body, the rest of your tissues will compensate and suffer. Unfortunately, far too many of us fall into this trap with lower body training as we forget about the ankles. Fortunately, all it takes is 10 minutes per week to reverse this common mistake. Due to the simplicity of the exercises above, you have everything you need to start today!
Start attending to your ankles and watch how quickly your performance begins to level up.
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