Everything in our body is connected. Tight feet muscles can be responsible for your lower back pain, for example. And just like that, ankle muscles are more important than you may have thought. They help stabilize the body and support it through life activities and sports.
Stiff ankles that lack mobility won’t let you exercise correctly, even if we’re talking about easy things like squats. These relatively small muscles take lots of loads for us to be able to even walk. By the way, when we’re walking they sustain 5 times our weight. When running, the load grows to 13 times our weight (1).
It’s clear that the ankle muscles need some extra support. Otherwise, they will become stiff, jeopardizing not only your athletic performance but your ability to walk pain-free.
The solution? Exercise and stretching.
In this article, I’ll guide you through ankle issues. causes of those issues, and, of course, the solutions. Some of the best exercises for ankle mobility plus important knowledge about their importance are waiting!
What Is Ankle Mobility?
Ankle mobility is the ability of the ankle joint and surrounding muscles and tendons to flex. This ability allows you to increase the range of motion during your training and daily activities.
This also prevents injuries as the joint and muscles are ready for any twist and turn, therefore it’s not painful and doesn’t damage the ankle. Proper flexibility allows you to walk safely and prevent hip and knee muscle weakening.
Exercises for ankle mobility help people suffering from stiffness and weakness in their ankle muscles and those who want to improve their athletic performance. Including these in your warmups and cool-downs is essential for improvement in your range of motion. This will help you exercise harder and better, eliminating cramps and boosting fitness results.
The Best Exercises For Ankle Mobility
So, how can I improve my ankle mobility?
Body fitness is achieved not only through common training but also through the functional ones as well. You won’t see great results until you start working on mobility and flexibility, not only in strength and endurance.
In addition, that great mobility will actually help you enhance the other two qualities.
Here are some of the most universal exercises for ankle mobility:
This exercise acts as a stretch and is perfect for a warmup. You can perform it lying down and/or sitting. Make sure to put a rolled towel or a small roller under the ankle. Start turning the ankle in circles, 10 times on each side. You can also trace letters to diversify the training.
Balancing On One Leg
Put your legs shoulder-width apart. If needed, stand near a wall, a table, or a chair for support if you’re a beginner. Lift your arms to the sides and raise one leg. Stay like this for 3-5 seconds, then repeat on the other leg.
Balance training will not only help you strengthen your ankles and improve mobility but also tone your core, leg, and glute muscles. Keeping your hands at shoulder height will also work out your shoulders.
Stand near a chair or a wall if you need support. Put your hands on your waist and start rising up on your heels and coming back down. Do 10 reps 2-3 times, depending on your physical condition. This is a great ankle mobility exercise you can do every day when doing chores or when cooking or washing dishes.
Heel Lifts And Drops On A Step
Get yourself a step or find any elevation where you can stand firmly with your toes. Stand on the very edge so that your heels are off the step. Rise up on your toes, then come back down, dipping your heels towards the floor. Repeat 10 times and do another 2 sets if possible.
Ankle Flexion (Plantar And Dorsiflexion)
Take a resistance band and loop it around the front of your foot. Now, point your toes down, feeling the resistance from your band. This is called plantar flexion. 3 sets with 10 reps should be fine.
Then, ask someone to hold the band for you or use a chair, a table, etc. to fix it opposite you so that you can loop it around the back of the foot. Now try to point the toes towards you, feeling the resistance from the band. This is called dorsiflexion.
Toe And Heel Walk
Just walk on your toes for some time, then on your heels. You can measure by the reps, the distance, or the time you spend in each position.
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These will strengthen not only your ankles but your legs and glutes as well. Put one foot in front of the other and bend the back knee down until you touch the floor. Make sure you maintain a 90-degree angle on your forward leg to avoid knee strain. Do the exercise 10 times twice, altering legs.
It’s the same lunge as the static one but you have to walk like this. 2 sets, 10 times each, should be enough for your legs to start burning.
If any of these cause pain and severe discomfort, stop doing them and visit a physiotherapist.
Benefits Of Ankle Strengthening Exercises
Here are the main benefits of exercises for ankle mobility and strength:
Improved Movement Awareness
Better proprioception is an incredible benefit of ankle strengthening and balance training. When your body finds it’s moving better, you get much more stability overall, which is great not only for sports but for regular walks in the park as well.
Likewise, balance training is great for preventing ankle sprains (2).
Ankle mobility exercises for squats will help you improve the quality of your larger leg muscles, making them more toned. According to a study, runners are recommended to strengthen their ankles for better performance.
If you often walk in high heels, some relief is necessary for your ankle joints, muscles, and tendons. Mobility and strengthening exercises, as well as ankle stretches, will help with that.
Ankle Mobility FAQ
For additional information, here are some frequently asked questions about ankle mobility.
What Causes Poor Ankle Mobility?
Most of the time, mobility issues start after an injury. The thing is, it can be from surgery or a regular ankle sprain. So, even if it’s a mild injury you don’t even feel that much, it’s important to improve the flexibility and strength of your ankle muscles after you heal completely.
How Do You Strengthen Tight Ankles?
- Mobility exercise
- Strength exercise
- Balance exercise
It’s best if you do both.
Why Is Poor Ankle Mobility A Problem?
Stiffness in your ankles influences your daily life and sports activities. It may be impossible to walk properly if you can’t turn your ankle forward and back. Not to mention that squats, lateral lunges, and jump landings are out of the question.
What Influences Ankle Mobility?
According to studies, ankle mobility can be influenced by:
- Gender and age – younger males have lower mobility than young females. However, with age, the situation turns upside down.
- Biomechanical dysfunctions – movement disorders can lead to injuries that, in their turn, lead to problems with ankle mobility.
- Disease – osteoarthritis and other medical conditions connected to joint health can lower ankle mobility.
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Ankle mobility and strength are very important when it comes to even walking. Stiff muscles put pressure on hip and knee joints and muscles, so improving their flexibility is essential. You can do it by including mobility and strength exercises for your ankles in your workouts, at least the warmup.
The exercises are pretty simple, ranging from regular ankle circles to static lunges which, by the way, tone not only ankles but legs and glutes as well.
Balance training is also very effective if you have weak ankle muscles. You can use a variety of exercises, just make sure it’s not painful for you to perform any of them. If you experience severe discomfort, make sure to consult a physiotherapist. This specialist will evaluate your physical condition and choose the best exercises to solve the problem.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Biomechanics of the ankle (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effectiveness of proprioceptive training in preventing ankle sprains in sporting populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis (2014, jsams.org)
- The effects of isolated ankle strengthening and functional balance training on strength, running mechanics, postural control and injury prevention in novice runners: design of a randomized controlled trial (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Foot and Ankle Conditioning Program (n.d., orthoinfo.aaos.org)
- Biomechanics of the ankle (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)