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Ankle Strengthening Exercises for Athletes

August 4, 2022
Person doing an ankle strengthening exercise.

When it comes down to crunch time of your next big competition, the last thing you want to be thinking about is lingering ankle pain, or a previous injury that hinders your performance. For most athletes, the reality is that until you’ve been through one of these situations, you might not spend much time thinking about ankle support, or even ankle strengthening exercises to prevent a sidelining injury.

Acute ankle sprains are some of the most common lower limb injuries for athletes, and account for a high percentage of all sports-related injuries as well. Limit your risk of recurrent injuries and undue stress with these ankle strengthening exercises..

Simple Ankle Strengthening Exercises

Non-Resistance Ankle Strengthening Exercises

Let’s be honest, no one likes visiting a physical therapist or having to spend money on rehab equipment. Fortunately, there are some simple ankle exercises that can be done where you live with a few simple movements of the foot and lower body.

Try some non-resistance ankle exercises when you are just starting the recovery process. If you are unsure about any methods of rebuilding strength or not overdoing it, ask your doctor or other medical specialist to get their advice and treatment plan.

Dorsiflexion and Plantar Flexion

First, be seated and stretch your leg out flat like you’re going to touch your toes. Begin by trying your best to bend the ankle up towards your shin (the fancy word for this is dorsiflexion). Make sure your toes are pointed up towards your nose and hold this position for around 15-20 seconds. Your leg should stay straight throughout the exercises to ensure that you are solely focused on ankle movement. Try this exercise in reps oxs 3-5 unless you are experiencing too much pain or lack of mobility.

Another variation involves pointing the toes away from the body while slowly rolling the heel towards your body (plantar flexion). This movement can help with injuries that have affected that outside of the ankle. Repeat the steps above for 3-5 reps and hold each position.

Inversion and Eversion Isometrics

These exercises involve moving the ankle inward towards the midline of your body (inversion), and outwardly and away from the midline (eversion). With these movements, try your best to keep your toes pointed and your legs as straight as you can. After holding the positions for 15 to 20 seconds, return to neutral and begin again with 3-5 reps each.


Resistance Ankle Strengthening Exercises

You can add some resistance when you’re ready to regain strength and mobility. Use resistance bands—setup is easy and can be done by adding a chair to the mix and something to tie your band around like a table leg or something similar. You’ll be doing the same types of movements you did before but with a little more difficulty. Adding a little resistance helps build the muscles around the ankle that help support the joint.

Resistance Dorsiflexion

Step 1: Grab a chair or a place to be seated and tie your resistance band around an object close by like a table leg or piece of furniture.

Step 2: Sit up straight, extend your injured leg outward while the other leg remains planted on the floor, 90 degrees. Place the extended foot in between the band and object, with the band touching an inch below the toes and pull back slightly until you can feel the band pull tight.

Step 3: Rest your arms on each side of the chair to stabilize yourself, and begin to pull your foot slowly back towards your body. Start out doing this repeatedly 10 times, and increase as you feel stronger.

Resistance Plantar Flexion

Step 1: Grab a chair or a place to be seated and hold the resistance band with both hands.

Step 2: Sit up straight, extend your injured leg outward while the other leg remains planted on the floor, 90 degrees. Place the arch of your extended foot on top of the band and pull back slightly until you can feel the band pull tight.

Step 3: Point your foot forward and move only your ankle, while maintaining straightness in the knee. Hold each stretch for around 3 seconds, return to neutral position, and begin again. You should feel this in your calf and achilles muscles. From there, repeat these movements until you feel discomfort or can’t hold for long.

Resistance Inversion and Eversion

Step 1: Grab a chair or a place to be seated and hold the resistance band with both hands.

Step 2: Sit up straight, extend your injured leg outward while the other leg remains planted on the floor, 90 degrees. Place the arch of your extended foot on top of the band and pull back slightly until you can feel the band pull tight.

Step 3: For inversion movements, point your toes upward and move only your ankle inward towards your other leg, while maintaining straightness in the knee. Hold each stretch for around 3 seconds, return to neutral position, and begin again. Try repeating these movements until you feel discomfort or can’t hold for long.

Step 4: Try eversion movements. Point your toes upward and move only your ankle outward away from your other leg, while maintaining straightness in the knee. Hold each stretch for around 3 seconds, return to neutral position, and begin again. Repeat these movements until you feel discomfort or can’t hold for long.


Weight-Bearing Ankle Strengthening Exercises

If you’re not back to 100% after an injury, it’s important to gradually add more weight back to your ankle to test the resilience. Again, your physical therapist or health care provider will instruct you when to  transition to recovery. Run through this regimen of ankle strengthening exercises and you’ll hopefully be back to playing and performing at your best soon.

Single Leg Stance

For this exercise, you’ll be gauging how much weight you can place on the injured ankle. Start by keeping your injured foot on the ground or floor while raising the other 3-5 inches. Hold the position for up to 15-20 seconds and try to perform sets of 10 each time by resetting your balance and repeating the movement.

Standing Calf Raises

Place your injured foot on the floor or ground, and lift the other foot 3 to 5 inches. Next, hold your balance to stabilize before you begin. Now, raise your injured leg up slowly while standing on the ball of your foot.

Make sure that your heel is off the ground or floor and hold for 10-15 seconds. Relax with your injured foot on the ground and the weight placed on the healthy foot, then repeat.

Lateral Jumps

To get a little more advanced and to add whole body movement, try some lateral jumps to build ankle strength. Roll up a towel, a yoga mat, or use a smaller household object.

Place your weight on the uninjured foot first, and raise the other foot 3-5 inches from the floor or ground while pointing the toes downward. Hop over the object you have and land on the injured foot. Likewise, hop back over the object once again, but this time landing on the opposite foot. Try repeating these steps until you begin to feel pain or it starts to to feel too difficult to maintain your balance on the injured foot, 15-20 jumps should get you started just fine.


Why is Building Ankle Strength So Important?

Most athletes will experience at least mild pain in their ankle(s) or lower leg and foot injuries at some point. And when these injuries occur, they can leave a lasting impact if not kept in check. Properly rehabilitating and working on ankle strength can reduce further injuries and build support for other key muscles. Ankle strengthening exercises will help improve balance, mobility, relieve pain, and prevent worse or lingering injuries. It’s worth noting: some people are more prone or susceptible to injury or recurring pain than others. For instance, ankle weakness can be caused by previous trauma, chronic ankle instability, osteoarthritis, wearing incorrect footwear, and more. It’s common for many athletes to push through the pain of these common obstacles that affect the ankle. However, not treating or paying attention to certain factors can be detrimental to long term competition and mobility. It’s important to have the proper equipment for your sport(s) and activities, and ankle support should never be towards the bottom of the list of necessities.

Functional Ankle Stability

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We believe that every athlete should be able to perform at their peak. The IFAST and XFAST allow you to push yourself to your actual limits. It's time to stop preventing injury by preventing motion. Functional Stability gives anyone who moves the ability to get the support they need without taking away mobility. Thanks to Functional Stability, protection and performance are no longer mutually exclusive.

These products are tested and worn by some of the top athletes in the world, giving them the function and design to make an impact each and every day. We hope that our team can give you the support you need to be your best.


SOURCES:

NCBI - Acute ankle sprain in athletes: Clinical aspects and algorithmic approach

Very Well Health - Ankle Exercises and Physical Therapy for Ankle Injuries

Healthline - How to Strengthen Weak Ankles

Medical News Today - What to know about exercises to strengthen the ankles