The ankle is a physically active part of the body. The ankle consists of several ligaments that connect the bones and are required for proper function. There are also many muscles that also help support the ankle during activity. Building strength and proprioception, or special awareness, in these muscles helps to prevent injury and improve performance. Often, the most neglected body part in exercise is the ankle. There is no single sport that doesn’t involve the ankle in some way. It is important that we don’t forget about this joint and make sure we do what we can to make it strong and sturdy. A major benefit with strong ankles is that you can help reduce the risk of injury.
It is important to keep the ankle strong. When an athlete performs any type of movement, running, jumping, etc., the ankle and surrounding muscles are put under a great deal of stress. If the ankle musculature is strong, the athlete can withstand greater force – limiting the chance of injury. It will also help strengthen the lower leg muscles and aid in preventing chronic conditions such as shin splints and Achilles tendonitis. Proprioception is the body’s ability to realize its place in space. For example, if an athlete is moving into a position that could sprain his or her ankle, increased proprioception can decrease the risk by alerting the athlete to the danger. Proprioception can also increase an athlete’s performance by giving the athlete better balance and awareness and giving them the ability to control their body more effectively. Proprioception training is done with balance exercises.
Try some of these exercises to increase the balance and strength in your ankles:
- Standing on one leg. Hold for 30 seconds, working up to one minute per leg.
- Balance and catch. Standing on one leg, catch and throw a ball with a partner. Make sure you throw the ball to all directions, left, right, high and low. Do 3 sets of 30.
- One leg mini squats. On one leg do a half squat with the opposite leg out front for 10 reps, out to the side for 10 reps and behind for 10 reps. Repeat 3 times.
- Standing on unstable surface and balancing. You can use a pile of towels or clothing, sand, air mattresses to give you the uneven/unstable surface. Stand and balance on one leg and hold for as long as you can.
The ankle can be strengthened in several ways. The best way is to use a thera-band (ask your trainer or visit a medical supply store). The thera- band will give the resistance needed to strengthen your ankle. By placing the thera-band around the bottom of your foot, near the balls of your foot, you can pull on the band for resistance with your foot in the flexed position. From here, stretch your toes to a point and then slowly return it to the starting flex position. It is important to work the ankle in all four directions. To work the ligaments and muscles in the other directions, affix the band to a stationary object and then loop the other end over your toes. You can move your body in different directions to allow you to flex your foot, turn your ankle in, or turn your ankle out. Use the thera-band to feel the pull. Make sure you do about 20 reps of each of these exercises on each foot.
These exercises may look and be simple to do, but they are so important to maintain or even build strong, sturdy ankle while also preventing injury from occurring. Ankles are often not at the forefront of our mind when exercising, but they are extremely important in everything we do from walking, running, jumping to sports. Take care of them and strengthen them, you’ll see and feel the benefit.
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