Hot take: No one is giving their ankles nearly the credit or love that they deserve. We treat our feet to pedicures and our legs to regular workouts, but our ankles—which do their job every. damn. day. to hold up the rest of body—are largely ignored. Think about it: When was the last time you did ankle stability exercises at the gym? A week ago from…never? Same—and that’s a big mistake.
Your ankles are an integral part of literally every single thing you do while you’re standing up—whether you’re taking a leisurely stroll down the street or squatting with a 50-pound dumbbell. Think of every standing movement you make as a chain reaction that starts in your feet and travels up through your ankles and legs. “Any disruption in that chain of movements means that the following movement is less likely to be performed correctly,” says 30 Minute Hit Ambassador Terri Dreger, and crappy ankle stability can be a big time disruption to the body at large.
“If the foot and ankle mechanics are off, it will likely impact the knee, which can cause the hip movement to be misaligned, leading to unstable core movements and stress to one’s back,” says Dreger, adding that this all leads to inefficient and ineffective movement patterns. In other words, she says, you won’t be able to run as fast, kick a ball as far, or throw as hard of a punch. And even worse, you might hurt yourself: rolled ankles and knee, hip, and back strains can all be traced back to weak ankles. “Good stability is important in performing these types of movements correctly and safely,” she says.
So despite the fact that we’ve all been resting on ankle stability exercises, they can help. Before you get started, it’s important to warm up the muscles (because you never want to work any part of your body with cold muscles, and that includes your ankles). In order to get ’em ready to go, spend a few seconds drawing big and small circles with your feet, going in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Then try this series of ankle stability exercises, which will help make everything from walking to working out a whole lot easier on your body.
Try these ankle stability exercises for a more solid base
Train barefoot: Ditch your stability sneaks to give your ankles some strengthening TLC. “Barefoot training strengthens the feet and ankles, improves balance and helps correct improper alignment,” says Dreger, adding that this enhanced strength helps build stabilization. Try activities like kick boxing, yoga, barre, martial arts, or HIIT (and don’t, like, go for a run on concrete without shoes on). Be sure to start slowly because going barefoot can temporarily amplify weakness. “Consistency over time will significantly improve the strength of your feet and ankles and you’ll also notice better balance and alignment throughout your whole body,” says Jackie Vick, CSCS, a trainer at Gold’s Gym.
Work one leg at a time: Just as one of your arms is probably stronger than the other, your ankles probably aren’t totally equal, either. “To avoid having one side of the body compensate for the other and to correct imbalances, it can be beneficial to train one leg at a time,” says Vick. Start by balancing on one foot for 30 seconds to a minute on each side, then work up to the following movements, which force the planted leg and ankle to work harder for balance, while keeping the knee soft. “The purpose of these is work on balance and strengthening the planted leg ankle,” says Vick. Bonus: You can do all of these barefoot for a double-whammy of effectiveness.
- Single leg swings: Balance on one leg while the other swings front to back and side to side.
- Single leg up to toes: Balance on one leg, and rise up and down on the ball of your foot.
- Single leg side to side hops: Jump from side-to-side on one leg.
- Leg strikes: Front kicks, high knees, and roundhouse kicks.
Walk on your heels: Vick suggests balancing on your heels and walking in 10 meter increments, which will help strengthen the muscles in your ankles. Do this one in sneakers, though, which will make it a whole lot easier to actually stay on your heels for all 10 meters.
Try some skater lunges: Lateral movements can help with your ankle stability situation, too, says Vick. Start by balancing on your right leg and propel yourself to the left, landing on your left leg. “Do not rush this movement,” she cautions. “Stabilize and have total control before switching to the other side.” Start with 10 total reps, and work your way up from there.
Fun fact: the strongest muscle in your body is also the tightest. Here’s how to stretch it out. And this underused gym tool can also help you build stability, too.
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