How to Build Ankle Strength with Exercise Routines
When I was a kid I loved rollerblading and playing roller hockey (I was an LA kid during the LA Kings Gretzky era.) But my ankles were weak so roller hockey skates were always tough on my ankles. I’d have to wrap extra straps around the top to try and keep from rolling my ankle. In my early 20’s I attempted to go icUe skating and ended up tweaking my ankle. Now I’m in my mid 30’s and actively blog on getting back into fitness, so let’s get those ankles back into fitness.
First we’ll look at what the popular Youtube people have to say, then I’ll talk about some of the things I do to try and strengthen up my ankles (which I need for Muay Thai.)
Build Ankle Strength – Exercises and Stretches
Spending time on Youtube is quickly teaching me who the Youtube celebrities are. So here’s Dr Jo first.
4 Way Ankle Strengthening with the Theraband. Therabands are like resistance bands in that the color denotes the “strength” of the band. In my experience yellows, greens, and reds are typically less intense while the blues and blacks are more intense. Find the correct resistance for your current fitness level.
Slightly elevate your ankle off the ground so you can move your foot around without hitting the ground.
Get the band around the ball of your foot. You can tie the band around your foot to make sure it doesn’t fly off and hit you. Holding the band with your hands while sitting straight up push your foot forward (as though you’re pushing the gas pedal) as far as you can then slowly bring your foot back up. Repeat 10 to 15x. If you don’t feel anything at 20, get a heavier band.
Move the knot (if you tied a knot) towards your other foot and put the band in front of your other foot to change the angle of resistance with the band. Rotate just the ankle down and away from the body (if left foot go left) then return to center. 10 to 15x.
Now you’re going to move the knot to the outside of your foot and cross your other leg over. Place the band around the other foot to change your resistance so you can now rotate your foot in the opposite direction from previous away from your body (if left foot you’re going right.)
Move the knot to the bottom of your foot and wrap the band around something heavy (like the leg of an ottoman or coffee table or fitness rack.) The tension is going to try to pull your foot down like you’re pressing on a gas pedal so you want to resist that and actually pull your foot towards your shin then return to center.
7 Exercises for Ankle Strength
- Seated Ball Lift. So we need a ball for this, I’d suggest just getting a massage ball so you can use that for self myofascial release of knots anyways. While sitting in a chair (like at work) put a ball between your feet and lift the ball off the ground using only your feet. Repeat 10x
- Marble Pickup – This may also work with a towel if you don’t want to buy marbles as the action would be the same. You’ll need to take your shoes off for this one. Get 2 plates and put about 20 marbles on one plate. Pick the marbles up off the plate with your foot then places said marbles on the other plate. The plates should be next to each other. Once you put all the marbles on one plate, repeat with the other foot.
- Toe to Heel Rocks – Rock your weight forward to come up on your tippy toes before rocking back onto your heels (toes off the ground.) Hold each position for 5 seconds, repeating 10x. Do on one leg as a progression.
- Toe to Heel Rocks – This is an easier variation of the above toe to heel rocks. Place one foot on top of the other at the toes. Lift the top foot with the bottom foot. If you have an injury, you want the top foot to be the injured foot. Repeat 10x.
- Towel Stretch. [or just use the theraband I talked you into buying earlier.] This variation is a static hold for 30 seconds. In a seated position wrap the towel / band around your foot at roughly the mid point. Pull back on the strap while pushing your foot forward. Repeat 5x.
- Ankle Eversion – In standing position with your back foot planted on the ground so you don’t fall, raise the outside of your foot (the pinky toe side) slightly off the ground for a few seconds, then lower back down. Repeat 10x.
- Sit in a high back chair. Lift one foot off the ground and rotate inward, hold for a few seconds. Return to center then rotate your foot outward. Hold the position for a few seconds before returning to center and bringing your foot back to the ground. Repeat 10x. The second and third banded exercises from above would be the progression for this, you’d just need to adjust for the appropriate angle if you wanted to stay seated in a chair.
The Best Ways to Stretch and Strengthen Ankles
- Sitting in a chair, literally write the letter’s of the alphabet with your foot in the air. Stop when your ankle gets tired. You can track progress based on how far into the alphabet you get. You can cross one leg over the other to help keep that foot off the ground. This one can easily be done at your desk or even during a meeting you wish you weren’t invited to.
- Band Stretches – They use a yoga strap, but a Theraband will work as well. Pull your foot towards your shin. 5 to 10 seconds, they say 30 seconds for “purists.”
- Balance on one leg pull ankle stretch – (good for shin splints) Grab your foot with your hand while standing on one leg.
- Pillow on the ground ankle stretch – kneel on a pillow with your ankles behind you. The top of your foot will be slightly bent to stretch. You can sit on your ankles if you have good flexibility. (also good for shin splints.)
- Straight back knee and bent back knee wall stretch – From standing, put your hands on the wall and bend your front knee, feet pointed towards the wall. Do both variations with the straight back knee and the bent back knee to get different muscles stretched out.
- If you’ve got an incline (toes above heel) you can stretch that way as well. Straight leg and bent knee on the leg you’re stretching, maintaining good posture.
- You can rotate the incline so the toes are below heels as well.
- Ankle Rocker – [I had one of these at my desk at work before I became a full time trainer, I still own it] – insert your foot into the ankle rocker so you can rotate back and forth to get both dorsi and plantar flexion (toes up and toes down from your heel.)
- Drop Heels – If you’ve got stairs or a step, you can drop your heel down off the edge.
- Spelling the alphabet is both a stretch and strengthening exercise
- Band Push the Gas Pedal – they use a different band than the other bands I’ve suggested [see how gear collecting becomes a problem], but wrap the band around your foot, hold onto the band with your hands, and push your foot down like you’re pressing a gas pedal. Pointing your toes towards your shin in this situation lets you stretch on the up and strengthen on the down
- Foot wrap methods from the first video – changing the band angle allows you to strengthen in different directions (we covered this with Dr Jo)
- Calf Raises – Come up on your toes then slowly lower back down. Single leg is the progression.
- Heel Lifts – Not sure if that what it’s actually called, but come up on your heels instead of your toes
- Alternate up on toes to up on heels
- Ziggy Zaggy – Feet facing forward (standing.) Come up on your toes and twist (you’re now at 45 degrees), then come up on your heels and twist. Go across the ground alternating toes, heels. Single leg is the progression.
Wobble board for ankle strength
Yup, grab a wobble board. Go 1 minute per. If you are having trouble with the wobble board you can start seated position, then progress to 2 legs with a PVC pipe) then 2 legs without the PVC pipe.
- Go forward to back.
- Side to side.
- Clockwise (forward to side to back to side.)
- Counter clockwise
Progression is single leg balance. A Fit pole (PVC pipe) can be used for balance.
They then go into the Bosu ball. They’re pricey and I already told you to buy far too many things so we’ll ignore this for now. It’s the same drill as the wobble board at 1/5th the price. To make the bosu ball balance more difficult you can bounce ball or throwing a ball back and forth if you have a partner.
My Ideas for Ankle Strengthening
I do the wobble board and the toe (calf) raises. I have a step so I toe raise then slowly lower to drop my heel below the step. I’ve also recently started jumping rope. Previously I had a misconception on how to jump rope (I had a second little hop in between my real hops) so I used a ropeless rope. Now I use an actual rope. The video below has some good guidance about how to jump rope / fit the rope to you. He’s got a speed rope, I will say that starting with not a speed rope will make learning the movement easier before progressing to a speed rope.