The strength and flexibility of our ankles is a key component to the way we run, and as anyone who's rolled one knows, pain in the ankle can make running -- or even walking -- a nightmare. While rehabbing is a great way to repair damaged tendons, ligaments, and muscles in your lower leg and foot, staying ahead of the curve and strengthening your ankles when they're healthy is the best way to stay injury-free.
The foot and ankle components of your body are extremely complex, and there are a lot of parts that go into stabilizing and moving each one. Therefore the two work together, and to maximize the strength of each one, you must exercise both.
Here are three of the best methods for enhancing the strength, stability, and flexion in your ankles:
The first method for strengthening your ankles just requires a towel, a hard ground floor, and a weight -- or honestly anything you want.
What you'll do is put the weight at one end of the towel and your foot at the other end. You can start with your foot on the long side of the rectangular towel, with the outside of your ankle closest to the weight. From there you'll keep your heel planted in one place and move your foot in a windshield wiper motion from outside to in, moving the weighted end of the towel closer and closer as you do it.
When it's all the way to your foot, stretch the towel back out and switch sides, so that the inside of your ankle is now closest to the weight. Now move your foot in a similar windshield wiping motion from inside to out.
The last variation of the towel pull starts with your foot on the shorter side of the rectangular towel, opposite of the weight. From there, grip the towel with your toes and scrunch them in towards you, pulling the towel with you. This will work on the small muscles on the top and bottom of your foot.
It is recommended to do towel pulls while sitting in a chair, but if you prefer to stand, that is OK too.
Stability Cushion Disc
Another great exercise to strengthen your feet and ankles is balancing on a stability cushion or disc. This exercise can cause some serious burning in your foot, but it works on both your strength and balance.
Stand with one leg on the disc and stabilize yourself, using the muscles in the arch of your foot and your ankle. Try to resist stepping off of the cushion to get the best workout! If you feel comfortable just standing, have a partner play catch with you using a tennis ball or a baseball.
One of the easiest and most widely-used methods for strengthening ankles is the use of elastic resistance bands. Depending on the strength of your ankles, you can choose a band that is highly flexible or one that is pretty tight.
All you need to do is tie the band together such that there is a loophole at the end of it big enough for your foot to fit into. From there, grab on the band at one end with one or both of your hands and pull your foot towards you to create added resistance. Then flex your ankle in the opposite direction from where the resistance is coming from, and do so up to 20 reps at a time.
To do the same exercise side to side, use your other foot to make the band form a 90-degree angle, and create more resistance by moving your feet further and further apart.