Ward off injury with ankle-specific exercises.
You may not think of them first, but strong ankles provide a foundation for any workout. Exercises to strengthen the ankles also help you recover from and prevent strains and sprains. Strong ankles also enhance your balance and agility. If you're targeting your ankles following an injury, consult with your doctor before engaging in any specific ankle exercises.
Muscles and Movements of the Ankle
The ankle moves in four primary directions. It works to point the toes away from the shins -- called plantar flexion. In dorsal flexion, the ankle helps pull the toes toward the shin. The ankle may also move the foot toward the center of the body, called inversion, and away from the body, called eversion. The muscles of the lower leg and foot act with the ankle to create these movements. Ankle muscle exercises, as a result, target the gastrocnemius and soleus of the calf, the tibilialis anterior of the shin, the plantaris at the bottom of the foot and several muscles that run under the foot and attach to the tibia or fibula, such as the the extensor hallucis longus and peroneus tertius.
Dorsal Flexion Exercises
Stretch your ankle with dorsiflexion exercises that involve pulling the toes toward your shin. Sit on the edge of a high table or bench with your legs dangling. Point your toes toward the floor and have a friend or workout partner gently pull your foot toward your shin until you feel a stretch. You should feel the movement originate from the ankle joint rather than the toes. Perform these dorsiflexion exercises on your own as well; stand on the floor with your feet hip distance apart and lift the toes of one foot off the ground. Once you can easily do one foot at a time, try to lift the toes of both feet together. Avoid hinging from the hips or tipping your torso forward. You can also sit on the floor and anchor one side of a looped resistance band around the top of your foot and the other around a sturdy object. Pull your foot toward your shin, against the resistance of the band, to strengthen the ankles' ability to dorsiflex.
Eversion and Inversion
Enhance the flexibility and strength of your ankles to prevent rolls and sprains with specific exercises that target eversion and inversion. Lie sideways on a stretching table and allow your feet to hang off the end. Squeeze your feet together and rotate them toward the ceiling and then back down toward the floor. For more intensity, wrap an ankle weight around both feet. Flip over onto your other side to equally work both ankles. You can also work eversion and inversion by sitting in a tall chair or on the edge of a stretching table with your feet dangling. Use your toes to trace the alphabet in the air. A resistance band, tied around a sturdy object, also helps you work eversion and inversion. Loop the band around the outside of your foot and use your ankle to push the band away from your body to work eversion. Loop the band around the inside of your foot and reverse the movement to work inversion.
Increase Plantar Strength
Build up the bottom of your foot to improve your ankle's strength. Use your toes to pick up a pencil or scrunch up a towel to work plantar flexion. A resistance band can also help strengthen this plantar action. Wrap a resistance band around the bottom of your foot and hold the handles in your hands. Point your foot away from you, working against the band's resistance.
Care and Maintenance
Incorporate ankle-strengthening exercises into your daily routine. At first, aim for 10 repetitions of each exercise and one set of the alphabet-drawing at each session. Work up to two sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise, and two sets of alphabet drawing. If any exercise hurts, stop immediately. If the pain persists, consult a health care provider. Regularly stretching your lower legs and calves after exercise also helps improve your ankle function. Try a heel-cord stretch in which you stand and face a wall with one foot in front of the other. Press your hands into the wall and push the back leg's heel into the floor until you feel a mild stretch through you calf and ankle region. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.