Strengthening Your Ankles to Increase Athletic Performance
Most people don't realize that your feet and ankles, as the base of movement and shock absorption in the body, need to be trained and strengthened like any other part of the body. Athletes in particular put a great deal of stress on the ankle and surrounding muscles as they run and jump around. The stronger the ankle musculature, the greater the force it can withstand before sustaining injury.
Most athletes, even the most senior performers, have considerable deficiencies in the foot and ankle complex.
Not only is there very little focus on strengthening the ankle muscles on their own, but some athletic footwear can function to promote dysfunction in the feet and lower leg muscles. A lot of the athletic foot wear on the market, though advertised to increase speed and performance, doesn't promote ankle strength and essentially allows the muscles in the area to remain dormant. The weaker the skeletal muscle surrounding the feet and ankles, the more limited the shock absorption capabilities of the lower body. Not only does this make you more prone to ankle injuries, but it actually slows down your athletic performance.
What kind of exercises can I do at home to strengthen my ankles?
1. Towel Scrunches: Place a small towel or wash cloth on the floor and, using just your toes, try to scrunch the towel up. Do this for about 3-4 minutes, 3 times per day. Strengthening your toes helps to promote ankle stabilization and balance.
2. Single Leg Stance: Practice balancing on one leg for 10 seconds at a time, for up to 5 reps on each leg. Start in a safe place, such as by a wall or counter, and then increase the difficulty by adding a pillow or other cushion to stand on. Try to actively balance on the leg, without your hand on the wall or counter for support.
3. Scissor Hops: Start in a lunging position, then jump and switch feet in mid-air, landing on the opposite foot.
4. Strengthening with a Thera-band: using a latex resistance band (Thera-band being a popular brand, available online at amazon or at any medical supply store), place the band around the top of the foot and curl the toes at the end of the movement to work the internal muscles of the foot. Perform three sets of 20 in each direction.
Though athletes in particular need to be mindful of keeping their feet and ankles strong and in good health, this same advice goes out to non-athletes as well! Keeping your ankles strong and healthy helps prevent sprain and injury in the event of tripping or rolling your ankle while simply walking down the street. The stronger your ankles, the the better your body can react to right itself in an accident.