Ankle mobility is crucial for nearly all athletes, as well as anyone simply looking to make getting around on foot a bit easier and more comfortable. Ankle mobility helps create strength and range of motion that can help improve everything from walking to swimming, dancing, and lifting weights. Building better ankle mobility can easily be worked into any training or health routine. Ankle-based stretches can help improve range of motion, while ankle-based exercises can increase strength in the foot, ankle, and calf. You can even assess your mobility with a few simple tests before you start training, and repeat them as you train to track your improvement.
EditAssessing Ankle Mobility
- Check dorsiflexion mobility. Check your ankle dorsiflexion mobility with a lunge test. Place a piece of tape on the floor four inches from the wall. Line your dominant foot up with the tape, and relax the other foot behind you. Then, lean forward on your dominant foot and try to touch your knee to the wall.
- The knee should go straight forward. It should not track inwards or outwards while you flex.
- For the test to be successful, your dominant foot should remain completely on the ground, including the heel.
- If you can’t touch the wall from this point, move forward incrementally until you can. This will give you a starting point by which to measure your progress.
- Point your toes. Another simple test of ankle mobility is to start lying flat on your back with your feet perpendicular to the ground. From there, slowly point your toes as far out from your body as you can manage and hold for a few seconds at your maximum endpoint.
- The optimal range of motion for this test is a 30 degree difference, though anywhere between 20 and 30 degrees is acceptable.
- If you can create a visually straight or near-straight line between your foot and your shin, you pass the test.
- Move your ankle to the side. Start lying down with your legs fully extended and your feet perpendicular to the ground. One at a time, push your foot out to the side as far as it will go, and hold at your maximum endpoint for a few seconds.
- Do not rotate your feet from your hips. Focus on isolating the ankle and creating all motion from there.
- The further to the side you can get, the better your overall ankle mobility.
EditStretching the Ankle
- Move your foot in circles. From a seated position and focusing on one foot at a time, rotate your ankle clockwise 10 to 15 times. Once completed on each foot, rotate each foot counterclockwise 10 to 15 times.
- Aim to do two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps each.
- For best results, flex your ankles by pointing or curling your toes.
- Sit back on flexed ankles. Kneel with your legs going directly behind you, and extend point your toes out as far as they will go so that the tops of your feet are touching your mat or floor. Gently start to sit back on top of your feet, using your bodyweight to create a deep stretch in your ankles.
- Rest in your maximum down position for 15 to 20 seconds before slowly bringing yourself back up and relieving the pressure on your ankle.
- Only lower yourself as far as your ankles can take. If you feel unmanageable pain or excess stress on your ankles or feet, bring yourself up immediately and untuck your ankles.
- Stretch your toes up. Stand facing a wall and raise up the toes of your right foot, leaning them against the wall to form a triangle with it, your foot, and the floor. Gently press your body forward and shift just enough weight onto the raised foot that you feel a stretch. Keep leaning until you feel a deep stretch, and hold for fifteen or so seconds.
- Repeat on the left foot for every set done on the right foot.
- Try two or three sets of the stretch for each foot.
EditBuilding Ankle Strength
- Practice ankle raises. Place your ankles and feet together and slowly raise yourself upward onto the ball of your feet as high as you can go. Once you have reached your maximum height, lower your feet back down in a controlled motion.
- If you have weak ankles or low ankle mobility, start small with a set of 10 or 15 raises. As your strength improves, add three to five raises at a time, slowly building up to more challenging sets.
- Ankle raises help strengthen not only the ankles, but the calf muscles as well.
- Do flutter kicks. Lie on your back and lift your legs as high into the air as you can get them. Use your elbows and shoulders to support you as necessary. Once you are in the most vertical position you can achieve, straighten your legs, point, your toes, and make a series of small, fast, alternating kicks back and forth for a minute at a time.
- If you’ve never performed this exercise before, you may need to start with your legs parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular. Support yourself with your elbows and forearms and make the same kicking motion as the vertical kicks.
- Use an exercise band. Strap one end of your exercise band around something sturdy, such as a table leg, and slip the other end around your ankle. Walk forward until you feel some resistance on the band. Then, with the band around your ankle, lunge forward until your knee is directly over your foot.
- Repeat two or three sets of this exercise with five to ten reps per foot in each set.
- Do not over-tension the band or it could snap and potentially cause injury. You should feel light resistance, but the band should not actively be pulling your ankle back in your neutral stance.
- Consider taking a yoga course to help gain greater mobility in your ankles, as well as more flexibility in the secondary leg and hip muscles that go into ankle control.
- If you suffer from unmanageable pain when stretching your ankle or a known ankle condition, consider attending physical therapy to help you better strengthen and condition your ankle.