Ankle mobility and strength are hugely important for any athlete and Powerlifters and Weightlifters are no different. In fact, with all the Squats, Cleans, Jerks, and Snatches we do, we expect a lot from our ankles, not only in terms of range of motion but also enduring the huge weight we carry whilst doing so. Its a lot of stress to put a joint through, so we need to make sure we’re looking after our ankles and keeping them at optimum performance.
Here are my top 5 exercises you can start doing today to keep your ankles at their best!
Also, feel free to check out my article on Ankle Strengthening Exercises, where I go into a little more detail on a full Ankle Strengthening Routine you can do at home.
5. Foam Rolling
Foam Rolling is an often neglected exercise, but its a great tool to keep in our arsenal, which is why it comes in at number 5 on my list. You can get a large variety of different types and strengths of foam rollers depending on your needs and experience level, and if you want a more targeted approach, then lacrosse balls are an excellent choice too.
Take your roller of choice and lay it on the floor, now start with your calf over the top of it and just work the muscle, pay special attention to particularly tight areas!
Now switch around. Lay your shin on top of the roller and do the same again.
Finish off by working the sides of your lower leg.
Although this exercise doesn’t directly work the ankle joint, what it does do is release a lot of the musculature that connects to it. Your body is basically one big chain, and if one part isn’t working as efficiently as it could, the parts connected to it will usually try and overcompensate to keep you going. If our muscles connected to our ankle are stuck or tight, our ankles end up getting the knock-on effect, so by releasing them, we also take a lot of the stress away from our ankle.
4. Shin Stretch
The Shin Stretch is a really nice stretch that hits a lot of different muscle groups in our lower body, namely our shins, but also our ankles, feet, and quads. Because of its added versatility, I’m placing it at number 4.
Start by kneeling on the floor, your feet should be extended out behind you with the top touching the floor. Now slowly and carefully lean your torso back, using your hands for support. Hold for about 20-30 seconds, or whatever you feel comfortable with.
This stretch is also great for the quads, so its no surprise you may feel it here too. One thing we can do to move the focus more towards our ankles is to rock back slightly and lift our knees off the floor, you’ll immediately feel more emphasis in the ankles and shins, where you want it. Be careful not to go too far though, listen to your body, and if you start to feel pain or a lot of discomfort, just rock back forward.
3. Knee Friendly Dorsiflexion Drill
In at number 3 we have a Dorsiflexion drill with an added twist that takes the emphasis away from the knee joint.
Find a plate or something that you can place the ball of your foot on while still keeping your heel on the floor. Now just shift your weight forward, moving your foot into dorsiflexion, or closer to your shin. Hold for about 5 seconds then release, returning to the start.
You can repeat this for about 8-12 repetitions on each foot to really open up the joint.
This is a great dynamic movement that is ideal as a warm-up before a lifting session!
2. Ankle Circles
In at number 2 we have Ankle Circles, a very simple, yet very powerful exercise.
In a seated position (you can also do this standing to transform it into a balancing exercise too!) extend your foot and just rotate your ankle joint, that’s it! I told you it was simple.
Rotate clockwise for 8-12 reps followed by counter-clockwise for another 8-12 reps.
You can take it a bit further by interlacing your fingers between your toes and using your hand to really lead your ankle through its range of motion. This will allow you to push that little bit further and hopefully increase the range of motion over time.
This exercise is so great because it takes your ankle joint through its entire plane of motion, preventing it from locking up or getting overly stiff.
1. Banded Ankle Extensions/Curls
And my number 1 Ankle Strengthening Exercise is… actually a group of exercises! I spoke about these in-depth in my article on Ankle Strengthening and for good reason, they’re excellent for improving your ankle joint and have so much potential for progressive overload!
All you’ll need is a band, but ideally, you’ll want a few bands that get progressively tougher.
Start with your lightest band and wrap it around your foot, hold the other end in your hand, and extend your foot away from you. Repeat for 8-12 reps on each foot.
Now do the opposite motion, tie the band to something in front of you, and curl your foot towards you, repeat for 8-12 reps on each foot.
As a bonus exercise, you can do the same with the lateral plane, bring your foot inward for 8-12 reps then extend it out for 8-12 reps.
The best part about this exercise is once your ankle improves and it no longer challenges you, just move up to a tougher band. Just treat it like you would when training any other muscle, progressive overload is the key to growth!