By Rachel Song
The ankle is an often overlooked ligament that is actually crucial in utilizing the full strength of your legs, hips, and glutes and maintaining a healthy posture & gait. Stiff ankles inhibit full fitness potential by restricting your movements and may even cause pain in the heels, calves, shins, knees, hips, and lower back as surrounding muscles compensate for the lack of mobility in your ankles.
Before you scramble to start ankle stretches & exercises, take a moment to assess yourself and make sure there’s an issue to address.
Here are 3 ways to test your ankles:
- Perform a basic squat, feet hip width apart with a neutral spine. You should be able to get your thighs parallel to the floor without lifting your heels.
- Stand up straight with your feet together. Lift the balls of your feet from the ground without moving the rest of your body.
- Get into the hip flexor stretch stance with one knee on the ground, the other knee up with the foot directly below it, upper body held straight up above the hips (see above image). You will be testing the ankle of the foot in front of your body. Face a wall with your knee at a distance about 5 inches from it. The closer you can get your knee to the wall without lifting your heel, the better your ankle mobility. Ideally, you should be able to touch your knee to the wall without lifting your heel.
If any of the above tasks are difficult, you may want to include the exercises below in your daily fitness routine to increase your ankle mobility:
- Massage calf and foot muscles: Using a hard, round ball, roll the bottom of your foot from side to side and top to bottom several times, applying firm but not painful pressure. Do the same for your calves using a foam roller or similar item like a rolling pin. This exercise will help relax connective tissues that may be playing a role in your tight ankles.
- Heel raises: Stand with your forefoot slightly lifted (about 2 inches) on any workable object. Bend your knees while keeping your upper body straight with a neutral spine and heels completely on the ground. Stand up straight. Repeat for about 5 minutes a day.
- Half-kneeling ankle flex: Get into the same hip flexor stretch position from the ankle assessment exercise above. Stretch your ankle by pushing your knee forward, getting it past your toes if possible. Stay in position for 1-2 seconds before returning to the starting pose. Remember to keep your upper body straight with a neutral spine. Repeat motion 10-15 times.
In conjunction with these exercises, it’s important to wear proper footwear when exercising. Correct support & cushioning can make a huge difference in your posture and stability, allowing you to prolong the health of your joints and muscles for lasting fitness & health!