Ankle strength is often overlooked in many fitness programs but is crucial to our overall physical health and athletic performance. Ankle stability affects balance, mobility, and the efficiency of our movements. But how to strengthen ankles effectively? This question can be particularly pressing for those dealing with weak ankles. Let's explore some practical exercises for ankle strengthening and uncover why they matter in your fitness journey.
Understanding Weak Ankles
Weak ankles can be the result of several factors. They might stem from previous injuries, lack of use, imbalanced training, or even improper footwear. If you're frequently experiencing sprains or feeling unstable during movement, you need to focus on strengthening your ankles. At the same time, there are many different aspects of injuring an ankle and few effective strengthening protocols in rehabbing or training the ankle joint. This article will review what works and doesn’t work to strengthen the ankles.
Moreover, the exercises industry leaders will do have isolated ramifications such as:
- Flaccid Ankle Joints
Ankles are a critical component in our overall movement system, facilitating walking, running, and even standing. If the ankles are not appropriately engaged, we may see "flaccid" or weak ankle joints. When the muscles around the ankle joint are not regularly or adequately exercised, they can lose their strength and elasticity, leading to a lack of support and instability. This flaccidity can be observed when individuals attempt movements such as ankle circles or isolated calf raises. Without sufficient strength in the ankle joint, these movements may lack control or range, and the individual might rely more on ligaments, which can lead to overuse and injury.
- Localized Pain in the Calf, Achilles, and Posterior Chain
Over-reliance on specific exercises, such as deadlifts, can lead to an imbalance in muscle development and function, particularly in the posterior chain – the group of muscles running down the backside of the body. This imbalance can cause localized pain in the calf muscles and Achilles tendon due to overuse, underuse, or improper use. For instance, if an individual performs excessive calf raises without adequately engaging or strengthening the rest of the posterior chain, this could lead to strain and discomfort in the calf and Achilles region.
- Damaging the Connected Chain
When we exercise, it's important to remember that our body functions as a holistic, connected system. Focusing on isolated exercises without considering the body as a whole can lead to imbalances and injuries. For instance, overemphasizing the development of a single muscle group, like the quads in deadlifts, without equally developing the rest of the posterior chain can negatively affect the body's balance and biomechanics. Over time, this could create a domino effect of issues throughout the connected chain of muscles in the body. This might manifest as injuries in seemingly unrelated areas or decreased athletic performance.
For these reasons, exercise routines need to consider the body as a whole interconnected system rather than a collection of individual parts. To achieve this, consider diversifying your performance with exercises that work evenly for all your muscle groups or opting for training systems that prioritize functional, holistic fitness.
Exercises that typically are incorporated are:
- Ankle circles are known to be hypermobile and don’t allow the joint to be integrated with the rest of the body. The circular motion of the ankle joint, in movements, doesn’t happen just because the joint can do that doesn’t mean it is good to do.
- Calf raises, while good, are isolated in approach, and an excellent alternative to this would be jumping, walking, or running exercises.
- Balance ball or board: This isn’t realistic for rehabbing an ankle; the concept is to provide instability in the joint to compensate for the lack of strength in the joint. This is already pushing someone’s ability beyond what our ankle joint is created for. Introducing simple SAID principle movements such as a bilateral hinge, squat, or contralateral stepping would allow a more subtle approach to an already tricky activity.
Incorporating ankle-strengthening exercises into your routine can play a vital role in maintaining overall fitness and reducing the risk of injury. However, it's important to approach these exercises with mindfulness of your body's current structural state, existing asymmetries, and foundational movement capabilities.
Your "current structure" refers to the alignment and integrity of your body's musculoskeletal system, including your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. "Asymmetries" point to unevenness or imbalance in the body's structure or function, which could lead to inefficient movement patterns or injuries over time. "Foundation of movement" indicates your basic movement skills, which should ideally be rooted in natural and functional movements instead of over-specialized or overly isolated movements.
Here are some exercises that can aid in strengthening your ankles while addressing the considerations mentioned:
- Balance Exercises include standing on one foot or movements that incorporate effective weight transfer. Traditional balance exercises, such as single-leg stands or balance board exercises, often isolate balance training, limiting their effectiveness. On the other hand, exercises mimicking our natural gait patterns—like contralateral movements, split stance exercises, and weight transfer exercises—can strengthen the smaller stabilizing muscles in your foot and ankle, ultimately improving overall balance and stability. These exercises simulate the dynamics of walking, providing functional benefits beyond mere balance training.
- Walking: Walking as an exercise goes beyond simple locomotion. It challenges balance, engages your ankles and foot muscles, and stimulates the natural protective mechanisms that evolution has built into our bodies. Our gait cycles involve complex interactions between various muscle groups, including the glutes, calves, and muscles surrounding the ankle joint. A training regimen that successfully improves these interactions can enhance the holistic function of the ankle joint.
- Functional Patterns Corrective Exercises: At Functional Patterns, we emphasize exercises that not only target specific muscles or joints but also improve the efficiency of your entire kinetic chain—the interconnected network of muscles, ligaments, and joints that work together during movement. Our unique mobility drills aim to improve joint health and overall movement efficiency, inevitably positively impacting ankle strength and function. By focusing on holistic function rather than isolated performance, these exercises can provide more sustainable and versatile fitness benefits.
Why Strengthening Your Ankles Matters
Strengthening your ankles does more than prevent sprains. Ankle strength and stability can enhance overall athletic performance, improve balance, and make movements more efficient. Moreover, strong ankles can reduce the risk of injuries in your ankles, knees, and hips, as these joints are interconnected in your body's kinetic chain. Without the ankle being strong, people tend to tear ligaments, sprain joints, and get chronic swelling or pain in those areas. We want to address the root of an issue; usually, the ankle itself isn’t the problem; it could be rooted in another area of the body.
Testing and understanding what the tests show is vital in understanding the stresses produced on one’s body. Gait cycle analysis, as done in Functional Patterns, could deliver what our ankle and other body parts do to create these dysfunctions. It is not as simple as performing “rehab” or isolating corrective exercises. We first need to understand the root causes of those problems. This leads us to what to do next.
Conclusion: Your Path to Stronger Ankles
Weak ankles need not be a permanent problem. Incorporating our proposed ankle-strengthening exercises into your routine can build stability and enhance performance. Functional Patterns champion an understanding that an efficient body works as an interconnected system. Thus, ankle strength isn't just about the ankles - it's about overall functional movement and stability.