you were to ask me which often-neglected bodypart
you could work that would have the greatest immediate
impact on your sports performance, my answer would
be instantaneous...the ankles.
ankles are admittedly not glamorous. You're never
going to have someone ask you to flex your ankle
for them or ask you to roll down your sock for
a better look.
think of it this way...can you think of a single
sport that doesn't involve the ankle in some way
(poker and billiards don't count as sports, even
if they're on ESPN - we'll limit ourselves to
sports during which you can't smoke and drink).
you're playing football and you need to make a
sharp lateral cut to avoid getting hit, the majority
of that force goes right through the ankle. A
weak ankle will turn and possibly sprain. A strong
ankle will take that force and allow you to make
that sharp, powerful cut and leave tacklers in
of every racket sport you can...how many of these
involve planting a foot, lunging for ball then
rapidly changing direction?
if you're just running or sprinting in a straight
line, you can benefit from stronger ankles. When
your foot contacts the ground, all the force of
your muscles propelling you forward goes directly
through the ankles.
one more HUGE benefit to strong ankles? With proper
training, you can make them practically injury-proof!
Using myself as an example, after doing ankle
stability training (like the kind I'm about to
tell you about), I had an instance playing tennis
where I was lunging to the side to reach for a
ball. My foot stopped but my momentum continued
to carry my body laterally. My ankle bent 90 degrees,
touching my outside ankle bone to the ground.
ankle strengthening, it would have been sprained
for sure. As it was, my ankle popped right back
up and I kept playing like nothing had even happened!
No injury, no swelling, no tenderness, no problem!
is another tremendous benefit. When your ankles
are strong, you will be much better able to keep
your balance even under awkward conditions. Think
about it...the small muscles of the ankle are
constantly firing to maintain balance (if you've
ever run in the sand, you know how sore your ankle
and calf muscles get the next day). These small
muscles play an extremely important role in balance.
Strengthening them will give you a greater ability
to maintain your balance, even if you've already
got great balance right now!
So now that you know what ankle strengthening
can do for you, let's get into the nuts and bolts
of how to do it.
exercises can be done at the end of your weight
or cardio workout or at the end of sports practice
sessions. I wouldn't recommend starting a training
session (or especially a sports practice session)
with them as fatiguing these support muscles and
the connective tissue in the area will leave the
ankles temporarily weaker and possibly more prone
to injury (until they have a chance to recover
and strengthen). Doing these exercises at the
end of a session avoids this potential issue completely.
note that many of the concepts I will describe
here involve balance training but with added twists
to target them directly to ankle strengthening.
the end of the article, you will find a link with
pictures of these exercises in action.
are the techniques:
1. Standing and balancing
is a very simple exercise and the one we'll
start with. All you need to do is stand
on one foot and balance there for as long
as you can!
you work to keep yourself balanced, you
will notice that your ankle is constantly
shifting around to compensate for slight
changes in your body position. This constant
shifting is working the supporting muscles
of the ankles!
can do this exercise anywhere at any time. All
you need to do is stand on one foot and balance
there for a minute or two, then switch to the
other foot. It's so easy, you can get it done
at the bus stop or while you're making dinner!
is deceptively simple but very effective. This
is because in everyday life, you very rarely stand
on one foot for any length of time. Your ankles
and calves are not required to balance or support
you as much. When you stand on one foot, you force
these supporting muscle to work overtime.
an added twist, try closing your eyes while balancing.
Without the visual cues to help keep you balanced,
your ankles will have to work much harder.
2. Standing and balancing with
next step up from the previous exercise is holding
onto a pair of dumbells (or other form of resistance)
while you are balancing on one foot. What this
does is simply increase the resistance with which
you are working. This increase in resistance will
increase the demand on the muscles.
more weight you use on this exercise, the more
strength you'll be able to build up in your ankles.
Think of it this way...if you're holding onto
2 50-lb dumbells, that's an extra 100 lbs that
your body must work to balance. If you hold 2
100-lb dumbells, you've got 200 extra pounds!
This is extreme overload and overload builds strength,
espcially when your ankle muscles have never experienced
this kind of stress before!
you get to the point where you're unable to hold
onto the heavy dumbells for long enough to be
effective, you may wish to try placing a barbell
across your shoulders as though you were doing
a squat (do this in the squat rack with the safety
rails set high). This will also have the effect
of increasing the instability of the exercise,
making it more challenging for the ankles. Also,
you'll be able to use FAR more weight (I've gone
as high as 405 lbs for this version).
shows balancing holding onto 2 dumbells.
shows balancing with the barbell. This version
can be harder to balance with.
3. Standing on an unstable surface
that you've learned how to work with the
dumbells, it's time to move on to balancing
on an unstable surface. This will really
challenge the strength of your ankles.
good surfaces you can use include foam (like
the foam on a flat bench), a pile of towels
or clothing, sand, air mattress, etc. There
are a great many surfaces that are effective
for this. Feel free to use your imagination.
I like to use a rolled-up towel set on the
floor for this one - no need to buy any
balancing can be done either with or without weights.
If you are using weights, I would suggest sticking
to dumbells - they're easier to control than the
4. Standing, balancing and catching
can do this variation in combination with the
first or third variation. Have someone throw a
ball or other object to you while you are standing
on one foot (you can also bounce a ball off a
wall if you're training alone). This will force
you to shift your balance around dramatically
while standing on one foot, further forcing your
ankles to work, while also developing your co-ordination
5. Swinging dumbell calf raises
exercise adds the large muscles of the calves
to the mix. Basically, you will do as the name
implies - you will do a single leg calf raise,
holding onto one single dumbell, swinging it around
yourself in random directions as you do the calf
raise. This forces your calves and ankles to build
stabilizing strength VERY quickly. It also helps
train your ankles to react quickly to sudden random
stresses, much like in a sporting event. This
is very practical movement that has great carryover
Now that you have this knowledge, it's time to
put it into practice! Consistent training with
these techniques will have a tremendous, immediate
impact on your sports performance. You'll be cutting
sharper, pivoting stronger and be practically
injury-proof in no time!
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