15 Easy Ankle Mobility Exercises for Flexibility, Strength, and Mobility

A woman doing ankle strengthening exercises with a resistance band

The ankle joint is the most important weight-bearing joint in the human body. Ankle mobility exercises can help to keep the ankles strong and flexible.

Your ankle plays a crucial role in movement and stability. It is essential for both daily activities and sports performance. That’s why it’s so important to keep your ankle flexible, strong, and mobile.

So, whether you are a professional athlete or a weekend warrior, your ankle mobility should be a priority. We have put together 15 easy ankle mobility exercises that you can do to improve your flexibility, strength, and mobility.

What is ankle mobility?

Ankle mobility refers to the amount of motion available at the ankle joints and their ability to function correctly. Ankle joint movement is composed of 2 movements – ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion. Ankle dorsiflexion is the action of lifting the toes upwards towards the shin. Plantar flexion is the action of pointing the foot downwards such that the toes point away from the legs.

More often than not, people tend to focus on their feet but fail to pay much attention to their ankles. But the ankle is an essential joint that allows you to move your foot up and down, side to side, and in circles. Flexibility, strength, and a good range of motion [1]National Library of Medicine: Biomechanics of the ankle in your ankles are essential for balance, posture, and injury prevention.

Causes of poor ankle mobility

Poor ankle mobility or limited ankle mobility refers to a reduced range of motion in the ankle joint. Normally, the ankle dorsiflexion range of motion should be between 10-30 degrees, but poor ankle dorsiflexion mobility can reduce this to 5 degrees or less. This can cause pain and tightness in the ankle joint, and lead to difficulty in walking and standing for long periods of time.

Poor ankle mobility can result in several problems, including pain and tightness in the ankle joint, calf muscles, and hamstring. It can also lead to compensatory motions at the knee and hip, which can eventually result in pain or reduced joint mobility in those joints as well. In addition, poor ankle mobility can also make it difficult to walk and run properly, increases the risk of falling, and makes it more difficult to recover from an injury.

Limited ankle mobility can be a result of several factors. These include:

  1. Age and gender
  2. Genetics [2]National Library of Medicine: Two genetic loci associated with ankle injury
  3. Posture
  4. Injuries
  5. Bone and joint health
  6. Sedentary lifestyle
  7. Improper footwear
  8. Weak muscles around the ankle
  9. Tight muscles and ligaments
  10. Poor biomechanics when walking or running

How to improve ankle mobility?

Lack of ankle mobility can lead to several problems such as ankle sprains, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and more. Ankles can lose mobility, restricting and resisting joint movement. They can sustain injuries and eventually affect sports performance.

Ankle mobility stretches, ankle mobility drills, and other ankle mobility exercises can improve plantar flexion and dorsiflexion range. Assessing ankle mobility regularly can help prevent these issues and improve your quality of life. See a doctor or physiotherapist when you start noticing the first signs of ankle joint problems. They will help you diagnose the problem and recommend the best course of treatment.

As with everything related to your body’s health, fitness, and well-being, good ankle health requires a healthy diet, lifestyle, and regular exercise. So, if you want to keep flexing those ankle joints without them cracking, aching, or giving way, make sure you’re eating a diet with optimum amounts of proteins and healthy fats, and keep those joints moving with regular stretching and strengthening exercises.

15 simple exercises to increase ankle flexibility

Listed below are 15 ankle flexibility exercises that help lengthen the ankle muscles and ligaments. These improve ankle dorsiflexion range of motion and help to develop more motor control.

1. Toe curls

Toe curls are simple ankle flexibility exercises that can be done at home without equipment. Toe curls also help strengthen the muscles around your ankle and foot. 

How to do:

  • Sit on a chair or bench with both legs extended in front of you.
  • Now curl your toes towards the ball of your foot and hold the position for a few seconds.
  • Release and repeat the movement.
  • Do 15-20 reps at a time.

2. Big toe stretch

The big toe stretch helps in lengthening the muscles and ligaments around your ankle and big toe. This exercise also improves the dorsiflexion range of motion.

How to do:

  • Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
  • Now place your right foot across the left thigh.
  • With your fingers, gently stretch the big toe forwards, backward, and sideways.
  • Hold each stretch for at least 15-30 seconds.
  • Repeat the stretches with the other foot.

3. Split stance ankle rocks

Split stance ankle rocks combine the ankle mobility drill with a stretch to improve flexibility and range of motion in the Achilles tendon and loosen up tight calves. 

How to do:

  • Stand in front of the wall.
  • Place your hands on the wall, lift your left leg and place the left foot on the wall in front of you.
  • While maintaining contact with the wall, raise your toes as high as possible and press the ball of your foot against the wall.
  • You should feel a stretch in your Achilles tendon and calf muscles.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
  • Repeat 20 times with both legs.

4. Ankle circles

Ankle circles are one of the best ankle stretches that help with range of motion and eventually enhance ankle movements. 

How to do:

  • Roll a towel and place it under your ankle or place a foam roller under your ankle.
  • Now turn your ankle around slowly in a clockwise direction followed by an anticlockwise direction.
  • Make sure to use your foot and ankle and not the entire leg while performing this motion.
  • Perform 3 sets of 2-3 minutes each.

5. Ankle end-range isometric stretch

Ankle end-range isometric stretch helps to improve the dorsiflexion range of motion by stretching the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. It also strengthens the muscles around your ankle joint.

How to do:

  • Kneel on the floor with one knee touching the ground and the other knee perpendicular to it.
  • Now lean forward in this position until you feel a stretch in your ankle and calf muscles.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  • Switch sides and repeat.

6. Eccentric calf raise

Eccentric calf raises help to improve ankle range of motion and build ankle strength and mobility. Developing strong calves with calf raises will help runners’ legs absorb force and quickly change direction while running.

How to do:

  • Stand on a step and elevate with both feet.
  • Now, raise your heels as you balance on the balls of your feet.
  • From that elevated position, raise one leg up while the other foot stays elevated.
  • Lower your raised leg and the heel of your elevated foot back to the step.
  • Repeat with the other leg and keep alternating.
  • Repeat for 5-10 reps.

7. Dynamic 3D calf stretch

One of the best ankle mobility exercises to improve ankle dorsiflexion mobility, dynamic 3D calf stretch is an advanced version of the standard wall calf stretch.

How to do:

  • Place your hands on the wall. 
  • Keep one leg in front and the other one behind. Make sure the heels are touching the floor.
  • Drive your hips forward to increase the stretch in your calf muscles while keeping the back leg stretched backward.
  • Now move the front foot diagonally 45 degrees to the left and right multiple times.
  • Make sure to keep the back leg as it is while performing these movements.
  • Repeat the movements with the other leg.

8. Toe raises/heel drops

If you are suffering from restricted ankle joint mobility and want to know how to stretch your ankle and increase ankle mobility, opt for this exercise. 

How to do:

  • Stand on a step with one heel away from the step. 
  • Now raise your heel as high as possible.
  • Lower the heel outside the step such that its heel touches the ground.
  • Repeat the movement 10 times (5 times with each leg).
  • Do 2-3 sets of 10 reps each.

9. Toe walks

If you need an exercise that will provide excellent ankle mobility easily at home, try walking on your toes. 

How to do: 

  • Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Now slowly raise your heels and stand on the balls of your feet.
  • Start walking. Your calf muscles should feel the stretch as you walk on your toes.
  • Keep walking for 20-30 yards. 

10. Heel walks

Another ankle mobility exercise that improves stability and strength is the heel walk. It improves the ankle muscles’ strength and lengthens the Achilles tendon. 

How to do:

  • Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Raise your toes and lean on your heels. Your toes should be off the ground.
  • Start walking on your heels.
  • Keep walking for 20-30 yards. 

11. Static lunges

Static lunges are one of the simplest ankle mobility exercises to combat ankle mobility issues. This exercise fortifies the ankle muscles and boosts overall balance. 

How to do:

  • Stand straight and bring your one foot in front of the other, with your toes facing forward.
  • Now bend the knee of your behind leg in a way that it almost touches the ground.
  • Then push yourself up again and repeat the exercise.
  • Do 15-20 lunges at a time.

12. Walking lunges

These lunges are one of the most challenging exercises. Though it helps in improving lower body and core muscles, it is an effective exercise to improve the ankle flexibility.

How to do:

  • Step forward with one leg, transferring the weight onto the heel.
  • Lower your hips until both the knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Pause for a few seconds and then return to the starting position.
  • Keep repeating the movement. 
  • Do 15-20 lunges at a time.

13. Plantar flexion stretch

This ankle flexion stretch type helps in strengthening the muscles of the ankle, leg and foot which further improves the flexibility and prevents foot injury.

How to do:

  • Sit on the floor with both legs stretched in front of you.
  • Bend one knee and place that foot flat on the ground near your thigh.
  • Now, wrap a resistance band around your extended foot and hold the band with both hands. 
  • Gently pull the band towards your body until you feel a stretch in your ankle.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and then release.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
  • Do 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.

14. Dorsiflexion stretch

This ankle flexion stretch type allows the tibia (the shin) to move forward freely. This facilitates everyday tasks such as walking, getting up from a chair or climbing the stairs.

 How to do:

  • Sit on the floor with both legs stretched in front of you.
  • Secure the band with a chair or table leg.
  • Now, bend one knee and place the foot flat on the ground near your thigh.
  • Now, wrap the resistance band around your extended foot. 
  • Gently pull the band towards your body by slowly curling your toes upwards until you feel a stretch in your ankle.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and then release.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
  • Do 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.

15. Single-leg/Double-leg hops

Single leg hopping is a balance exercise that improves ankle joint mobility and the balancing capacity of the ankle, knee, and hip. 

How to do:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your right foot, so you remain standing on your left leg.
  • Place your hands on the sides of your waist for support.
  • Lift the right foot up and start hopping up and down on your left leg. 
  • Keep hopping for a required duration and then switch legs.

For double leg hops, just do the same hopping motion with both legs together.

One sample ankle mobility exercises weekly routine

Ankle mobility is vital for everyone irrespective of age, sex,  or fitness levels. Here’s a sample ankle mobility routine that can help improve your ankle range of motion and flexibility.

DayExercise
MondayAnkle mobility warm-up
Ankle circles: 30 seconds in each direction
Toe raises/heel drops: 20-30 repetitions
Static lunges: 10 repetitions per leg
TuesdaySplit stance ankle rocks on the wall: 30-60 seconds per leg
Dynamic 3D calf stretch: 5-10 repetitions per leg
Eccentric calf raise: 12-15 repetitions per leg
WednesdayAnkle isometric stretch: 30-60 seconds per leg
Plantar flexion release: 30-60 seconds per leg
Ankle dorsiflexion stretch: 30-60 seconds per leg
ThursdayToe curls: 10-20 repetitions
Toe walks/heel walks: 20-30 yards
Walking lunges: 10 repetitions per leg
FridayBig toe stretch: 30-60 seconds per leg
Single leg hop: 20-30 repetitions per leg
Double leg hop: 20-30 repetitions
Saturday and SundayRest days

The benefits of improved ankle mobility

As you would have noticed by now, ankles are a vital part of the human body, and it is important to take care of them. Improved ankle mobility can provide many benefits for individuals of all ages and abilities. These benefits include:

  1. Good ankle mobility can help to improve your gait and balance, which can, in turn, lead to fewer injuries.
  2. It can help to increase your strength, making it easier to perform daily activities. 
  3. For athletes, improving ankle mobility can also lead to better speed, power, and performance.
  4. It improves your motor skills, making it easier to move around and stay coordinated.
  5. Flexible ankles improve our ability to make lateral(sideward) movements.
  6. Fitness training becomes easier and more effective with better ankle mobility. Good ankle strength and mobility are important to perform several exercises like running, squats, lunges, burpees, and jumping jacks.

Tips for getting the most out of your ankle mobility exercises

Here are a  few tips to get the most out of your ankle mobility exercises:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes.
  2. Make sure you stretch your muscles before and after every workout.
  3. Start with a basic ankle mobility exercise like ankle circles.
  4. Progress to more difficult exercises like standing on one foot and doing mini squats.
  5. Incorporate balance training into your ankle mobility routine for an extra challenge.
  6. Do ankle mobility exercises every day for the best results.
  7. Listen to your body – if something hurts, stop doing it!

Conclusion

The ankle is a weight-bearing joint, and perhaps the most important one. It needs to be mobile and strong to work properly. Ankle mobility exercises can help to improve your range of motion, flexibility, and strength. Try incorporating some of the exercises into your daily routine for the best results. And as always, listen to your body and your health professional’s advice at the first sign of discomfort.

References

References
1 National Library of Medicine: Biomechanics of the ankle
2 National Library of Medicine: Two genetic loci associated with ankle injury

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