Often I hear athletes mention that they have “weak ankles”. My guess is that the problem isn’t so much “weak ankles” but an initial ankle sprain injury that was never given a chance to fully heal and be fully rehabbed. I don’t doubt that some people are born with weaker ankles than others, much like some people are born faster than others or stronger than others. The thing is, many athletes don’t seem to take the time to strengthen their ankles. One way to help with this is to work some exercises into your training program. I like to find ways to incorporate them into the warm up when possible. This allows you to use them to help get the body ready for the training session while also doing some prehab or rehab work for the athlete. Most of the activities are fairly easy to do. Here are some ideas:
- Walks - These include variations of normal walking. By putting the feet in unusual positions, you are forcing the ankles to adapt and become stronger. So what types of “walks” are there?
- Toe walks
- Heel walks
- Toes pointed in
- Toes pointed out
- Inside edges
- Outside edges
I usually have the athlete begin with 10 yards of the first four types of walks. Over time I progress them to 20 yards. I generally substitute the inside/outside edge walks for the toes in/out every other workout.
- Line Hops - These basic plyometric hops can help the ankles get used to landing in various positions. It is another great and easy activity to help strengthen them. These can be worked in as part of a warm up or as part of the actual training program. To do them, simply pick a line on the ground and hop over it. The jumps don’t have to be high but should focus on getting back and forth over the line as fast as possible. The athlete should begin using two feet to hop and then progress to one foot hops. They can be done for reps or for time. The hops should be done in multiple directions:
- Moving Hops – Moving hops are all done over a distance and on one leg. This makes them more difficult than line hops. I usually have athletes start at 5 yards per foot and progress to 10 yards. Here are the variations. They should be done each direction on each foot.
- Single Leg Balance Drills - These drills are conducted while standing on one leg while on an Airex balance pad. Here they are in order of difficulty. (Note – the drills should be done on flat ground first before progressing to the Airex pad).
- Standing - The simplest drill is to stand on one foot and balance. This should be done for 10 reps of 10 seconds each.
- Arm drills - One variation is to combine balancing on the pad with arm drills. This creates more body movement which increases the stress on the ankle joint. I usually have the athletes do 20 reps with their arms but they can also do them for time.
- Squats - While I’m not sure that I would have an athlete attempt to do a full one-legged squat on a pad, I think that partial squats are fine. I usually have athletes complete 1-2 sets of 10 reps.
These are just a few ways that I have found to include ankle work in a training program. In encourage you to try them and to create your own variations. There are certainly many other great ankle exercises including using exercise bands and training in the sand. While I’m also a big advocate of both of these, I prefer to use many of the examples I gave above instead. Many of them have other benefits besides just helping to strengthen the athletes ankles (ex. – plyometric benefits). Give them a try.