5 Exercises to Prevent Ankle Injuries: Stay Active & Safe

Scritto da: Chris Hungerford



Tempo di lettura 9 min

Ankle injuries can be a real pain - literally and figuratively. Whether you're an athlete or just someone who enjoys staying active, the last thing you want is to be sidelined by a sprained ankle. Trust me, I've been there, and it's no fun hobbling around on crutches for weeks.

But here's the good news: with the right exercises, you can significantly reduce your risk of ending up in that frustrating situation. I've spent years researching and testing various ankle-strengthening techniques, and I'm excited to share what I've learned with you.

Did you know that over 8 million ankle sprains occur each year in the United States alone? That's a staggering number. Even more concerning is that the risk of re-injury is highest in the year immediately following an initial sprain. But don't worry - we're going to tackle this problem head-on.

In this guide, I'll walk you through some of the most effective exercises to prevent ankle injuries. These aren't just random moves I've cobbled together - they're backed by solid research and have been proven to work. For example, one study found that football players who incorporated single-leg balance training into their routines saw a 77% reduction in ankle sprains. That's huge.

We'll cover everything from simple balance exercises you can do while brushing your teeth to more advanced techniques using resistance bands and unstable surfaces. By the end of this article, you'll have a comprehensive toolkit for keeping your ankles strong, flexible, and injury-resistant.

So let's dive in and start building those bulletproof ankles.

Table of Contents:

Understanding Ankle Injuries

Before we jump into the exercises, it's crucial to understand what we're up against. Ankle injuries, particularly sprains, occur when the ligaments that support the ankle are stretched beyond their limits or torn. This often happens when the foot rolls inward (inversion sprain) or outward (eversion sprain).

Ankle sprains can happen in a split second - maybe you step off a curb wrong, land awkwardly after a jump, or get your foot caught while changing direction quickly. Once you've had one sprain, you're more likely to have another.

Our ankles aren't just passive joints that occasionally give out. They're actually part of a complex system called postural control. This system relies on three key factors:

  1. Visual input (what we see)
  2. Vestibular function (our sense of balance)
  3. Proprioception (our body's awareness of its position in space)

When we work on exercises to prevent ankle injuries, we're not just strengthening muscles and ligaments. We're actually training this entire postural control system to work more effectively. This will also improve ankle mobility so you're less likely to sprain your ankle.

The Benefits of Ankle Strengthening Exercises

Now that we understand what we're dealing with, let's talk about why these exercises are so crucial. It's not just about avoiding sprains. There are some serious benefits to incorporating ankle strengthening into your routine:

  1. Improved balance and stability
  2. Enhanced athletic performance
  3. Reduced risk of falls, especially in older adults
  4. Better overall lower body strength
  5. Increased proprioception (body awareness)

A study on soccer players found that exercise programs incorporating unstable surfaces (like balance boards and foam pads) reduced the risk of ankle injuries by a whopping 40%. Another 18-week program using elastic resistance bands, balance boards, and foam mats showed a 35% reduced risk of injury compared to a control group. These are game-changing results that could keep you in the game (whatever your game might be) and off the sidelines.

Top Exercises to Prevent Ankle Injuries

Alright, let's get to the good stuff. Here are my top picks for exercises to prevent ankle injuries. I've personally used these in my own training and with clients, and I can vouch for their effectiveness.

1. Single-Leg Balance

This might seem simple, but it's incredibly effective. Single-leg balance training is the foundation of ankle stability.  You can also use this as a test: If you find yourself losing balance often, then that is an indication you need to work on single-leg balance to prevent a future ankle injury.  If you are just starting, 3 sets of 10 seconds may be a good starting point to help treat ankle weakness.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand on one leg, keeping your knee slightly bent.
  2. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  3. Switch legs and repeat.
  4. As you improve, try closing your eyes or standing on an unstable surface like a foam pad.

Remember, the goal here isn't just to stand still. Focus on engaging the muscles around your ankle, foot, and lower leg. You should feel them working to keep you stable. Be sure to keep your feet hip-width apart for optimal balance.

2. Ankle Alphabet

This exercise improves the range of motion and flexibility in your ankle joint. The ankle alphabet is a simple exercise but it is one of the most effective exercises when it comes to treating your ankle.  Do your best to complete the entire alphabet with each foot, ensuring to target your ankle muscles.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Sit in a chair with your foot raised slightly off the ground.
  2. Use your big toe as a 'pencil' to trace the letters of the alphabet in the air.
  3. Go through the entire alphabet, then switch feet.

This might feel a bit silly at first, but it's an excellent way to move your ankle through its full range of motion.

3. Resistance Band Eversion

This exercise targets the muscles on the outside of your ankle, which are crucial for preventing inversion sprains (the most common type). When performing resistance band exercises for ankle strength, many people make the mistake of not having the right resistance band, or not even using a band at all. It's a simple exercise, but don't let that fool you. You'll certainly feel the burn in your ankle muscles after this one.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Make sure your legs are fully extended for this one to get the best results.
  2. Loop a resistance band around the ball of your foot, holding the ends in your hand.
  3. Slowly turn your foot outward against the resistance of the band.
  4. Hold for a second, then slowly return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 10-15 times, then switch feet.

4. Calf Raises

Strong calf muscles support your ankles and improve overall lower leg stability. Calf raises will increase blood flow throughout the lower body. Increased blood flow is one of the benefits of this exercise.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Slowly rise onto your toes. 
  3. Hold for a second, then lower back down. You want to slowly return to the starting position to ensure you're targeting the calf muscles as much as possible.
  4. Repeat 15-20 times.

As you get stronger, try doing these on one leg at a time for an extra challenge. Doing single-leg calf raises will really help to strengthen those calf muscles.

5. Lateral Hops

This exercise improves your ankle's ability to handle side-to-side movements, which is crucial for many sports and can also increase ankle dorsiflexion. Try doing lateral hops over a small towel on the ground. This will really help you improve your balance and stability. Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each side, gradually increasing the reps or sets as you feel your ankle getting stronger. Remember to listen to your body, though. Foot pain is a sign you need to lower the intensity.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand on one leg.
  2. Hop about 6 inches to the side, landing on the same leg.
  3. Immediately hop back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs.

Remember to land softly and maintain control throughout the movement.

Main Benefit
Difficulty Level
Single-Leg Balance Improves overall stability Beginner
Ankle Alphabet Increases range of motion Beginner
Resistance Band Eversion Strengthens outer ankle muscles Intermediate
Calf Raises Improves lower leg strength Beginner
Lateral Hops Enhances side-to-side stability Advanced

Incorporating These Exercises Into Your Routine

Now that you've got a solid set of exercises to prevent ankle injuries, let's talk about how to incorporate them into your routine. The key here is consistency. You don't need to spend hours every day on ankle exercises, but you do need to do them regularly.

I recommend setting aside 10-15 minutes, 3-4 times a week for these exercises. You can do them as a standalone routine or incorporate them into your regular workout. For example, you might do the ankle alphabet and single-leg balance as part of your warm-up, then finish your workout with calf raises and lateral hops.

Remember, the goal is progress, not perfection. Start with the easier exercises and gradually work your way up to the more challenging ones. And always listen to your body - if something doesn't feel right, back off and consult with a healthcare professional.

Beyond Exercises: Other Ways to Prevent Ankle Injuries

While exercises are crucial, they're not the only tool in our injury-prevention toolkit. Here are a few other strategies I've found helpful:

  1. Proper footwear: Make sure your shoes fit well and provide adequate support for your activities.
  2. Warm-up properly: A good warm-up increases blood flow to your muscles and prepares your body for activity.
  3. Gradually increase intensity: Whether you're starting a new sport or returning to an old one, ramp up your activity level slowly to give your body time to adapt.
  4. Use ankle braces when necessary: For high-risk activities or if you have a history of ankle sprains, an ankle brace can provide extra support. Several studies have confirmed that ankle braces can help prevent recurrent sprains.
  5. Pay attention to surfaces: Be extra cautious when walking or running on uneven surfaces. You can also incorporate uneven surfaces into your exercise routine.

Remember, the goal isn't just to prevent injuries - it's to build strong, resilient ankles that can handle whatever you throw at them. With consistent practice of these exercises and attention to overall ankle health, you'll be well on your way to more stable, injury-resistant ankles. Don't forget that warming up before your workout is crucial for preventing ankle sprains. It is also one of the most common mistakes people make.

FAQs about exercises to prevent ankle injuries

How do you strengthen your ankle to prevent injuries?

To strengthen your ankle and prevent injuries, focus on exercises that improve balance, stability, and range of motion. Key exercises include single-leg balance, resistance band work, calf raises, and ankle circles. Consistency is crucial - aim to do these exercises 3-4 times a week for the best results.

Can ankle injuries be prevented?

While it's impossible to prevent all ankle injuries, many can be avoided through proper strengthening and conditioning. Regular exercise, combined with proper footwear and awareness of your surroundings, can significantly reduce your risk of sprains and other ankle problems.

What is the best exercise to strengthen your ankle?

While all ankle strengthening exercises are beneficial, single-leg balance exercises are particularly effective. They improve overall stability and proprioception, which are crucial for preventing ankle injuries. Start with 30-second holds and progress to more challenging variations as you improve.

How can you prevent yourself from spraining your ankle?

To prevent ankle sprains, focus on a combination of strengthening exercises, balance training, and proper footwear. Incorporate exercises like calf raises, resistance band work, and lateral hops into your routine. Be mindful of your surroundings, especially on uneven surfaces, and consider using ankle braces for high-risk activities if you have a history of sprains.


Ankle Injury

Ankle injuries can be a real setback, but with the right approach, they don't have to be an inevitable part of an active lifestyle. By incorporating these exercises into your routine, you're taking a proactive step towards stronger, more resilient ankles.

Remember, consistency is key. These exercises aren't a one-time fix - they're a long-term investment in your ankle health. Start small, progress gradually, and listen to your body. Over time, you'll notice improved stability, better balance, and a reduced risk of those pesky ankle sprains.

So here's to strong ankles and injury-free adventures. Keep moving, keep challenging yourself, and most importantly, keep those ankles strong.

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