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Foot & Ankle Strengthening Exercises You Should Try

People use their feet and ankles every day to walk, stand, run, jump, and perform other physical activities. However, through time, these body parts can deteriorate due to overuse and injuries. Unfortunately, some people are born with weak and tight muscles, causing mobility issues. As a result, these individuals experience pain while doing daily tasks.

Fortunately, there are foot and ankle strengthening exercises that can help manage these problems. They also improve bone density to lower the risk of degenerative bone diseases, like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Read on to discover nine helpful and effective activities for stronger feet and ankles.

Heel and Toe Raises

You can perform heel and toe raises either standing or sitting on a chair. Either way, they strengthen your tibialis anterior, found in the shin’s outer surface. As a result, you can flex the foot upward, with more force, and without pain. This activity also encourages proper plantar flexion, a movement that involves using the tip of your toes.

Since plantar flexion allows you to use the tip of your toes to walk or stand, heel and toe raises improves balancing ability. Moreover, foot exercises strengthen the ankle, especially the Achilles tendon. It’s also a way to relieve pain and discomfort.

How to do heel and toe raises?

  • In terms of seated heel and toe raises, place your feet in a comfortable position, with the sole flat on the ground. 
  • Then, raise your toes as high as you can. 
  • After that, return to the starting position. 
  • Use the tip of your toes to raise the heel. 
  • Repeat the drill 10 times. 
  • As the name suggests, standing raises require you to perform the activity while standing. Feel free to hold onto a wall or countertop for additional support.

Toe Curls

You can perform toe curls at home using a kitchen or hand towel. It builds up your toes’ and feet’ flexor muscles, increasing flexibility and preventing injuries.

How to perform toe curls?

  • Prepare a small towel in front of the chair that you’ll use for the exercise.
  • Sit on a chair and place your feet on the floor then put the toes of your left foot on the shorter end of the towel.
  • Scrunch your toes to pull the small towel toward you. Repeat this drill five times.
  • Execute toe curls using the right foot.

Calf Raises

Another way to strengthen your foot and ankle is through calf raises. It works both the superficial muscles, also known as gastrocnemius, and deep calf muscles also called the soleus. The gastrocnemius is responsible for the plantar flexion, allowing individuals to perform fast leg movements by pulling the heel upwards. Similarly, soleus contributes to the same movement but is more involved in allowing powerful motions.

You can execute calf raises with or without gym equipment. Some tools that you can use include barbell, kettlebells, and dumbbells. They improve the ankle exercises’ efficiency, which requires you to exert more effort. But, you can also achieve great results even without gym equipment.

How to do calf raises?

  • Stand upright and ensure that your feet are shoulder-width apart. Relax your shoulders.
  • Use the balls of your feet to lift yourself, raising your heels off the ground. Stay still for two to three seconds.
  • Gradually, bring heels back to the ground.
  • Repeat the exercise in three sets, each having 15 repetitions.

Ankle Squats

Aside from building your ankle muscles, this type of squat also boosts the development of hamstrings, back, and inner thigh muscles. More importantly, it promotes ankle flexibility for an improved range of motion. Hence, this type of exercise enables you to move your feet a little bit to the side, upwards, and downwards without pain and discomfort. It’s specifically helpful for athletes, but non-athletic individuals can also take advantage of its benefits.

Like any other exercise, you can execute ankle squats with gym equipment to challenge your capabilities. Feel free to use a barbell, if you have access to one, or a weighted plate and kettlebell for home use. Exercising without those tools is also effective.

How to do ankle squats?

  • Slowly drop into a deep squat, ensuring that both heels are in contact with the ground.
  • Put your weight onto one foot.
  • Push the other knee forward while maintaining stability and balance. Hold this stance for up to 10 seconds.
  • Return to a deep squat then repeat the steps using the other ankle.

Jump Squats

Here’s an aerobic exercise that doesn’t require any equipment. Moreover, it combines stretching and strengthening movements for all-around physical activity. Besides feet and ankles, jump squats also target the hamstrings, glutes, quads, and hips. Since it increases your heart rate for a prolonged period, this drill is also considered a cardio workout.

Jump squats improve both lower and upper body strength, including the feet and ankle. They also promote endurance which helps reduce the risk of injury. These exercises also support healthier bones and muscles.

How to execute jump squats?

  • Stand in an upright position and place your feet apart, slightly wider than hip-width.
  • Squat down, ensuring that you carry out the proper form to avoid back injuries.
  • With a jumping motion, immediately stand up with soft, bent knees. It’s important to control your landing during this step.
  • Return to the squat position then repeat the steps for 30 seconds.

Single-Leg Balance

People are used to standing with their feet both on the ground, so single-leg balance is a great way to improve one’s stability. Moreover, it promotes coordination among the different parts of the body. Aside from strengthening your core and lower back, it also works the legs, feet, and ankles.

There are various ways to execute single-leg balance workouts. You can follow the usual steps or challenge yourself with a revised version of the drill, the flamingo stand.

How to do the single-leg balance?

  • Stand in an upright position with your feet hip-width apart then place your hands on your hips for stability.
  • Lift the left leg without losing balance. Maintain this position for at least 30 seconds.
  • Return to standing with both your legs on the ground then lift your right leg, repeating the same steps you did for the other leg.
  • Increase repetitions as you become more comfortable.

How to execute the flamingo stand exercise?

  • Stand in an upright position then lift your right leg, so you’re standing using only the left leg.
  • Stretch the right leg backward while maintaining proper posture. Do this drill for 15 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position then repeat the exercise using the other leg.

Step Up to Balance

Like other foot strengthening exercises mentioned above, you can perform step up to balance with or without gym equipment. It improves your ankle’s stability and develops core muscles. If you’re new to this workout, it’s advisable to start with a low step, preferably six to eight inches. After you’re familiar with the activity, aim for a higher step. Another factor to consider is the speed of your movements. The quicker your steps are, the faster your heart rate will be, providing you with more cardio benefit.

How to execute step up to balance?

  • Stand in front of a stair or stable box with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Step onto the stair using one leg then balance yourself on the platform or box. Hold this position for at least five seconds.
  • Return to the original position then repeat the drill with the other leg.

Star Exercise

Also known as an intense jumping jack, the star exercise trains different body parts, such as the feet, ankles, quads, glutes, and hip flexors. It is included in the list of effective ankle mobility exercises since this activity requires strong legs and ankles for a controlled landing. Moreover, it is a simple exercise that doesn’t demand any equipment.

How to do the star exercise?

  • Begin the drill with a quarter squat, ensuring that your feet are together and your palms are touching your lower legs.
  • Jump while maintaining a straight back. You should also raise your arms and stretch your legs to the sides so that your body will form an X-like formation.
  • Return to the starting position with control.
  • Repeat the exercise in two sets, each having 15 repetitions.

Standing PNF

PNF or Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation is mostly used by physiotherapists to increase range of motion after an injury, but you can also execute the standing PNF at home since it doesn’t require a special tool. Also, this activity acts as a stretching exercise for feet and ankles.

How to do the standing PNF?

  • Support yourself by holding onto a wall.
  • Put one leg forward to stretch your ankle, ensuring that your entire foot is on the ground.
  • Push into the ground for at least five seconds, hold for another five seconds, then exert more force for at least five seconds.
  • Return to the starting position then repeat the same steps with the other leg.

Now that you’ve discovered simple to challenging exercises for your feet and ankle, it’s time to execute them during breaks or allot specific time for the strengthening activities. This way, you can improve your range of motion and stability.

For more fitness tips and health advice, explore the LifeClinic blog today.

Dr. Reza Alizadeh

Dr. Reza is the visionary behind LifeClinic. His leadership is the foundation for the patient and team member experience, and overall direction of the LifeClinic. As the creator of IMJT, Dr. Reza continues to be the primary teacher on this technique.

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