Ankle Exercises That Can Help Prevent Sprains

March 20, 2012

Must See Sports Injuries Videos

More than likely, you've experienced some sort of ankle injury or sprain. Estimates suggest that nearly 23,000 people report ankle injuries daily. Although ankle sprains are usually manageable when it comes to athletics—sometimes you can even play with a sprain—there are ankle exercises you can perform to help prevent them from occurring.

Ankle Injury Mechanisms

Ankle sprains occur when ligaments in the foot and ankle are stretched beyond their capacity. Unlike muscles, ligaments don't like to stretch. When stretched, ligaments become loose, which explains the feeling of instability common with ankle sprains. Keep this in mind when progressing through the ankle exercises. There's a difference between stretching the ankle and guiding it through a range of motion movement. When performing the ankle exercises below, actively guide the movements. Don't stay stretchy and loose.

There are two main mechanisms for spraining an ankle. The first is ankle inversion (supination). Due to where the long bones in the lower leg end, the ankle is more likely to roll outward, making this type of sprain more common—and usually less severe.

Supination Sprain

The second type is eversion (pronation). These are less common but usually more severe—a frequent cause of high ankle sprains.

Ankle Injury Environments

Like most joints, the ankle lives in two environments—controlled and uncontrolled. Controlled environments are safe and stable. Think calculated movement on flat ground. Uncontrolled environments, however, are chaotic and unpredictable. Think walking blindfold on an uneven surface.

Although dangerous, uncontrolled environments are inherent in all sports. A basketball player stepping on someone else's foot and rolling an ankle is an unfortunate testament to the chaos.

Ankle Exercises to Prevent Sprains

The goal of training to prevent ankle sprains is achieved by maximizing strength through range of motion exercises and increasing overall balance. Because inversion sprains occur more often, focus on training to prevent this compromised position. Just note that if training in this position isn't controlled, the chance of injury increases, since it replicates an uncontrolled environment. It's like jamming on the brakes in a speeding car. The aim is to bring control to what is normally uncontrolled.

To fully strengthen the ankle, do the following ankle exercises barefoot. Many tendons and muscles that cross the ankle joint intertwine with the muscles and structures of the feet. So a fully functioning ankle also depends on having strong feet.

Ankle Warm-Up

Before any activity, ankle training specifically, you must do a quality warm-up. This vital part of the workout activates the muscles involved and helps prevent injury. Do a warm-up before any activity. (Head over to STACK TV for great warm-up routines.)

Ankle Rolls

Assume athletic position and lift leg into air. Rotate ankle to create five small, five medium and five large circles. Perform clockwise and counterclockwise.

Sets/Reps: 1x15 each leg

The Alphabet

Assume athletic position and lift leg into air. Simulate drawing each letter of the alphabet with toes.

Sets/Reps: 1xalphabet each leg

Calf Raises

Assume athletic stance with feet shoulder-width apart. Rise onto toes and hold for one to two seconds. Slowly lower and repeat for specified reps.

Sets/Reps: 2x20

Shin Raises

Assume athletic stance with feet shoulder-width apart. Lift toes off floor and hold position for one second. Then lift front half of foot off ground and hold for one to two seconds. Slowly return foot to floor and repeat for specified reps.

Sets/Reps: 2x20

Ankle Rolls

Assume athletic stance with feet shoulder-width apart. Shift weight to inside of feet so outside of feet are off the ground; hold for one to two seconds. Shift weight to outside of feet so inside of feet are off the ground; hold for one to two seconds. Repeat for specified reps.

Sets/Reps: 2x20 each way

Ankle Strength Work

Applying resistance to the ankle without equipment is a tough task; however, if you have a resistance band, it can easily be done. In the video below, Dick Hartzell—the man who created FlexBand and who can break a table with his ankle—provides a strengthening protocol that trains the ankle in various positions and ranges of motions.

Without the band, the strengthening process is cruder. Since the ankle is bound to roll to the outside at some point, the main goal is to strengthen the ankle in the inverted position while bearing a load. To do this, walk on the knife-edge (outside) of the foot. Make each step slow and controlled to stabilize the normally uncontrolled environment. Do three or four sets of 10 to 20 yards every other day if possible.

Not much else can be done to strengthen the ankle in extreme inverted range of motion. Instead, focus on balance. Better ankle balance means less chance of rolling to the inverted position. Balance also adds a chaotic element to training, because weight distribution varies and the ankles must work to support the body.

Standard Balancing
Assume athletic position with feet shoulder-width apart. Rise onto toes, stopping halfway to full extension. Settle into position and close eyes. If balance is lost, reset position and repeat until specified time is reached.

Sets/Duration: 1x2 minutes total

Advanced Balancing
Assume athletic position near wall, chair or table and lift one leg into air. Rise onto toes, stopping halfway to full extension. Settle into position and close eyes. If balance is lost, reset position and repeat until specified time is reached. Use wall for support if necessary. Perform set on opposite leg.

Sets/Duration: 1x2 minutes each leg

Ankle sprains, while common, can be avoided if you train smartly and consistently. By doing the above ankle exercises and striving to control normally chaotic environments, you can improve your ankles' chances of surviving freak accidents.

Photo:  washingtonpost.com
Illustration: NorthcoastFootcare.com

Anthony Mychal
- Anthony Mychal is a writer, athlete consultant, teacher and coach. He has a M.S. in health and physical education, a B.S. in health and physical...
Anthony Mychal
- Anthony Mychal is a writer, athlete consultant, teacher and coach. He has a M.S. in health and physical education, a B.S. in health and physical...
Must See
Abby Wambach Will Do Whatever It Takes
Views: 4,501,997
Dwyane Wade Leads by Example
Views: 6,692,967
Colin Kaepernick Explains His Ridiculous Socks
Views: 27,784,397

Featured Videos

Get in Shape for Baseball With Austin Adams' Metabolic Conditioning Circuit Views: 2,372
A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce Views: 7,149
Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 4: Skill Training Views: 326,774
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Paul Rabil's Box Jumps
Views: 848,643
Perfect Dwyane Wade's Signature Euro Step
Views: 1,308,963
Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout
Views: 883,074
Abby Wambach Will Do Whatever It Takes
Views: 4,501,997
Dwyane Wade Jumps Onto a 42" Box
Views: 10,741,081

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

4 Strategies to Prevent Tommy John Surgery

Let's be clear, having Tommy John surgery before during or after an ulnar collateral ligament tear will not turn you into the next Henry Rowengartner....

STUDY: Imaginary Exercise Helps You Recover Faster From Injury

6 Simple Tips to Prevent Knee Injuries

The Future of Sports Injury Rehabilitation

Predicting the Impact of DeMarco Murray's Hand Injury

4 Sports Massage Techniques to Relieve Tight Muscles

Megan Rapinoe

How to Prevent Injuries With 3 Yoga Poses

How to Train With Running Blisters

6 Steps for Recovering From a Season-Ending Injury

5 Bodyweight Exercises to Prevent Baseball Injuries

7 Ways to Fix Back Pain

How to Prevent Baseball Injuries During the Off-Season

Basketball Players: Prevent Ankle Sprains With These 3 Exercises

8 of the Most Ridiculous Off-Field Athlete Injuries of All Time

Connective Tissue: The Key to Preventing ACL Injuries

Quarterbacks: 4 Tips to Keep Your Throwing Shoulder Healthy

Coaches: Prevent Injuries With the Recovery Management Tool

Outsmart Injury With These 4 Predictive Tests

5 Tips to Intelligently Train Through Lower Back Pain

Evan Gattis's Protection-Enhanced Catcher's Helmet

How to Treat Piriformis Syndrome

5 Things You Can Do to Prevent Muscle Injuries

Achilles Tendon Ruptures: Prevention and Recovery

Pectoral Tendon Ruptures and Injury Prevention

Tips for Working Out With a Hand or Arm Injury

Bulletproof Your Body with 5 Easy Injury Prevention Exercises

The 8 Most Dangerous Exercises for Your Shoulders

2 Ways to Fix Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Eliminate Elbow Pain with These 3 Methods

The Secret Weapon Powering Stephen Curry's Resurgence

10 Ways to Fix Back Pain

5 Exercises to Prevent ACL Tears

Why Strengthening This Muscle May Fix Knee Pain

6 Ways to Prevent Common Sports Injuries

What You Need to Know About Tiger Woods' Back Injury

3 Steps to Prevent Soccer ACL Injuries

Prevent ACL Injuries With This Hamstring-Focused Workout

How to Keep Your Feet Healthy On and Off the Field

3 Ways to Prevent the Most Common Hockey Injury

Impressive Advances in ACL Rehab

Sports Hernias: What You Need to Know

Avoid Low-Back Pain With These 7 In-Season Exercises