Ankle strength in swimmers is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Strong ankles help propel you through the water when kicking. They also assist in timing the kick and help prevent foot injuries. In addition, ample dorsiflexion and plantar flexion aid in better block starts.
Ideally, swimmers need flexible ankles that permit the foot to flex beyond a straight line.
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Stiff ankles can cause drag. But the increased range of motion in the ankle reduces overuse of the hamstrings and quads, which is caused by kicking from the knee instead of the hip.
Exercises for Ankle Strength and Flexibility
Building ankle strength and flexibility involves more than ankle exercises. You also have to focus on body restrictions that may be restricting your ankles. Corrective strategies and exercises from the foot to the knee can help. Combine soft tissue techniques with ankle exercises for the best results.
Stretch your ankles
To improve flexibility in your ankles, stretch your toes using your hands and your body weight.
- Sit on the ground with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend one leg to bring your foot up to the top of your quadricep. Grab your toes and stretch them down. Hold for 30 seconds before switching legs. Do the same on the other side.
- While still on the ground, bend your knees and tuck them underneath you so that your butt rests on your heels. The top of your foot will be flat on the ground. Slowly lift one knee off the ground with your hand and hold the stretch for 30 seconds before moving to the other side.
- While you are in the kneeling position, place a rolled towel under the tops of your toes to increase the stretch.
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Roll your shin with self-myofascial release
Use a baseball or tennis ball to roll the outside part of your shin.
- Get in a half-kneeling position on the ground.
- Stabilize yourself on a bench in the tabletop position
- Place the baseball or tennis ball under your shin right next to the tibia.
- If an area is tender, slow down or stop the motion on the tender area.
- Continue to roll your shin for two minutes before moving to the opposite leg.
Dynamic stretching techniques
Use a band, rope, towel or your hand to create resistance or assistance in these dynamic stretching techniques.
- Wrap the towel, band or rope around the ball of your foot and hold each end in your hands. Flex your toes down while providing resistance.
- For the assisted stretch, place the towel, band or rope on the top of your foot—at the base of the toes—and have someone hold the ends. They should be facing the bottom of your foot. Flex your toes toward your body.
The inchworm exercise is effective for training ankle mobility. To do the inchworm exercise:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart on a mat or on the floor.
- Bend at your hips—maintaining a straight back—and reach your hands to the floor.
- Walk your hands out in front of you as far as you can. Hold for a couple of seconds.
- Walk your hands back in.
- Repeat this 10 to 15 times.
I mentioned drag earlier. Heel raises can reduce excess drag in the push-off phase of the stroke. The push-off phase requires plantar flexion to get into streamline. Try different variations of heel raises to train neutral toe point and to improve flexibility.
The Drop Squat is a landing exercise that teaches mobility and soft landings. Drop Squats are especially beneficial for junior swimmers to teach effective landing skills.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands at your sides.
- Drop to the squat position and bring your hands forward.
- Thrust your body back up. Always maintain the integrity and a straight back.
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