13 Quick and Easy Exercises To Strengthen Your Ankles and Feet, Increase Your Range of Motion, and Lower Your Risk of a Sprain, Break, or Overuse Injury
My feet may be ugly, but they are strong. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from climbing many of the White Mountains barefoot, it’s that if you take care of your feet, they’ll take care of you.
Most people don’t think about exercising their feet and ankles until they have no other choice. A bad sprain, strain, a torn ligament, or a broken bone might be just the nudge they need to start finally paying attention to their feet. Or, maybe it’s inflammation, or just chronic pain that they can’t get rid of. Regardless, most people wait until it’s too late to start taking care of their feet and ankles. And they pay for it – been there, done that!
A much better strategy is to do some basic “body maintenance” to help prevent these problems from happening in the first place. And fortunately, it really doesn’t take all that much effort to drastically lower your risk of an ankle or foot injury.
I’ve found that some simple exercises can go a long way to prevent ankle and foot problems. Along with some pretty bad ankle sprains, I also experienced some chronic foot problems after I became a runner – and I tried all kinds of different footwear, orthotics, and prescription braces among other things during my few years in physical therapy. So, I had my fair share of foot pain and frustration.
But get this. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I haven’t had a foot or ankle injury in nearly a decade. And I attribute part of that pain and injury-free track record to a few simple exercises I’ve incorporated into my daily life. They only take me a few minutes a day, but they go a long way towards maintaining health, mobility, and basic functionality, among other things.
So, if you’re having foot or ankle troubles – or better yet, if you’d like to avoid foot and ankle problems in the first place – follow along with this video where I teach you a bunch of deceptively simple exercises to help mobilize and strengthen your feet. Trust me. Your feet will feel great after going through this little routine.
TLC Exercises for Building Strong and Mobile Ankles and Feet
Ankle & Foot Exercises
Ankle flexion/extension – with one leg elevated and knee locked, alternate between pointing your toes and flexing your foot up towards your shin.
Ankle lateral roll – with one leg elevated and knee locked, alternate between flexing your ankle from side to side (i.e. towards centerline and away from centerline)
Straight-leg ankle circle – with one leg elevated and knee locked, draw a circle with your foot (or a figure eight, trace the alphabet, etc.)
Bent-leg ankle circle – with one leg elevated and knee flexed at a 90 degree angle, draw a circle with your foot.
Toe pull – from a standing position, reach one leg behind you and place some of your weight on the top of your foot, just above the toes and hold for 20-30+ seconds.
Outside toe pull – same as “toe pull” above except reach your outside ankle down towards the ground, lowering your center of gravity and “corkscrewing” your foot into the ground.
Inside toe pull – same as “toe pull” above except reach your inside ankle down towards the ground, lowering your center of gravity and “corkscrewing” your foot into the ground. Weight should be resting on inside of big toe (on the working ankle).
Toe roll from side to side – combine all three toe pulls by slowly rolling over the top side of your foot
Closed-chain ankle lateral rolls – from a standing position with feet flat, roll to the outside/inside of your feet (can be done with one foot at a time or both feet simultaneously)
Ankle flexion walk (i.e. toes lifted) – from standing, lift your toes off the ground by fully flexing your ankles (knees locked) and take small steps (e.g. forward/backward/left/right)
Heel raise walk on tippy-toes – from standing, lift your heels off the ground (i.e. calf raise) until you are standing on your tippy toes, grip the ground with your feet, and take small steps
Outside ankle walk – from standing, roll onto the outside of your feet and take small steps
Inside ankle walk – from standing, roll onto the inside of your feet and take small steps
6 More Tips For Strengthening Your Feet and Ankles
Progress gradually and don’t rush the process – You can’t force your tissues to adapt any faster than your body will allow. It’s true that our muscles can get stronger in a relatively short period of time (e.g. weeks), but the joints and connective tissues take longer (e.g. months), and bones take much longer (e.g. years). If you’re feet have been weak and immobile for most of your life, it will probably take a long time to see substantial progress. So, be patient, and ease your way into these exercises – never trying to force anything.
Move into discomfort, but not into pain – In order to make progress, you need to get outside of your comfortable range of motion without going too far into pain. Make a habit of going right to your edge, but no further.
Practice these exercises often – These exercises can and should be done frequently – at least a few times per week. Ideally, you’ll do a few reps of each exercise daily. But you can certainly perform them several times a day if you’d like faster results.
Wear less restrictive footwear – If you wear stiff, thick-soled shoes/boots/etc., your feet won’t be able to move as they’re meant to. So, whenever possible, wear minimalist-style footwear that will allow your feet to move with as little restriction as possible.
Note: you can learn more about minimalist footwear here.
Go barefoot when you can – Whether it’s walking, running, hiking, training, or just living, going barefoot will help your feet gradually regain their natural state of mobility, strength, and functionality. Slowly transition into going barefoot more often – first around the house, then perhaps going for walks barefoot, then training barefoot, etc.
Mobilize and strengthen the rest of your body – Keep in mind that the site of the pain is not always the source of the problem, and note that problems up the chain (e.g. knees and hips) tend to refer down to foot and ankle problems. So, chances are good that if your feet and ankles are weak and immobile, so are your knees and especially your hips, which is a very common problem. If that’s the case, check out this free joint mobility program to start reversing the damage.
The Bottom Line
Most people’s ankles and feet are in pretty rough shape. My theory is that not only do we not use them the way they’re meant to be used, but we also confine them to overly-restrictive footwear that slowly weakens them over time. The result is that most people have weak, deconditioned, immobile, and hyper-sensitive feet, which often results in all sorts of problems.
The good news is that restoring mobility and strengthening the basic ranges of motion is an easy first step towards improving the health and functionality of your feet. And you can go a long way with just a minute or two of mindful movement every day.
Sure. Your ankles and feet are really important, but so are all of the other joints in your body. They need the same kind of TLC. And for that, I recommend the Ageless Mobility package, which goes much deeper into joint mobility training.
I invested in all of those resources nearly a decade ago and I still use many of the things I learned from them on a daily basis. It’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made. And back then, I spent nearly 5X what the program costs now. If your health is a priority, and you’re in this for the long haul, click here to learn more about the package. Or, you can try out a free full body routine here.
Remember, if you take care of your feet, they’ll take care of you.
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Health-First Fitness Coach
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