Each time we walk, run, leap, squat, or generally move our bodies from the feet-up, the muscles in our ankles snap to attention to make it happen. Therefore, if you wish to keep everything in ship-shape, consider doing some ankle stretches. The ankle muscles, as well as the ligaments and tendons that as a whole constitute the ankle joint, can get tight and lose mobility just like other joints.
Fortuitously, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to stretch your ankles. You can follow along with this stretching and fortifying session of 8 minutes by trainer Nicole Uribarri (above), crafted for Well+Good’s Good Stretch series. Alternatively, continue reading to understand why your ankles—and feet and calves—deserve some stretching love, too.
For what reason should you perform ankle stretches?
The sensation of tightness in your ankle is merely a fraction of the reason that stretching, mobilizing, and strengthening your ankle (and surrounding areas) is something you should incorporate into your fitness routine. Your ankle links to your feet, so issues in your ankle can resonate downward, causing problems such as plantar fasciitis.
“The Achilles tendon can frequently be the offender,” podiatrist Miguel Cunha, DPM, founder of Gotham Footcare, formerly informed Well+Good about the link between ankle tightness and foot pain. “Tightness of the Achilles tendon can restrict ankle range of motion which can place added stress onto the plantar fascia.”
Your ankle is also connected to your calves (in fact, your calf muscles are part of your ankles), which can contribute to foot pain. That’s why it’s “excellent to stretch out the calf, because much of that [foot pain] originates from tension or tightness in your calf muscle,” states Uribarri.
The calf muscles also establish a connection to your knees and even all the way up to your hips.
“If the ankle joints are weak, the emphasis gets placed on the knee and hip to create more motion and absorb more forces,” physical therapist Karena Wu, DPT, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy, previously told Well+Good about the connection between ankle mobility and hip pain. “This creates an imbalance, so the other joints in the kinetic chain then have to step up and do the work.”
In summary, stiff ankles can cause issues far beyond the ankle’s domain.
“If the foot and ankle mechanics are off, it will likely impact the knee, which can cause the hip movement to be misaligned, leading to unstable core movements and stress to one’s back,” 30 Minute Hit ambassador Terri Dreger formerly informed Well+Good about the importance of ankle stability. “Any disruption in that chain of movements means that the subsequent movement is less likely to be executed correctly.”
What are the benefits of ankle stretches?
Due to this interconnectedness, ankle stretches aren’t solely targeting the ankle itself. Brian Kinslow, DPT, owner of Evolve Flagstaff, refers to the target area as the “foot and ankle complex,” which collectively form an intricate mechanism.
“Your foot is astonishingly complex with 26 bones, more than a dozen muscles, and countless nerve endings” Kinslow formerly told Well+Good about the foot and ankle complex. “It serves both as a flexible shock absorber for every step, a strong lever to propel you forward when walking or running, and is a rich source of sensory information that informs the brain about where the body is in space.”
The ankle specifically consists of three main bones, with many supporting tendons, ligaments, and muscles. “You’ve got your shin bone, the tibia, you’ve got the fibula that runs parallel to that and then you’ve got the talus where it connects at the foot,” explains Uribarri. “And along that there are all of these ligaments and muscles that really need to be strong and stable.”
To support that strength and stability, ankle stretches work to enhance your ankle’s range of motion. The foot should be capable of pointing away from the ankle (plantar flexion), flexing inward toward the leg (dorsiflexion), rotating inward (inversion), and rotating outward (eversion). Since these motions involve moving your foot as well as your ankle, many also serve as foot strengthening exercises.
So, are you prepared to show your ankles and feet some love? Observe the new series of eight-minute ankle stretches from trainer Nicole Uribarri in the video above. Or follow along with the moves below.
Regimens for robust ankles
Format: Three single-side stretches done once on each side, followed by four moves that work both ankles simultaneously.
Equipment necessary: A resistance band.
Who is this for?: Any individual desiring to enhance foot and ankle vigour and mobility.
1. Ankle rotations (30 seconds)
- Commence in a seated position on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.
- Bend the right knee and cross the right ankle over the left thigh, entering a figure four position.
- Grasp your right foot with your left hand and use your hand to rotate your foot in circles stemming from the ankle.
2. Flexion and extension (8 reps)
- Seated with your right leg extended in front of you and your left leg bent with your left foot resting at your right inner thigh, place a resistance band around your right foot and hold on to either end with your hands.
- Point the toes of your right foot, pushing the band downwards.
- Flex your right foot, pulling the band back up.
3. Strengthening the inner arch (8 reps in each direction)
- Commence in the same position as above, but place both ends of the resistance band in your right hand, and move your right hand to the outside of your right leg.
- Point your foot, pull the band inwards to the left, and then return to the starting position.
- After 8 reps, transfer the ends of the band to your left hand.
- Push the band out with your right foot, moving it to your right, and then return to the starting position (perform this for 8 reps).
Repeat moves 1-3 on the opposite side.
4. Extension of the heels (30 seconds)
- Adopt a tabletop position, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Extend your right leg back behind you, so your knee is straight, the toes and ball of your foot are on the floor, and your heel is directed upwards.
- Rock back moving your heel backwards and then forward to bring it back to the starting point, obtaining a stretch through your foot and calf.
- Repeat on the other side.
5. Heel sits (3 reps)
- Assume a kneeling position with the tops of the feet flat on the floor, then sit back on your heels. This may be sufficient for a stretch through the tops of the feet.
- To intensify the stretch, rock backwards so that your knees and the fronts of your lower legs lift off the floor.
- Hold for 5 seconds.
6. Foot prances (20 seconds)
- Assume a standing position, with your feet hip-width apart and all four corners of your feet rooted down into the floor.
- Lift your right heel, keeping the toes down, then return it to the ground.
- Lift your left heel, keeping the toes down, then return it to the ground.
- Continue alternating.
7. Heel raises (20 seconds)
- From a standing position, lift your heels off the floor, coming onto the balls of your feet.
- Gradually lower back down.