As much as we adore targeting specific areas of our physique during exercise sessions, it’s important to remember that your physique isn’t a collection of separate sections. Just like that enormous Jenga set at your favorite tavern, everything is interconnected. While you can extract a piece here and there, the tower won’t remain upright (or withstand a collision with a table) if it lacks stability.
In the event you hadn’t discerned, that Jenga tower represents your physique. And guess what constitutes the foundation? Your feet and ankles. (Mind-blowing, we understand.) Tamper with those little ones, and you can be certain that everything will come crashing down.
“Your physique is a kinetic chain,” declares Jason Barone, collaborator and physiotherapist at Professional Physical Therapy in Paramus, NJ. Every component collaborates to generate movement. Why this is significant: Having complications in one area can lead to other issues.
“If your ankles are exceedingly weak and unstable, that can render you more susceptible to a knee injury, a hip injury — it can even trigger problems in your lower back,” he states. If feeble or immobile ankles affect your walking or running stride, over time, that repetitive movement is likely to manifest in one issue or another, whether it be chronic tendonitis (like runner’s knee), hip bursitis (inflammation of the bursa, a cushion for the exterior of your hip bone) or IT band problems, reveals Barone.
The most prevalent ankle problems can be boiled down to two major predicaments: 1) inadequate ankle mobility and 2) feeble ankles. It is ideal to strike a balance between ankle potency and flexibility, notes Barone — just like with all your muscles. However, jam-packed schedules, footwear, injuries, and natural anatomy can make it challenging to sustain that equilibrium without exerting some effort.
Poor Ankle Mobility
How frequently have you dashed out of the door for a high-intensity interval training session or a quick jog around the neighborhood without a proper warm-up? Subsequently, you promptly return to jump in the shower, eat, and rush off to work or another commitment without properly stretching and cooling down? If that hurried workout scenario sounds familiar, there’s a good chance that your calves are tight, which translates to restricted ankle mobility. “If you consistently strengthen and overlook stretching, that will present a problem,” warns Barone. (Give these seven stability and mobility exercises a try before every workout to prime your muscles.)
“The most prevalent issue I encounter as a personal trainer is the lack of ankle mobility, particularly when attempting to flex the feet,” explains Jonathan Jordan, a personal trainer based in San Francisco. “When you lack adequate range of motion, the body discovers alternative means to accomplish the task,” he says, even if it means leading to other problems in the future.
For instance, adequate ankle mobility is essential to perform a squat with proper technique. Restricted calf muscles and Achilles tendons (the tendons that connect the heel bone to the calf muscles) might cause your heels to rise during squats, which “can result in discomfort and harm to your knees, deactivate your glute muscles, and, practically speaking, you are likely to lose balance,” says Jordan.
Here’s Jordan’s preferred exercise for evaluating ankle mobility: Begin in a kneeling lunge position with the front foot about five inches away from a wall. Slowly move the lead knee towards the wall. Observe how close you can get to the wall without your heel lifting. If you cannot reach the wall, it would be beneficial for you to focus on improving your ankle mobility. (Remember to test both sides.)
How to Enhance Ankle Mobility
- Warm-up and cool down: Initially, ensure that you warm up and cool down before and after your workout. Barone suggests including a few minutes of stretching after your routine.
- Dedicate time to stretching: Twice a week, allocate 15 minutes for a whole-body stretching routine, dedicating 30 seconds to each stretch to effectively elongate your muscles, he advises.
- Utilize a foam roller: Jordan also suggests using a foam roller on your calves for 90 seconds to two minutes, focusing on moving up and down the muscle as well as rocking side to side. “This will help reduce tension in the calf muscles and minimize strain on the ankle joint caused by the Achilles tendon,” he explains.
- Give up heels: If you frequently wear high heels, it might be worth considering switching to flats, sneakers, or sandals (like the Cushionaire Lane Cork Footbed Sandal with Comfort). If you prefer the added height, at least make sure to stretch your calves after wearing them: “Wearing high heels can lead to tight Achilles tendons and calf muscles, severely restricting ankle mobility,” says Barone.
Unstable, Fragile Ankles
According to Jordan, weak ankles are extremely common, indicating that the muscles, attachments, and connective tissues surrounding the ankles are feeble or elongated, resulting in “unstable” or “weak” feet. This can be due to genetics or a previous injury (such as straining or spraining your ankle). “You have to think of the ligaments around the ankle like a type of elastic band,” says Barone. “If you stretch that elastic band too much, it may never return to its original state.”
Typically, individuals with weak ankles can sense it because they lack adequate support and often experience poor balance and frequent injuries, says Jordan. Not only do these injuries (even minor ones) require time away from exercising, but they can also reinforce improper movement patterns. “Our bodies are remarkable at adapting to whatever we demand of them,” says Jordan. “They will always strive to find strength wherever possible to execute the movement you are asking for—and it doesn’t always look graceful.”
If you find yourself frequently rolling your ankle or feeling unstable on uneven surfaces, it is possible that you have weak ankles, says Barone.
If you possess an intense injury or are experiencing pain for over a week, you must consistently visit an expert, he asserts — however, if you believe you lack overall ankle steadiness, you can engage in some of these actions to enhance the connections.
How to Enhance Weak Ankles
- Ankle alphabet: This is the ideal multitasking activity for solo Netflix and chilling. Sit in a chair and visualize that you are writing the entire alphabet from A to Z with your feet, creating each letter as crisp, emphasized, and sizable as possible, says Jordan. “This helps mobilize the talocrural and other joints of the foot,” he states, and it’s excellent for after foam rolling.
- Ankle sliding: Secure a resistance band and fasten it around a table leg, pole, or another anchor, creating a loop. Stretch the loop until there’s tension and place one foot inside with the band encircling the ankle joint. “Ensure that it fits snugly beneath both your malleoli (the ankle bones on each side of your foot),” says Jordan. Elevate your toes a few inches by resting them on a cushion or mat. With the knee bent, gently slide the shin forward. Return to the starting position, then slide forward once more. (P.S. Jordan has a tutorial video for this exercise on his website.)
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