6 Simple Exercises for improving ankle strength

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No matter what style of dance, calisthenics, gymnastics or fitness activity you do, your feet and ankles will inevitably be subjected to pressure and strain. One US study found that 40% of reported injuries in professional dancers were at the foot or ankle*, making it the most common site of injury on the body. We've put together some simple exercises that can be done as frequently as required in order to build up muscle strength and stability in your ankles. Remember to always ask your teacher if you have any questions, and we always recommend consulting a specialised podiatrist or sports physiotherapist for any specific concerns.

1. Rises in First Parallel

Start at the barre, with your feet together and flat in parallel position. Hold on to the barre as you rise very slowly onto demi pointe. (this exercise should be performed at a slower speed than if you were just doing rises in class). As you move from the flat position to demi, take note of the stability of your ankles. If you experience wobbling as you move through demi, try to minimise this and focus on making the transition as smooth as possible. When you reach demi pointe, hold this position and count to 5. Then lower, again moving slowly through demi to flat and minimising any wobbling through the transition. Repeat this exercise 5 times.

 Feet in Parallel

Feet in Parallel

 Slowly rise onto Demi Pointe

Slowly rise onto Demi Pointe

When you feel you have mastered a smooth transition in this exercise, you can try taking your hands off the barre when you reach demi and counting to 5 without holding onto the barre. If you have reached this level, you should be aiming to hold the demi pointe position without wobbling or collapsing at the ankle. 


2. Rises in First Position

Remaining at the barre, put your feet into first position. Repeat the previous exercise, rising slowly through to demi and holding as you count to 5 before lowering slowly back down. Again, try to maintain a smooth transition as you go.  Repeat this exercise 5 times.

This exercise can also be performed taking the hands off of the barre.

 Feet in First Position

Feet in First Position

 Slowly rise onto Demi Pointe

Slowly rise onto Demi Pointe


3. Rises in Second Position

Repeat the previous exercise in second position, aiming for maximum stability through the ankles as you go up and down. Repeat 5 times.

This exercise can also be performed taking the hands off of the barre.

 Feet in Second Position

Feet in Second Position

 Slowly rise onto Demi Pointe

Slowly rise onto Demi Pointe


4. Point and Flex with a Theraband

For this exercise you'll need to select a Theraband that best suits your level. If you've never worked with a Theraband before, you should select the lightest strength for the least resistance. The higher the strength, the more resistance against your foot and the harder the exercise will be.

Start by hooking the Theraband underneath the ball of your feet and your toes, with your foot flexed. From this flexed position, you should transition to a pointed toe whilst pulling firmly against your foot with the Theraband. Move very slowly through this transition and focus on keeping your ankle completely stable. You'll probably find that if you've never done this exercise before, your ankle joint will move from side to side slightly as you slowly move from flexed to pointed toe - this is normal. Just try each time you do the exercise to improve until you are able to keep your ankle completely stable.

 Foot flexed in the Theraband

Foot flexed in the Theraband

 Slowly point the toe against the Theraband

Slowly point the toe against the Theraband

Repeat this exercise 10 times on each foot. As you progress, you can increase the strength of the Theraband you use.


5. Fondu and Rise in low Passe

Start at the barre, with the feet parallel, one foot pointed in a low Passe position. Keeping your back straight and looking ahead, fondu the supporting leg slowly, and hold this position whilst counting to 5. Remember to keep the ankle stable through the transition. Return slowly back to a straight leg, and continue up onto demi pointe. Hold this position whilst counting to five, then return slowly to your starting position.

 Feet parallel, one foot in Passe

Feet parallel, one foot in Passe

 Slowly fondu the supporting leg

Slowly fondu the supporting leg

 Return to a flat position

Return to a flat position

 Slowly rise onto Demi Pointe

Slowly rise onto Demi Pointe

Perform this exercise 5 times on this leg, switch legs and repeat.

This exercise can also be performed taking the hands off the barre. For an even more advanced strengthening exercise, complete the sequence on a wobble board. You can also perform this exercise in a turned out position.


6. Controlled Lunges

Place one foot in front of the other, some distance apart in a parallel position. Place the hands on the hips. Keeping your back straight and core muscles engaged, slowly bend both knees into a deep lunge. As you bend the knees, try to maintain stability in your ankle on the front foot, as this foot is likely to wobble and shake as you transfer more weight onto it. Hold the lunge as you count to five. Slowly return to straight legs. Switch legs and perform the slow lunge again.

 Feet apart and parallel

Feet apart and parallel

 Slowly bend into a deep lunge

Slowly bend into a deep lunge

Perform this exercise 5 times on each leg, alternating as you go.

This exercise can also be performed with the front foot placed on a wobble board.


All of the exercises above can be performed as part of your warm up or on their own as an ankle conditioning session. Always make sure you have a safe environment to work in, and consult your teacher, physiotherapist or podiatrist with any questions.

* US Study: Injuries in professional modern dancers: incidence, risk factors, and management: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22390950

Energetiks model Dara wears the Allison Leotard in Navy.

 

Article by Emily Newton-Smith

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