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A Simple Routine to Improve Balance and Ankle Mobility
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Jan 13, 2017
To build upon the ankle plantar flexion stretch that I shared earlier, here is a short routine of 3 mobility exericses that I enjoy doing to improve ankle mobility:
Ankle Raises While on Balls of Feet:
Ankle raises are excellent for strengthening your calf muscles and Achilles tendon, and for warming up all of the soft tissues that surround your ankle joints. Ankle raises are also helpful for developing balance and proprioception.
Aim to stay on the balls of your feet i.e. there should be very little burden to the base of your pinky toes. A good cue is to keep your inner ankle bones together.
Aim to work your way up to 60 repetitions.
Ankle Plantar Flexion Stretch:
The idea is to improve plantar flexion of your ankles by sitting back on your heels while kneeing, but with the top 3rd of your feet resting on a yoga block. If you don't have a yoga block, you can use a thick paperback book or two.
Try to keep the heels of your feet close together so that your ankles don't spray outward i.e. you don't want your ankles to evert. You want to sit with your glutes directly on top of your heels, and aim to sit in this position for about 60 seconds.
To build upon the Ankle Plantar Flexion stretch, you can do the Squatted Seiza.
Start in a kneeling position, place your hands by your sides on the ground, and use closed fists or spread fingers to balance yourself on the ground as you raise your thighs toward your chest while keeping your ankles fully plantar flexed.
You want to try to keep your back relatively upright, though it will be natural to lean forward to some degree, and you want to try to get your knees as close to your chest as possible. If you keep your ankles plantar flexed, you will feel an effective stretch through the fronts of your ankles. Aim to work your way up to 30 seconds, but remember that even a few seconds are beneficial!
The idea is to sit on the ground with the heel of one leg close to your pelvis, and to support your weight with your arms and opposite leg while you lean your trunk over your dorsiflexed ankle, gently inducing more dorsiflexion. Be sure to keep your heel on the ground.
Once you become comfortable with this, you can progress to lifting the knee of the opposite leg off the ground to apply more of your body weight to the ankle that you are working on. And to take it another level, you can lift the other leg entirely off the ground.
In all of these positions, once you reach your end range of dorsiflexion, you can use your body weight to induce short amplitude pulses to further improve ankle dorsiflexion.
Working on dorsiflexion will help keep your Achilles tendon and soleus muscle fibers healthy. It will also help maintain optimal capacity for movement within your proximal tibiofibular joint - lack of movement in this joint can be a cause of discomfort during knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion.
Working on ankle dorsiflexion will improve balance and proprioception at any age. It will also improve your ability to do different varieties of squats and hip mobility exercises to improve functional strength of your lower extremities.
For an overview of exercise progressions that you can work at to improve your mobility and balance in a systematic way, please feel free to visit our Mobility Exercise Progressions page here:
For some suggestions on how to set up a simple workout area at home, please feel free to view:
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