Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.
The question: My ankles are not strong. I always roll them when I run and play sports. They feel wobbly. Can you give me some strength exercises for them?
The answer: Absolutely! A close friend of mine struggles with a similar problem, so I understand how frustrating unstable ankles can be.
Do exercises that appropriately challenge your balance. For example, try standing on one leg. Once that gets easy, close your eyes. Balancing improves proprioception. Proprioception is the body's ability to know where it is in time and space – a neurological ability vital for athletes, since no one can or should be consciously aware of their bodies positioning at all times.
To strengthen the muscles in your lower leg and foot, you should also try these exercises:
- Standing calf raises: Lift yourself up on your toes for 15 reps. To increase the challenge, stand on one leg or hold weights.
- Heel walks: Lift the front of your foot off the floor. Balance on your heels and walk across the room.
- Hand-Foot War: Put your right hand against the outside of your right foot. Push your hand into your foot. Resist the push with your foot. Next, place your hand on the inside of your right foot and repeat the push-resist sequence. Switch and repeat with your left foot.
- Towel pulls: Place one bare foot on a towel. Grab the towel with your toes. Lift your heel, pull the towel taut, then repeat the toe grabs. Continue for the length of the towel.
When your ankle feels strong enough, incorporate lateral and other sport-specific exercises. Simulating the athletic movements needed for your sport in a controlled environment is a great way to safely prepare your body.
For example, try lateral leaps: Start standing on your left leg. Propel yourself to the right with your left bum muscles, land on your right leg in an athletic stance, then jump back to the left.
Hopping exercises can also be useful: Stand on your right leg. Hop forward, sideways and backward for 10 to 30 repetitions. Then switch and repeat on left foot.
Trainer's tip:Your weak link may be your ankles, but the stronger your entire lower body and core is, the more support your ankles will have. Make sure you are doing lower-body and core exercises such as squats, dead lifts and planks.