6 Ankle Mobility Exercises for Bulletproof Ankles

10 min read
two people are exercising ankles_Ankle Mobility Exercises, how to improve ankle mobility
David J. Sautter post Reviewer
The article is verified by David J. Sautter
NASM Personal Trainer, NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist, ACE Sports Conditioning Specialist, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist, BA in Professional Writing

Table of Contents

The mobility of the ankle joint impacts the entire body when you move, making movements like squats, lunges, walking, and running possible. This is one of the primary reasons to add ankle mobility exercises to your workout regimen.

These drills are isolated and focused on improving ankle joint performance, including flexibility, strength, and mobility. 

In this article, we’ll overview:

  • Who needs ankle mobility training 
  • How to assess your ankle mobility 
  • Best exercises for ankle mobility 
  • How to improve ankle performance

Ankle Mobility Basics

Mobility is a combination of strength, stability, and flexibility. All of these factors must be present to say mobility is sufficient.

One of the ways that many people increase their chances of poor ankle mobility is by sitting too much. When you don’t move frequently enough, it will be difficult to maintain the mobility that your body is designed to have.

Types of Ankle Mobility

There are two main types of ankle mobility: dorsiflexion (flexion) and plantar flexion (extension). 

Dorsiflexion and Plantar flexion examples shown on feet_ankle mobility exercises

Dorsiflexion refers to your ability to lift the top of your foot toward your shin bone. Plantar flexion is the exact opposite of dorsiflexion.

Plantar flexion refers to your ability to move your foot away from the shins. 

Ankle mobility refers to your ability to move the ankle joint through a full range of motion, dorsiflexing and plantar flexing as far as possible.

Restricted Ankle Mobility

There are generally two primary indicators you have restricted ankle mobility. Try to  move the knee out over the toes, and pay attention if one or both of the following things happen:

  • A pinch in the front of the ankle joint
  • Tightness behind the ankle

If you have restricted ankle mobility, you’ll find that several exercises will become more of a risk for you than a help to your fitness level.

Movements such as the squat require sufficient ankle mobility for proper form. During a deep squat, the knee must translate forward over the toes. The only way to accomplish this is by having adequate ankle mobility. 

If the tibias (shin bones) are “locked” in a vertical position, the rest of the body will compensate to achieve a deep squat position. The chest will fall forward versus staying upright and tall. In other words, you won’t perform the movement correctly and you will increase your risk for injury.

Injuries as Core Reason to Strengthen Your Ankles

Ankle injuries are some of the most common ones. Every year, roughly two million people in the United States suffer from an ankle injury. This number might not represent the true number since most folks don’t seek medical attention for the damage. 

While tweaking your ankle can seem pretty minor compared to other injuries, there are two key points that most people don’t realize about an ankle injury.

  • A study showed there’s a 3.4 times chance you’ll do it again. A recurring minor injury can certainly feel like a bigger problem since it won’t go away completely.
  • Continuing with the point above, sprained ankles often lead to ongoing ankle instability, which many people report as wobbliness and instability, occasional pain, etc. [1]

Given that a sprained ankle can set the stage for a lifelong problem, it’s important to evaluate the current condition of your ankles and take action to strengthen them. Even if you’ve already experienced an ankle injury, it’s not too late to do something.

Signs You Need to Improve Your Ankle Mobility

There are active and inactive reasons to improve your ankle mobility:

Active reasonsInactive reasons
You want to prevent injuryYou have poor posture
You work outYou had an ankle injury
You go for long walksYou wear high heels frequently
You runYou sit a lot 

Active Reasons to Improve Ankle Mobility

If you aspire to increase your physical activity or if you are already active, ankle joint performance and functionality are critical. 

The foot and ankle interact with the ground during every movement. Building strong, flexible, and resilient ankles will help mitigate injuries and keep you exercising pain-free!

Footwear, Injury, or Inactive Reasons to Improve Ankle Mobility

Footwear is a significant contributor to ankle issues. High heels, in particular, place the ankle joint in an unnatural plantar flexed position, often leading to impingement and range of motion issues if worn often enough. The ankle should move freely! 

Past ankle injuries can create unstable and wobbly ankle joints, which become noticeable daily. Sitting is also a significant reason to start training your ankles regularly, as the body was designed to move frequently and for much longer durations than modern living allows. 

Assess Your Ankle Mobility

Testing your current ankle mobility is the first step to understanding if you have enough range of motion or need to implement a few of the exercises listed below. 

A straightforward way to assess if your ankle mobility is lacking or sufficient is to perform a knee over toes split squat. 

woman is performing ankle mobility test near wall, correct and wrong result, ankle mobility exercises

You’re in good shape if your knees can move beyond your toes without excruciating pain, impingement, or the heel lifting off the floor.

If your knees cannot move out over the toes or they do but there’s pain involved, it could be a clear sign that your ankle mobility is lacking and deserves some attention.

Another quick way to test your ankle mobility is by performing a bodyweight squat. Set up your phone to film a few repetitions to playback afterward. If you’re struggling to reach the bottom of a squat, especially if your feet are coming off the ground, it could indicate that ankle mobility is lacking. 

Best Exercises for Ankle Mobility

This section will describe how to improve ankle mobility using a few essential flexibility, mobility, and strengthening ankle mobility exercises. 

The exercises are ranked from easiest to most difficult. Some drills are flexibility-based and are incredibly simple to perform anywhere in just a few minutes. Others require simple equipment and a more complex set-up and body position. 

Flexibility training includes both passive and active flexibility work. Passive flexibility is stretching where you hold a position for a set time. Active flexibility is when a joint moves into its natural range of motion but there is no outside force helping it get there.

Ankle Rockers

a woman is performing anckle rockers_ankle mobility exercises

Difficulty: 

  • Easy

Technique:

  • Near a wall, place the toes of one foot 5-to-6 inches from the wall.
  • Flex and push the kneecap toward the wall, careful to keep the heel planted on the floor. 
  • When you feel a stretch above the heel, pause and return to the starting position.

Acute Variables:

  • Complete 8 to 12 repetitions on each leg.

Ankle Circles

woman is doing ankle circles_ankle mobility exercises

Difficulty: 

  • Easy

Technique:

  • Assume a seated position, crossing one leg over the other. 
  • Leading with the big toe, slowly turn your ankle in the largest possible circles to the left, then reverse the motion to the right. 

Acute Variables:

  • Complete 10-to-12 reps on each side. 

Standing Calf Stretch

performing standing calf stretch using yoga block_ankle mobility exercises

Difficulty: 

  • Easy

Technique:

  • Prop one foot up on any rise (the leg of a chair, thick book, wall, yoga block, step platform, etc.) 
  • Keeping the knee straight, lean forward until a stretch is felt on the leg’s backside, opposite the shin bone. 
  • Return to the start position. 

Acute Variables:

  • Complete 8-to-10 repetitions with 2-3 second pause at a stretch.

Banded Ankle Dorsiflexion

woman is performing banded ankle dorsiflexion_ankle mobility exercises

Difficulty: 

  • Intermediate

Technique:

  • Sit on the floor with legs in front of the body.
  • Loop a small resistance band around the top side of the foot and anchor it to a table leg or squat rack.
  • Allow the resistance band to pull your foot forward, followed quickly by moving the toes toward the shin bone (dorsiflex).

Acute Variables:

  • Complete 10 repetitions on each side

Single Leg Balance Matrix

a woman is doing single leg balance natrix_ankle mobility exercises

Difficulty: 

  • Intermediate/Advanced

Technique:

  • Move into a single-leg stance with your left leg hovering  4-to-5 inches off the floor.
  • Hold this position for 10 seconds.
  • Then, move your left leg as far as possible:
    • In front of the body
    • To the outside of the body
    • Behind the body
  • The whole sequence should be controlled and take around 15 seconds to complete.
  • Switch legs and perform the same sequence.

Acute Variables:

  • Complete 3 to 5 reps on each side

Knees Over Toes Lunge

man is doing Knees over toes lunge_ankle mobility exercises

Difficulty: 

  • Advanced

Technique:

  • Separate the feet and get into an exaggerated lunge stance.
  • Move your body forward, allowing the front knee to move beyond the toes.
  • Stop just before the front heel lifts off the ground.
  • Pause at the end range for two seconds, and return to the start position. 

Acute Variables:

  • Complete 8 reps on each side. 

Looking for more exercises to improve your fitness? Check out our online fitness coach app!

Ankle Mobility FAQ

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding ankle mobility exercises.

When can I perform ankle mobility exercises?

Ankle mobility exercises can be performed at any time of day. These foundation-building drills can be completed early in the morning, in the evening before bed, during your warm-up, or in the middle of a workout. 

Are ankle mobility exercises a high-impact, intense form of exercise?

The nice part about ankle mobility training is that it’s not overly intense. It doesn’t require a lot of equipment, and you can accomplish a lot in 10 minutes or less. For this reason, you may consider working ankle mobility drills first in the morning or before bed at night. 

Can I incorporate ankle mobility exercises into my current workout?

Ankle training as part of the workout. You’re not alone if you prefer to perform all body maintenance as part of a regularly scheduled workout. Ankle mobility drills work fantastic as a warm-up before performing exercises like lunges and squats. Another clever way to include ongoing mobility training in the workout is by positioning these drills as recovery from more intense resistance training.

How long does it take to improve ankle mobility?

The time it takes to see significant ankle mobility gains will vary from person to person. But, if you implement the mobility drills listed above most days per week, you should start to see noticeable results after 3-to-4 weeks. Remember, the appeal of mobility training is that it’s not overly draining. It doesn’t take tremendous effort to work through these exercises almost daily. 

Final Words

Ankle mobility is critical to establish and maintain, both for performance and for avoiding unnecessary chronic pain and acute injuries. 

The good news is that building strong and flexible ankles is quite simple. The benefits of assessing and applying an effective ankle training program will:

  • Prevent ankle injuries
  • Improve balance to reduce the risk of falls
  • Increase bone density via strengthening exercises

Leveraging the exercises shared in this article, you’ll decrease the risk of injury to the bones and ligaments of your ankles while improving performance. Healthy ankles will keep you active for years to come!

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!



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