3 Favorite Ankle Strengthening Exercises

     Building and maintaining strength in the ankle is one of the most important things a dancer can do to promote proper alignment en pointe and to prevent injury.  Ankle problems such as sickling or instability can contribute to sprains, tendinitis of the Achilles, FHL (Flexor Hallicus Longus), or Posterior Tibialis, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis.  

    Often dancers are told to use an elastic exercise band and do 4-Way strengthening exercises (in, out, up, and down).  While there is nothing wrong with these exercises and they will build strength, they don't strengthen the ankle muscles exactly in the way the muscles work while dancing.  Yes, ankle and calf muscles point and flex your foot and help lift you into relevé, but they also have the important function of stabilizing the joint while in relevé and controlling heel lowering when coming down or landing from a jump.  

Here are my favorite exercises for maintaining well-aligned, healthy ankles:

1. Seated Band Exercise

  • Sit with legs out in front of you and wrap an exercise band around the bottom of your Left foot at the ball of the foot, holding both ends in your opposite (Right) hand. 
  • Press your Right foot onto the band so that the band pulls to the inside.  
  • Very slowly point and flex the Left foot, going through the demi point but keeping the toes long. It's important to avoid curling the toes.
  • Make sure to keep the ankle straight and avoid sickling or letting it angle inwards.  You should feel the muscles in the outside of the Left ankle and lower leg (the Peroneals) working to maintain alignment while you point and flex.  
  • Repeat 20 times, and switch to the other leg.




2. Standing Band Exercise
  • Tie a resistance band around something solid near the floor to your side (furniture leg, banister, barre, etc.)
  • Loop the band around the ankle and heel closest to it.  Don't put it only around the ankle so that it doesn't pinch your Achilles tendon.
  • Stand in parallel and slowly go up into relevé and slowly lower down.  The purpose of this exercise is to maintain good ankle alignment as you go up and down, avoiding any excess sickling, winging, or wobbling back and forth.  Watching in a mirror will definitely help.  
  • Repeat 20 times, and switch to the other leg.




3.  Heel Lowering off a Step
  • This can be done in bare feet or with sneakers.  Socks alone aren't a good idea because they are too slippery.  Make sure you hold onto something sturdy for safety.  
  • Stand with the balls of your feet on a step and heels hanging off.  
  • Rise up onto relevé at normal speed, then very, very slowly lower the heels all the way down past the edge of the step, as low as you can.  Count to at least 6 on the way down.
  • Repeat rising up at normal speed, and very slowly lowering.  This is an eccentric exercise for the Achilles tendon, so the slow lowering is key.
  • Start by doing this on both feet together, and work up to one foot, by rising on 2 feet, lifting one up, then slowly lowering on just one foot.  Rise on 2 feet in between and lower on one again.  




These can usually all be done for about 20 repetitions several times per week.  They are excellent exercises for preparing for pointe, strengthening your pointe work at any time, or when recovering from an injury.  None of these exercises should be painful, so as always, consult a PT and/or doctor for any specific problems.  




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