If you have ever spent a winter driving in Minnesota, you can appreciate the need for traction. When you’re on ice, you can have all the horsepower in the world, but if your tires don’t have traction with the road, you’re going nowhere. The human body is no different. You can have a ton of strength in your hips, but without a strong and stable ankle, much of that power will never reach the ground. And, like a Honda Civic in 12 inches of snow, you’ll be going nowhere quick.
Here are three important reasons not to neglect training your ankles.
1. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
The human body is one continuous chain of muscle, bone, and connective tissue. As motion is created at one joint it can have a positive or negative affect on the joints next to it. Virtually all movements we do are a result of multiple muscles and joints coordinating with each other to create fluid motion. If any of these links are weak, it will negatively affect all other links in the chain.
As you watch the following two slow-mo videos, notice how tension is initiated in the core/hips, travels down the leg, and is eventually released into the ground through the ankle/foot. Without strong ankles, unnecessary energy will be lost and never reach the ground.
2. Injury Prevention
Ankle sprains are the most commonly occurring injury in high school sports, accounting for 1/6 of all sports related injuries (1). It would only make sense that an athlete should do all he/she can do to reduce the likelihood of experiencing one of these injuries.
While it is impossible to eliminate all ankle sprains, by strengthening the muscles and tendons of the ankle an athlete will be able to withstand more stress before becoming injured.
The following videos demonstrate two great ankle strengthening exercises. You can perform each for 30-40 feet for 2-3 sets.
3. Increased Proprioception
In practice, athletes often have time to adjust and set their feet before making their next move. In competition, this rarely happens. At game speed, with defenders in the way, athletes must be able to make split-second reactions from various positions and body angles. By training the ankle to react faster, you are able to improve balance, power, and reduce ankle sprains.
A great way to improve your proprioception is to balance on one leg without shoes on. As you improve, you can add in a head turn, eyes closed, and a softer surface to increase the difficulty. Balance on each leg for 20-30 seconds for 2-3 sets.
1. Swenson D, Collins C, Fields S, Comstock R. Epidemiology of US High School Sports-Related Ligamentous Ankle Injuries, 2005/06-2010-11. Clin J Sport Med 2013;23(3):190-196.