Key to stability, balance, and sports performance and critical to almost all types of exercise, is having a good foundation of strength and flexibility in the ankles.

These incredible structures take a beating during a workout and even just in day to day activities because they bear almost all of our body weight, so they need to be durable and nimble at the same time.

The ankles are some of the more complex joints in the human body and are really made up of two separate joints.  The true ankle joint that provides the upward and downward motion of the foot is the upper portion, which is made up of the tibia or shin bone, the fibula or the thin bone beside the tibia, and the talus or the bone above the heel.

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The lower joint, the subtalar, allows the sideward motions of the foot and consists of the calcaneus bone and the talus. The most common ankle injuries are bone fractures and sprains that affect the ligaments, the fibrous tissues that connect the bones.

In order to maintain strength and flexibility in the ankles, there a few easy exercises that can be performed almost anywhere and require very little equipment. They include exercises that increase balance, strength, and flexibility.

Balance: Standing

The best way to improve balance in the ankle joints is to create situations that cause you to be out of balance. All you need for this series is one or two dumbbells, a barbell, or Kettlebell. If you are just starting out, stand beside a wall, stable chair, or bench.

Start by standing on one foot and balance for as long as you can. Progress by first holding a weight in one hand or in both with your arms down beside you or use a single barbell across your shoulders as you would in a squat. Next try standing on an unstable surface such as a Bosu ball. Last try doing any of the progressions with your eyes closed.

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Strength:  Sitting, Standing, and Walking

These exercises not only improve strength but range of motion as well. Sit down and cross one ankle over the thigh of the other leg and use the elevated foot to outline the letters of the alphabet, then repeat on the other side.

Next stand close to a wall or stable surface for support and lift your heels off the floor and hold for 2 or 3 seconds, repeating at least 10 times and progress by standing on one foot at a time and then try without any support.

Then switch by raising your toes off the floor. Finally, try taking a few steps walking on just your heels and then on your toes.

Flexibility: Sitting

For this series you will need a chair and a rope or band long enough to go around your foot and still be able to hold both ends in your hands. Sit down, wrap the band around one foot, extend the leg out in front, but not any higher than parallel with the floor.

Holding the ends of the rope, warm up by simply pulling on the rope so that there is a stretch in your foot and calf muscles. Next pull the rope to the right while you exert force and push to the left without moving your leg, hold for 2 or 3 seconds, release, and repeat 10 times.

Using the same leg and foot, pull the rope to the left and push to the right. Switch legs and perform the same series with the other foot.

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