Ankle flexibility is crucial to performance in most sports — particularly those that involve running, jumping, or turning. For many athletes and trainers, however, the importance of ankle flexibility is often overlooked in favor of other, larger muscle and joint groups. Ankle flexibility is important for the average gym-goer as well, and for rehabilitation patients recovering from an injury. Performing ankle rotations and stretching can be effective ways to increase ankle flexibility.
Exercises to improve ankle flexibility often involve strengthening the muscles and tendons around the ankle. Workouts also work to improve the ankle's range of motion and may also improve joint and muscular health. Flexibility training may also help prevent injury.
One popular stretch is the plantar flexion. To perform this stretch, sit with your knee straight and point your toes toward the floor, feeling the stretch in the top of the foot and ankle. Stretch until it starts to feel uncomfortable or you can't move your foot further. Hold for 15 seconds, then release. This stretch also can be performed while standing up, moving between having your feet flat on the ground and standing on tip toes. The reverse of this stretch, pulling your toes up toward your shin, can stretch the back side of your ankle.
Simple ankle rotations can help with ankle flexibility as well. Sitting on a bench or chair, raise your foot off the floor and point your toe. Continue pointing your toes while you rotate your foot in a circle to the right. Repeat the rotation in the opposite direction as well. Make sure to point your toes and stretch as far as is comfortable for a maximum stretch. A fun variation on this exercise is to point your toes and trace each letter of the alphabet in the air.
Certain calf stretches also can help improve ankle flexibility. By improving the flexibility of the muscles around the ankle, the ankle can become stronger and gain a greater potential for range of motion. This added strength also may provide more support for the ankle. To stretch your Achilles tendon and your calf, stand with your hands pressing against a wall and extend one leg back. Press your heel into the floor; for a deeper stretch, extend your leg further back and lean in a bit. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
For each of the above exercises, begin with one set of ten repetitions, unless you feel pain or a doctor has told you otherwise. Gradually build to three sets of ten reps. Stretching should not normally be painful. Many gyms have personal trainers to assist if you have questions, or you can consult your physician before beginning a new exercise routing.