Gain Ankle Strength and Heel Mobility for Better Balance
Posted Mar 04 2013 3:45am
This is Part 3 in a 3-part series on Healthy Feet: Heel Mobility for Better Balance & Body Control
Stretching the calf and soleus muscles are important for your lower leg and ankle flexibility, but just doing a plain old calf stretch probably isn’t going to dramatically improve balance because it is not the flexion and extension of the ankle that needs improvement as much as the lateral side-to-side strength and support.
What can you do to improve balance?
One of the best ways to improve your balance is to challenge the body with exercises that have you standing on one leg. But if your feet and ankles don’t have the right amount of strength, flexibility and mobility to keep you upright, chances are simple exercises balancing on one leg may seem darn near impossible unless you’re holding onto something!(And holding onto something for support has you using your Arms to balance more than your feet, ankles and legs.)
There are thousands of opportunities throughout the day where we have a moment to practice standing on one leg and balance. Can you guess where your top two opportunities to practice balancing on one leg are?
With every step we take there is a moment when the back leg has to lift off the ground and swing to the front and in this moment we are left standing on one leg!
Yes it happens quickly, so there’s a good chance you might not notice how “off-balance” you really are unless you stop mid-stride and practice your flamingo stance.
I had a client, Louise, who as we were discussing her wellness goals and why she wanted to work with me the topic of better balance came up. She had begun to notice that her balance “wasn’t as good as it used to be.” She was literally terrified to go up and down stairs, and clung to the handrail for dear life!
After I watched her attempt a flight of stairs I could see that her concerns were valid. I was afraid she was going to fall!
So being able to safely and confidently trot up and down the stairs was the really BIG thing Louise wanted help with. But the other time she noticed being “off-balance” was getting dressed in the morning. Having to stand on one leg to pull on a pair of pants or, even worse, a pair of pantyhose! Or putting on socks, and tying shoes. You might not hold one leg up in the air to tie your shoes, but if you put one foot up on the edge of a chair and bend forward it takes two hands to tie the laces, and you’re still having to balance standing on one leg.
Louise had started opting for slip on shoes, which weren’t supporting her feet, and she had practically given up on wearing pantyhose. So focusing on better balance became a goal for improvement with her workout program.
I’m going to share with you one of my favorite pieces of exercise equipment and two great exercises that can assist with improving heel mobility and ankle strength for medial /lateral movement. The great thing about this is it’s small, portable and economical. My clients use this piece of equipment with me in the studio and, when they see its value, always want to get their own to use at home.
There is not really anything in our daily life or other sports training that is quite as effective as the Super Ankles Foot-Fit Board for working the ankles in a safe range of motion and becoming aware of the movement of the foot and inner/outer heel. The purpose of Super-Ankle Board exercises are to focus on ankle strength & mobility needed for better balance, NOT actually balancing “hands-free” on the board to do the exercises. The result of doing the ankle board exercise is that with time and practice your foot, ankle, leg and hip muscles will have the strength and flexibility needed to help you balance. You can avoid falls, ankle sprains and strains, alleviate heel pain and enjoy better balance!
Super Ankles Foot-Fit Board – Side to Side exercise
Balance on one leg while holding on to something for balance.
Keep the toes, knee, hips and shoulders facing straight ahead.
Teeter-Totter the board from a centered balance point to the two outside corners.
Then pass through center to the two inside corners.
Alternate from Side to Side for 10-50 reps.
While it seems like a simple thing to do, it’s just moving your foot side to side from the ankle…for most people getting started, keeping the foot lined up straight ahead, getting both front and back corners to hit the ground at the same time, and not shifting the whole body to move the foot, are three of the primary challenges for good technique. This is the strength we need so that IF we step wrong off a curb or don’t see a hole and start to twist an ankle that we have the strength, mobility and awareness to pull ourselves back to center and avoid injury.
If you do Pilates, there are lots of great exercises on the Reformer, Chairs and Cadillac that move your foot and ankle in a front to back (point & flex) direction. But not much of any that work that specifically targets the medial/lateral movement of the foot, ankle and heel.
When’s the most important time good heel and ankle strength / mobility is needed? To walk and run, especially on uneven ground. If our calf and Achilles are too tight or the muscles on either the inside or outside of the ankle are too strong or too weak, our foot-to ankle-to leg alignment is out of balance. Over time, not only does this affect balance, but it can also increase your risk of injury or chronic problems with your Achilles’ tendon, plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains and other foot, knee, leg, hip and back issues.
You might be surprised at how simple the Super Ankles exercises look, but how challenging it really is to maintain good posture and body alignment and only move your foot and ankle! There is lots of strength and support needed at the hip to stabilize the leg so you can get your ankle and heel to move more freely.
Here’s one more of the Super Ankles Foot-Fit Board Exercises that’s super for improving multi-directional movement of the foot and increasing mobility for the heel.
Super Ankle Board – Ankle Circles.
Balance on 1 leg on the Ankle Board, keep everything lifted up with great posture.
Working from the sole of the foot, transfer the weight from corner to corner: big toe, little toe, outer heel, inner heel and back to the big toe.
Strive to make it a smooth and controlled movement, working along the full edge of the board.
After 3-5 circles in this direction, switch to circle the other way.
This is another one of the 8 basic exercises in the Super Ankles Foot Fitness Board workout. Plain old ankle circles are great, but its easy to think your moving the whole foot, when in reality the forefoot is doing most of the movement and your heels are hardly moving at all!
Plus there is a huge difference in the muscles needed for support to stand on one leg, keep the whole body still, and circle the standing foot vs. standing on one leg and circling the lifted foot!
Earlier I used walking, running and climbing stairs as examples of activities we need good balance, great alignment and healthy heel mobility. Here are a few other activities where having healthy ankle and heel mobility is a necessity to reduce risk of injury: dance, gymnastics, track & field, soccer, basketball, football, skiing & snowboarding, tennis and racquetball. If you participate in any other sport that requires running, jumping or lateral movement this heel and ankle movement will be important for you too.
Remember my client Louise I mentioned earlier? I’m pleased to tell you that she’s achieved amazing transformations for better balance. When I last saw Louise she was literally running up and down stairs, no handrail needed. And while she watched her friends transitioning into slip-on shoes, she was tickled to be standing on one leg and balancing to tie her laces! Our training time together focusing on her feet along with hip and core strength dramatically improved her confidence and balance.
Regardless of your sport or fitness activities having the right amount of heel mobility can not only improve your balance and body control, but also help keep your feet, knees, hips and back healthy. Focus on finding the right amount of medial / lateral ankle strength and heel mobility to keep your body healthy, fit and pain-free.
Take a few minutes to incorporate these targeted heel training exercises into your weekly workout routine to help improve your balance for walking, running, climbing stairs, improved sports performance and all your daily life activities.
Discover the benefits of the Super Ankle Foot-Fit board to help keep your ankles strong, fit and flexible! Add this easy-to learn 10-12 minute foot fitness workout to your pre/post workout routine.
Why risk falling, being off-balance or spraining an ankle because you don’t have the medial/lateral strength and mobility you need to stay safe and injury-free. Get Super Ankles NOW!