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March 09, 2023 13 min read

Ankle mobility is essential for a healthy, active lifestyle. It helps to keep your body in balance, aids in reducing the risk of injury, and can even boost athletic performance.

But how can you ensure your ankles are getting the most out of their mobility?

This article will discuss the best ankle mobility exercises to help you avoid ankle injury and build strength. From simple stretches to dynamic exercises, you'll find a range of exercises to help you improve your ankle mobility and keep your body healthy.

Ankle Anatomy and Biomechanics

ANkle Anatomy - Image from Shutterstock

The ankle comprises three bones: the tibia and fibula which form the lower leg, and the talus which is the uppermost bone in the foot. The ankle joint is formed where the distal end of the tibia and fibula meet the proximal end of the talus. It is a hinge joint that allows for up and down-movement (ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion).

Muscles, ligaments, and tendons surround the ankle joint and support the foot and ankle during movement.

The ankle joint, or talocrural joint, is capable of three main types of movements:

Dorsiflexion: This involves lifting the toes up towards the shin and is commonly used when we walk or run, and most often the source of limited mobility.

Dorsiflexion – Image from Shutterstock

Plantar Flexion: This involves pointing the toes away from the shin and is used when we push off the ground when walking or running.

Plantar Flexion – Image from Shutterstock

Inversion: This is where the sole of the foot turns inwards and is used when we turn or pivot on our feet.

Eversion: This is where the sole of the foot turns outwards and is used when we turn or pivot on our feet.

Inversion and Eversion – Image from Shutterstock

Ankle Muscles

The muscles that affect ankle mobility include the gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis anterior, tibialis posterior, peroneus longus, peroneus brevis, and flexor hallucis longus. These muscles work together to help the ankle bend, straighten, and rotate. Each muscle contributes to both stabilizing and moving your ankle joint.

Ankle Muscles – Image from Shutterstock

Typical Causes of Reduced Ankle Mobility

Compromised ankle mobility can follow injuries or other movement-related incidents and also medical conditions like plantar fasciitis and hallux, as explained below. Although stretching exercises can improve flexibility in the foot and ankle, some conditions need medical care, and, in some cases, surgical intervention.

Ankle Injury – Image from Shutterstock
  1. Ankle sprains or strains: Sprains and strains are the most common cause of poor ankle mobility. These injuries occur when the ligaments or tendons around the ankle are stretched or torn, resulting in tightness and decreased range of motion.

  2. Postural adaptations and adaptive changes: Poor ankle mobility can be caused by postural adaptations and modifications. Taking part in activities such as running and jumping frequently or wearing high heels often can additionally restrict ankle mobility. This is a result of modifications to the anterior talofibular ligament, which connects the ankle's large bone to the fibula.

  3. Arthritis: Arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, can cause pain and stiffness in the ankle joint. This can lead to a decrease in the range of motion and difficulty with some movements.

  4. Scar tissue: Scar tissue, which forms after an injury, can restrict movement in the ankle joint.

  5. Weak muscles: Weak muscles around the ankle can lead to decreased range of motion and instability. However, strong calves are equally important, so including calf stretches is a wise move.

  6. Overuse: Overuse of the ankle joint, such as excessive training, can lead to pain and tightness, resulting in poor mobility.

  7. Plantar Fasciitis: Having limited ankle mobility can increase your risk of developing plantar fasciitis. Poor ankle mobility can lead to excessive pronation, which causes the plantar fascia to become overstretched and irritated, leading to plantar fasciitis. It is important to address plantar fasciitis as soon as possible to prevent the condition from worsening. If you are experiencing heel pain, it is a good idea to see a doctor or a physical therapist for an evaluation and treatment recommendations.

Big Toe’s Role in Ankle Mobility

The big toe, or hallux, plays a significant role in ankle mobility. The ankle joint allows for movement in several planes, including plantar flexion and dorsiflexion (movement of the foot towards or away from the shin), inversion, and eversion (movement of the foot towards or away from the midline of the body), and abduction and adduction (movement of the foot away from or towards the center of the body). The big toe joint (the metatarsophalangeal joint) is responsible for flexion and extension, which allows the big toe to move up and down.

Big Toe – Image from Shutterstock

During the movement or gait cycle, the big toe helps to push off and propel the body forward. To do this effectively, the big toe must be able to move freely. If the big toe is limited in its mobility, it can affect the motion of the ankle joint and potentially cause problems with gait.

Conditions that can affect the mobility of the big toe and, in turn, the ankle joint include:

  • Bunions: A bunion is a bony bump that develops on the side of the big toe. It can cause the big toe to point toward the other toes, which can lead to limited mobility.

  • Hammertoe: A hammertoe is a deformity of the toe in which the toe is bent at the middle joint, causing it to resemble a hammer. It can cause limited mobility of the toe and problems with gait.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that can cause inflammation and damage to the joints, including the big toe joint.

Treatment for conditions that affect the mobility of the big toe and ankle joint may include medication, physical therapy, and in severe cases, surgery.

Anyone with chronic ankle instability would be advised to seek certified personal trainers and medical professionals to ensure the safety of their workouts.

What are the Benefits of Strong Ankles?

Limited ankle mobility can cause difficulty with everyday activities, such as walking, running, and climbing stairs. It poses increased risks of falls and further injury. It can also cause pain and discomfort while performing activities or sitting or standing for long periods. Limited ankle mobility can also affect an individual's ability to participate in sports or recreational activities.

Flexible ankles – Image from Shutterstock

The benefits of ankle mobility are listed below.

Improved balance and stability: Improved ankle mobility helps to prevent falls and injuries by improving balance and stability.

Increased power: Improved ankle mobility increases the range of motion in the ankle joint, allowing for greater power production while running, jumping, and cutting.

Enhanced agility: Improved ankle mobility increases the efficiency of movement and agility, allowing athletes to move quicker and more efficiently.

Reduced risk of injury: Improved ankle mobility reduces the risk of ankle sprains, strains, and other overuse injuries.

Improved running mechanics: Improved ankle mobility can help to improve running mechanics, resulting in greater efficiency and speed.

Increased flexibility: Improved ankle mobility helps to increase flexibility, which can help to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.

Ankle Mobility Test

Typical indicators of restricted ankle mobility are tightness behind your ankle and experiencing a pinch in the front of your ankle joint. It is a good idea to test your ankle mobility regularly.

Here’s how to do it:

The knee-to-wall test is an excellent way to assess ankle mobility. The aim of the test is two-fold. Firstly, you want to test overall ankle mobility, and secondly, it will let you know if one ankle is less mobile and flexible than the other.

Here’s how to perform the knee-to-wall test:

  1. Stand facing a wall, with your hands on the wall for balance.

  2. Place the big toe of your left foot about 4 inches away from the wall.

  3. Lean forward and place your weight on the left foot, placed flat on the floor.

  4. Ensure that your other leg remains neutral throughout.

  5. Flex your left knee and lean forward to touch the wall with your left knee without lifting your heel off the floor.

  6. If you can’t do that, slide the foot forward until the knee touches the wall.

  7. If you manage that without discomfort, slide your foot further back until you reach the limit of the distance without lifting your heel.

  8. Measure the distance from the wall to the tip of the longest toe.

  9. Repeat the process with your right foot. This will indicate imbalances in the mobility of your left and right ankles.

The normal range of motion in the ankle joint is around 2–6 inches of plantar flexion (pointing the toes downward). However, the dorsiflexion range of motion can vary depending on factors such as age, muscle strength, and flexibility.

The knee-to-wall test is just one aspect of a comprehensive functional movement assessment.

If you're concerned about your ankle mobility, it's a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional for a more thorough evaluation.

If you can do this exercise without allowing your knee to move sideways or your heel to come off the floor, then you possess the essential ankle mobility for doing lower-body workouts. If not, you should be advised to exercise to improve ankle mobility.

It is essential to periodically check the results of ankle mobility exercises using the knee-to-wall test. If there is no improvement in the distance managed on your previous test, then you should look for a trained specialist like a certified personal trainer, sports chiropractor, athletic trainer, or massage therapist who can administer manual therapy. While this may mean having to alter some movements for the sake of avoiding injury, training can still be done.

Exercises to Improve Ankle Mobility

Squatting and hip hinging are excellent exercises for boosting power, strength, and injury resistance. Any version of a squat, deadlift, or lunge can often be found in most training plans, whether they are for Olympic athletes or just for fitness enthusiasts.

When performed correctly, they can improve the majority of people's workout regimens.

One thing these enduring movements share is the requirement for precise and stable ankle motion, making ankle-strengthening exercises vital.

Exercises that focus on building strength and power through the hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, and gluteal muscles are beneficial; however, the ankle is an area of the lower body that is frequently overlooked. If the motion of the ankle is not properly addressed, it can lead to either positive or negative changes in the entire kinetic chain.

And remember, the best way to prevent ankle problems is to warm up. Always do pre-workout and post-workout stretches and remain hydrated throughout exercise sessions because rehydration and electrolyte replacement are vital.

Below is a list of the 10 best ankle mobility exercises to avoid injury and build strength.

1. Ankle Flexion (dorsiflexion)

  1. Attach a resistance band to a sturdy object at ankle height.

  2. Stand facing the band with your foot about six inches away from the band and your toes pointed forward.

  3. Place the center of the band around the top of your foot, just below your toes.

  4. Hold the ends of the band in each hand.

  5. Slowly pull the band to bend your ankles as you bring your toes toward your shins.

  6. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly release and return to the starting position.

  7. Do 10 to 15 reps.

Increase the resistance of the band as you get stronger.

Flexion Exercise – Image from Shutterstock

2. Standing Heel Raises

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes facing forward. You can place your hands on a wall or chair back for stability.

  2. Slowly raise your heels off the floor as high as you can, keeping your toes planted firmly on the floor.

  3. Hold the position for a few seconds and then slowly lower your heels back to the floor.

  4. Do 10 to 15 reps for one set.

  5. Take a short break and then do 2 to 3 more sets.

Slowly increase the number of sets and the number of repetitions as your ankle mobility improves.

Heel Raises – Image from Shutterstock

3. Toe-Heel Raises on a Platform

  1. Stand on a raised platform, such as a step or box. Position your feet so that the balls of your feet are on the edge of the platform.

  2. Lift your heels off the platform and balance on your toes.

  3. Hold this position for a few seconds and then lower your heels back down to the platform.

  4. Keep your hips and knees straight throughout the exercise.

  5. Repeat the exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions per set.

Do 2 or 3 sets with brief rest intervals.

4. Toe-Heel Walks

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  2. Slowly shift your weight onto your toes, allowing your heels to lift off the ground.

  3. Walk 10 to 15 steps on your toes.

  4. Pause for a few seconds and then slowly shift your weight back onto your heels, allowing your toes to lift off the ground.

  5. Walk back to your starting position on your heels.

  6. This concludes one rep.

  7. Pause for a few seconds and repeat 3 or 4 reps.

Repeat the exercise two to three times per day.

Once you become comfortable with the exercise, you can progress to larger steps and more reps.

Heel Walk – Image by Shutterstock

5. Chair Pose

You can do this with your back against a wall for support.

The chair pose (utkatasana) is a yoga pose that can help improve ankle mobility.

  1. Stand with your feet about hip-distance apart, with your arms by your sides.

  2. Engage your core and lift your heels off the ground, as if you are standing on your tiptoes.

  3. Bend your knees and lower your hips as if you are sitting back in an imaginary chair behind you. Keep your arms by your sides, or lift them above your head in line with your ears.

  4. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to a minute, then slowly straighten your legs and lower your heels back to the ground.

Chair Pose - Image from Shutterstock

As you hold the chair pose, try to focus on keeping your weight evenly distributed across both feet and pressing down through your heels. This will help to stretch and strengthen the muscles and connective tissue in your ankles.

It's important to listen to your body and only go as far as is comfortable in the pose. If you experience pain or discomfort in your ankles, knees, or hips, stop the pose and speak with a healthcare professional for guidance.

6. Lunges

  1. Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, and your arms at your sides.

  2. Take a big step forward with your right foot and lower your body, so your front knee is bent 90 degrees. Make sure your knee does not pass your toes.

  3. Keep your back straight, and press through your right heel as you push your body back up to the starting position.

  4. Repeat the same movement with your left leg.

  5. Continue alternating legs for 8 to 12 reps.

You can do this standing in one position, or do walking lunges by moving forward with each giant step you take.

To increase the intensity, you can add weights or use a resistance band.


Lunge – Image from Shutterstock

7. Ankle Alphabet

This is a similar ankle stretch to ankle circles, except it is a bit less boring. Sit on a chair or a bed with your feet dangling off the edge, or increase the challenge by doing this exercise while standing on one leg.

Use the big toe on your right foot as a “pencil” to draw each alphabet letter in the air.

Concentrate on the movement of your ankle and foot instead of your entire leg.

Repeat drawing the letters of the alphabet with the big toe on your left foot.

Repeat the range of motion 2 or 3 times with each foot.

You can also do the exercise using both feet together if you do it while sitting down.

This video demonstrates how to perform the ankle alphabet exercise and ankle jumps.

8. Jumps

Limited ankle mobility can impair functional movement patterns like squatting  and  landing from a jump. Therefore, including some jumps in your ankle-mobility workouts is essential.

Ankle Jumps

  1. Stand with your feet slightly apart and place your hands on your hips.

  2. Jump up, keeping your knees straight, and flex your ankles toward you, pulling your toes toward your shins in the air.

  3. Return your feet to the normal ankle position before landing.

  4. Jump again by pushing the balls of your feet into the floor with an explosive movement.

  5. Aim to keep your feet on the floor for as little time as possible.

  6. Do 3 sets of 10 to 20 reps.

Single and Double Leg Hops

The simplest ankle mobility exercises to improve landing strength involve jumping. You can do some jumps on one leg to promote single-leg balance, and some on both legs, and you can add a jumping rope if you wish.

  1. Stand with feet apart, back straight, and arms at your sides.

  2. Jump up, raising your arms.

  3. Do 10 reps of single and 10 reps of double-leg jumps, for the desired number of sets.

Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) Exercises

Finally, self-myofascial release (SMR) exercises are equally important as a part of maintaining ankle mobility, and numbers 9 and 10 of our 10 best ankle mobility exercises involve foam rolling.

SMRs are exercises that involve using a foam roller, massage ball, or another tool to apply pressure to the body’s soft tissues, such as the muscles, fascia, and tendons. The goal of SMR is to release tension and restore balance in the body’s muscles, fascia, and other soft tissues. SMR exercises can help to reduce muscle tension, improve flexibility, and provide relief from ankle pain.

Foam Roller Ankle Exercise – Image from Shutterstock

9. Calf Roll

Your calf muscles play a significant role in ankle mobility. SMR (self-myofascial release) calf roll is a form of self-massage that can help to loosen tight muscles and improve flexibility in the calves.

  1. Place a foam roller on the floor.

  2. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and place the foam roller under one calf.

  3. Cross the other leg over the top of the foam roller.

  4. Use your hands to support your weight as you slowly roll the foam roller back and forth from the top of the calf to the ankle.

  5. Spend a little extra time on any particularly tight or sore spots.

  6. Repeat the process on the other calf.

10. Ankle Roll

  1. Place a foam roller on the Floor.

  2. Sit on the ground with your legs extended in front of you and place the foam roller under one ankle.

  3. Cross the other leg over the top of the foam roller.

  4. Use your hands to support your weight as you slowly roll the foam roller back and forth from the top of the ankle to the heel.

  5. Do 2 or 3 rolls up and down the back of your leg, then turn your foot outward to roll the side, and then inward to roll the inside of your ankle.

  6. Continue alternating the three areas until you’ve done about 10 to 12 rolls on each side of the ankle.

  7. Spend a little extra time on any particularly tight or sore spots.

  8. Repeat the process on the other ankle.

SMR calf and ankle rolls are relatively simple exercises that can be done at home, but it's important to use caution and stop if you experience any pain or discomfort. If you're unsure about how to perform the exercise or have any pre-existing injuries, it's a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional for guidance.

In a Nutshell

Ankle mobility exercises are a great way to build strength, improve balance, and prevent injury. Whether you are a beginner looking to improve your ankle strength and flexibility, or a seasoned athlete wanting to increase your performance, these 10 exercises can help you meet your goals. With regular practice and proper form, you may be rid of weak ankles and be on your way to stronger and healthier ankles soon.