Stretches to Improve Your Ankle Flexibility

When it comes to your ability to move, nearly everything you do hinges on the ankle’s flexibility. Hinge is an appropriate term as well—as a hinge joint, the ankle only moves on the sagittal (forward and backward) plane. The movement is split into two directions: plantarflexion (pointing your toes like a ballerina) and dorsiflexion (pointing your toes up toward your knees).

For many athletes or frequent gym visitors, dorsiflexion is particularly important. For anyone with an active job, actually, it’s quite important—that’s because good dorsiflexion allows the shin to move forward slightly, allowing force to travel efficiently (and correctly) through the whole body into the ground. Since your ankles are solely responsible for carrying all of your weight, allowing force to travel through your feet efficiently can save you from accidental overexertion or injury.

Unfortunately, dorsiflexion is often ignored. In fact, most of our ankles are naturally stretched to have excellent plantarflexion—consider how often you stand on your toes!—but few of us have effective dorsiflexion. Read below for some simple stretches you can do to improve your dorsiflexion and keep your ankle from injury or uneven weight distribution.

These are arranged by their level of difficulty—but even if you can do an advanced stretch, be sure to warm up into it. It’s never a bad idea to do all of these in order after a strenuous day on your feet.

#1: (Beginner) The Floor Stretch

This is a simple stretch to get you started, especially if your ankles are fairly tight or you’re entering a new gym routine.

  1. Lie flat on the floor with your feet against a wall.
  2. Keep your legs and back flat on the floor, palms up and at your sides.
  3. Stretch your toes and the ball of your foot away from the wall.
  4. Maintain contact between the wall and your heels at all times.
  5. Try to get at least an inch of distance from the wall.

#2: (Intermediate) The Wall Stretch

When you’ve conquered the first stretch, move onto this one. Because this one involves putting weight on your ankle to stretch it, make sure your ankle is both warmed up and moderately flexible.

  1. Stand against a wall with your toes touching it.
  2. Slowly place your toes up on the wall (stretching your ankle).
  3. Continue increasing the angle until you feel the stretch.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds and lower your toes.
  5. Repeat 3 or 4 times.

#3: (Advanced) The Squat Stretch

This one requires a bit of complexity and form, but if your ankles are up to it, give it a try!

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder length apart.
  2. Slowly enter as deep a squat as you can manage.
  3. Keep your feet flat on the ground! Your shins and knees should be forward.
  4. Keep your back straight and your chest out.
  5. If your feet are flat on the ground, lean slightly to stretch each ankle further.

Bonus: The Dowel Stretch

This stretch isn’t about dorsiflexion per se, but it helps the ankle maintain a little lateral flexibility. Lateral flexibility will help you avoid spraining or rolling your ankle.

  1. Kneel with one leg, with the other leg’s foot placed flat on the floor.
  2. Hold a dowel (or any pole, really) vertically, placing one end on the outside of your knee and pinky toe.
  3. While keeping your foot flat, move your knee forward and to the other side of the dowel.
  4. This should result in your ankle slightly stretching to the side and forward, with the dowel in contact with the inside of your knee and the outside of your foot.
  5. Repeat on the other leg.

By doing these stretches regularly, you can make sure that your ankle is protected from sprains or strains. At the same time, you’ll be keeping your flexibility balanced and ensuring that your body bears weight evenly and from a stable position.

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Categories: Blog, Stretching