Master These Supereasy Ankle Exercises to Strengthen Your Posterior Chain

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I had run dozens of races, logged hundreds of miles, and there I stood on the corner of the sidewalk barely able to walk the 20 minutes it would take to get home. I will never forget the pain I felt in my ankles — both of my ankles — as I hobbled to hail a cab to take me home. I was convinced I had somehow managed to break and sprain both ankles at the same time.

After visits to a podiatrist and a physical therapist, I learned that I was perfectly fine. I just had weak ankles. I was floored. How could I have weak anything? I ran every day. But it turns out, that was just the problem. I was asking my body to perform intense workouts without properly strengthening it in the areas it needed most during these long runs. And while a few rounds of physical therapy at the time helped me recover, admittedly, I stopped really thinking about my ankles until the other day, when I felt a familiar pain creeping into both ankles. I realized that although I've had to adjust my training schedule to be socially distant and primarily at home, and I've since adopted training-specific footwear such as the Under Armour HOVR™ Sonic 3 Running Shoes ($110), I had yet again neglected strengthening my feet and ankles.

To figure out what I could do to target those neglected body parts, I turned to Daniel Giordano, PT, DPT, CSCS, at Bespoke Treatments. He explained that for 60 percent of your gait (the way you walk), you're in a single stance. Therefore, opting for workouts that strengthen the entire posterior chain — the muscles on the backside of the body that run the entire length and include glutes, hamstrings, calves, etc. — is extremely important. Most notably, workouts that force you to become strong in the single-leg position from your hips to your feet are beneficial, he said.

"Stronger hips will improve your propulsive force through hip extension," he said. "It will also decrease forces on distal joints, which may decrease your risk of injury." Basically, I should focus on strong hips and posterior muscles to take a lot of the pressure off my joints and ultimately keep me training smarter.

To do just that, Giordano shared five moves that can be done from home. The star of this workout is the single-leg deadlift, or SL deadlift, which can challenge your feet's intrinsic muscles and strengthen your ankles and feet, explained Giordano. Perform two or three sets of 10-15 reps on each leg with minimal rest in between. Lastly, add the following movements into your training program two or three days per week to help build foot and single-leg strength and stability.

SL Deadlift

  • Perform this move with your shoes off and maintain ground contact with all points of the feet.
  • Begin standing up straight, feet shoulder width apart. Hold a kettlebell or light dumbbell, or opt for no weight if you just want to practice the flow.
  • Hinge at the hip and extend one leg behind you.
  • As you bend, reach down with the hand that is holding the weight toward the floor, keeping your back flat the entire time.
  • SL Deadlift With Opposite-Side Hand Crossover Reach

  • Repeat the same motion above, except when you reach toward the ground, cross over to your opposite foot with the hand that is holding the weight.
  • SL Deadlift With Same-Side Hand Crossover Reach

  • Perform the same motion above, except hinge at the hip and reach over your foot toward your midline with the hand that's on the same side as your foot on the floor.
  • Squats on Toes

  • Start with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Raise your heels so you're on your toes.
  • Push your butt down and back and squat, then return to the starting position.
  • Soleus Heel Raises (Knees Bent)

  • Start with feet shoulder width apart.
  • Bend your knees and raise your heels, getting onto your toes.
  • Pause at the top for three seconds, then return to the starting position.