Five exercises to sprain-proof your ankles

In my last post, I wrote about how low top basketball shoes can actually be better and safer for you, specifically for the health of your knee. In a nutshell, low top shoes provide more mobility to the ankle. This saves the knee from compensating for the lack of ankle mobility. Of course, no one wants to get ankle sprains in sports, most specially basketball, but the way we have tried to prevent this is through wearing high top shoes or with layers upon layers of tape and straps. Sure these straps work, but they shouldn’t be the end-all strategy for preventing ankle sprains. The better way is to strengthen the ankle joint while making sure it doesn’t lose its range of motion.

But before we get to the exercises, let’s get to know the ankle a little better. Simply put, the ankle is where the leg and the foot meet. The leg has two long bones: the tibia and the fibula. These two bones meet at the foot with the Talus bone, one of several Tarsal bones found on the foot and the one usually referred to as the true ankle joint. Keeping these bones together are numerous ligaments, tendons, muscles, and fascia which all work together to provide stability but more importantly, movement for the ankle joint.

There are four basic movements that the ankle joint can do. Plantar flexion is when we point our toes forward, dorsiflexion is when we bring our toes closer to our leg, inversion is when we point our toes inward and eversion is when we point our toes outward. Most ankle sprains happen when there is excessive inversion which causes one of the ligaments to experience microtears or in some cases,complete tears. This is what we want to avoid and I'll show you how.

Prepare the Soleus and Achilles

First we need to make sure that there is also enough flexibility in the calf and Achilles tendon, we do this by this simple stretch I learned from renowned functional trainer, Gray Cook. Simply go on a lunge position with one foot a few inches from a wall. While keeping the entire foot in contact with the floor, bring your knee towards the wall until it touches. Bring it back and repeat the movement for 10 times going to the middle, 10 times towards the big toe side, and 10 times towards the little toe side. Once your flexibility improves, you can move an inch or two back as long as your foot remains in contact with the floor.

Then we add some mobility and joint preparation drills that I learned from movement specialist Ido Portal. This guy is an athletic freak and if you don't believe me, check out this video of him doing some crazy stuff. Ido is eccentric and outspoken, but he knows his stuff. He always says that "imperfect alignment is a certainty, not a possibility." What he means is that in everyday life, there is a possibility for us to get into improper alignments which can lead to injuries like ankle sprains. So his method dictates that to you must be prepared for when this improper alignment happens by getting used to it in training. The following exercises came from my time in his seminar and I still use it for today especially for basketball players.

Ankle Series

This routine not only strengthens the ankle, it also improves "proprioception", which is like the sixth sense of the body or how we are aware of our body position in space. This can be improved through balance and stability work like the ones that fill follow, and reaction drills. We will be taking the ankle through a series of movements to strengthen it and prepare it for improper alignment.

I did these drills on shoes but you can also do it on bare feet.

First we rise up on and balance on our toes for 10 times. On the 10th time, take 10 steps forward while on your toes, and 10 steps back.

Then rock back to your heels for 10 times then walk forward on your heels for 10 steps, and back for another 10. Things will start to get interesting from here on out.

Now we will balance on the lateral aspect of your foot and do it for 10 times. Then walk forward while in the lateral aspect for 10 steps, and then back. You read that right.

Finally we will balance on the medial aspect of your foot for 10 times, then walk forward and backward on that same medial aspect. If you don't feel awkward while doing this then that's great for you. In any case, it's still important.

Do these exercises every other day or more if you can, before your workouts especially if you are going to do a lot of dynamic, multiplanar work like agility and speed drills. Do it enough and it should make your ankles sprain proof. Don't take my word for it, see for yourself.

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Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.