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  • Writer's pictureSarah Barbosa

Creating Better Ankle Stability for Gymnasts: A Quick Fix and Effective Exercises

In a sport where every balance check matters, and where ankles take a beating on the daily, ankle stability is crucial for gymnasts. Enhancing ankle stability not only helps in preventing injuries but also ensures better performance during more complex skills. Here's a guide to creating better ankle stability with a focus on a quick technique fix and some essential exercises.


Quick Fix: Focus on Relevé Over the Second Toe


One common technique flaw that can affect ankle stability is improper alignment during relevé (going up on to your toes). It's a move gymnasts do all the time but may not put much thought into it.


What's the optimal alignment?


Gymnasts should focus on placing their weight over their second toe. This simple adjustment better aligns the foot and activates more muscles near the calves. It can strengthen the muscles that are commonly "rolled" and lead to sprains.


Releve position optimal alignment

They should notice an immediate increase in steadiness.


Now onto the not so "quick" fixes but likely more important...

Essential Exercises for Ankle Stability




1.Arch Lifts

Arch lift exercise

Arch lifts are great for strengthening the small muscles within the foot and lower leg, which support the arch and add to overall foot stability. To perform an arch lift, stand with your feet flat on the ground and think about creating a cave under your foot, or shortening the distance between your heel and the ball of your big toe. It's important to keep the ball of the foot down on the ground.


2. Single Leg Balance with Arch Lift

Challenging Single Leg Balance Exercise

Once you master how to do an arch lift, the next step is to perform it while doing another standing exercise, such as balancing on one leg, or the single leg RDL that I love so much for gymnasts (click HERE to check out the blog post all about that exercise).


By mastering keeping your arch lifted while balancing on one leg, you will create a stable foot position which then prevents your knee from wobbling.


A really challenging balance exercise is the 'Single leg balance - around the world pass'. Stand on a balance pad/ cushion / mat, and slowly pass a small weight around your body. The changes in weight distribution will make your foot respond like crazy to keep your balance.


3. Ankle Eversion

Ankle Eversion with Band

Place a band around your foot and anchor the band to your other leg in order to push your working ankle out into the band. This works the outer lower leg muscles that cross the ankle joint. They provide side to side stability of the ankle and are commonly injured when you roll your ankle. Be sure to only move the ankle and not the entire leg!


4. Calf Raises


Calf raises are essential for gymnasts. Having strong calves builds power, helps absorb landing forces and adds to the overall stability of the ankle. There are so many different variations you can do:

  • single leg vs. double leg

  • straight knee vs. bent knee

  • changing up the surface

  • adding weight


Straight vs bent knee calf raises work slightly different muscles (gastroc vs. the soleus, respectively). Since gymnasts use their ankles in both a bent and straight knee position, both variations should be worked on.

Here's some variations:



5. Toe Raises

Toe Raises against wall Exercise

Working the front of the ankle may not seem as crucial, but those muscles have to kick in fast when running for vault or landing a skill (particularly back tumbling). They also provide a roll in overall stability and balance of the ankle joint so it is important to include these!


6. Core and Hip Strengthening


Having good stability from the feet isn't an isolated task. It requires strong hips and core. The reason being is that the core controls the position of the pelvis and acts together with the hips, which then control the alignment of the rest of the lower leg.


Here's something you can do real quickly. Stand up, relaxed. Then, squeeze your butt. See what it does to your feet. Your feet should turn out and your arches should lift. See video below for proof!



Strengthening the glutes and core should be included to improve ankle stability.


Stay tuned for more content on this.


Conclusion

Improving ankle stability is key to a gymnast's success and safety. By focusing on the quick fix of aligning relevé over the second toe and incorporating targeted exercises, gymnasts can enhance their stability, help to minimize injury risk, and make for more polished routines.


Disclaimer: This article and associated videos/pictures are to offer general information on ankle stability. It is not meant to diagnose or treat and injury. If you are looking for help with a specific injury, and are in the NJ area, click here contact me for an in-person evaluation for an assessment and treatment specific to YOU.


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