How Strong Are Your Ankles? This Simple Test Will Tell You
Why Ankle Strength Matters
Ankles operate as critical stabilizers for balance and strength. Anyone who ever experienced a sprained ankle knows it can put you out of commission for anywhere from a few days to several weeks, and swelling can take months to reside. Strong ankles will not only help prevent ankle rolling and other injuries, but will also improve balance and provide a strong foundation for overall health. Unfortunately, ankle strength is often taken for granted and ignored until an injury forces us to come to terms with it.
How Strong are Your Ankles?
Do you know if your ankles are strong and resiliant or weak and prone to injury? Try these two simple tests to see how you rank, then read on for tips on how to maintain or improve ankle health.
TEST 1: Single Leg Balance
Measures Strength and Balance
Stand near a wall or counter that you can reach if you need help keeping your balance. Stand firmly planted on one foot and raise the other foot off the ground a few inches with your knee slightly bent. Try gently swinging your raised foot front and back, then side to side without losing your balance. Use the wall or touch your raised foot to the ground if you are in danger of falling. Time how long you can hold this position and check your score on the chart below. You only get points for the time you are completely balanced on one foot without touching the floor or wall. Repeat with the other leg, scoring the ankles on each leg separately.
|Hold <60 seconds with eyes open||1|
|Hold >60 seconds with eyes open||3|
|Age <30: Hold 30 seconds with eyes closed
Age 30-40: hold 20 seconds with eyes closed
Age 40-50: hold 12 seconds with eyes closed
Age 50-70: hold 8 seconds with eyes closed
TEST 2: Knee-to-Wall Test
Place a strip of tape on the ground 4 inches from a wall (place it parallel to the wall). Position the toes of one foot on the tape pointing straight to the wall. Place your other foot slightly behind and lean on the wall with your hands. Gently attempt to bend your front knee until it touches the wall without lifting your front heel off the ground. Do not jerk or bounce and keep your knee aligned with your foot. If you cannot touch the wall, wiggle your toes in until you find the distance from the wall that allows your knee to touch, then measure that distance and compare to the chart below. Repeat with other knee, scoring each ankle separately.
|Toe Distance from Wall||Points|
|Toes <2” from wall||1|
|Toes 2–4” from wall||3|
|Toes >4” from wall||5|
Check Your Score
Add the total points for each ankle (Left Ankle Test 1 + Left Ankle Test 2, then Right Ankle Test 1 + Right Ankle Test 2). Consult the chart below to see how each ankle ranks:
|10||You have strong, flexible ankles. Keep doing what you're doing!|
|7—9||You have a good base, but will want to maintain and improve. Exercises using both planted and non-planted techniques are appropriate.|
|4—6||Jumping or running could put you at risk of rolling or injuring your ankles. Work on adding in some daily ankle strengthening and stretching exercises using planted foot methods and re-test yourself in 3-4 weeks.|
|0—3||Working on strength and stretching are important to improve your balance and reduce risk of injury. Consider meeting with a PT while gently adding in exercises you can perform while sitting. Track your progress every 3-4 weeks.|
Making Ankles Stronger
There is good news for anyone looking to improve their ankle health: many strengthening activities can be done throughout your normal daily activites without even breaking a sweat. In time, these exercises can become unconscious healthy habits. Here are a few of our favorite exercises with ideas for when you can slip them into your day.
Point and Flex
An easy activity to do in bed right after waking up. As an added bonus, if you tend to feel groggy in the morning and have trouble getting out of bed then this exercise will also help you feel more awake.
While lying on your back, point toes on both feet away from your face until you feel a gentle stretch in your calves. Hold that stretch for 5 seconds. Next, flex both your feet and try to point your toes toward your face, again holding for 5 seconds. Do not overstretch and stop if you feel pain in your calves or feet. You can repeat this process as many times as you like while you enjoy waking up.
Squats can be done anytime throughout the day. The staff at the Softstar workshop do squats together on their daily work breaks (here's a fun video showing our staff doing a squat challenge on Halloween).
Squats are not only great for ankles, but also for strengthining glutes, leg muscles and core strength. Don't worry if you can't squat down far because this exercise can easily accommodate different strength levels.
To start, stand straight with your feet flat on the ground at least shoulder length apart (wider, if that is comfortable). Toes should point forward or a little away from each other. If you have weaker ankles then stand with a wall behind you for support. Lower yourself to the ground keeping your knees over your feet. Try to keep the weight on your heels instead of your toes (it helps to imagine sticking your butt out far behind you). It is also important to keep your head and shoulders upright. When rising, focus on flexing your glutes, not your knees, to pull your body up while keeping your back straight. If done correctly, you should not feel pain in your knees or back. Try for 5-10 normal squats with your feet pressed against the floor. If this becomes easy then try increasing the challenge by squatting further down or performing multiple sets.
Spell the Alphabet
Try this one while watching TV or sitting in your favorite chair.
Just as your teachers encouraged neat penmanship, this exercise is all about writing with precision and control. Cross your right leg over your left and “write” or trace the alphabet with your right ankle/ big toe. If you have time then try doing both lowercase and uppercase letters. The objective is to write neatly, not big or fast. Repeat with your other foot.
Single Foot Balance Challenge
Easy to do during standing activities, like brushing your teeth or preparing a meal in the kitchen.
Remember the first test above when you stood on one foot while gently swinging the other leg? This test also doubles as a terrific “do anywhere” strength and balance exercise. Simply standing on one leg for as long as you can will flex the muscles and tendons around your ankle, leading them to strengthen over time. You can easily add this healthy habit into your routine by leaving yourself a reminder post-it note at any workstation or location where you know you will be standing throughout the day. Try to build up to 2 minutes of balance time on a planted foot without touching the ground or other surface for support. If you scored a 7 or higher on the strength test above then you may want to increase the challenge by standing on a non-stable (but safe) surface, such as a balance board or wobble board. Doing so will challenge your body to stay balanced and further activate the muscles surrounding your ankle. Still too easy? Try closing your eyes.
Wear Minimal Footwear
Simply wearing healthy footwear will help you strengthen ankles all day long.
The most popular reason our customers choose minimal footwear is to improve their health. Strong feet mean your body has a solid foundation for balance and strength. While heavily cushioned shoes tend to act as crutches that prevent you from using all your foot muscles, minimal footwear encourages your feet to move and flex throughout their full and natural range. Many minimal footwear enthusiasts can easily score 7 or higher on the ankle strength test simply because their choice of shoes support healthy foot movement with every step... all day, every day. Healthy feet are our mission here at Softstar where our goal is to make our fans strong from the ground up.
Learn more about what makes shoes "minimal" and how minimal footwear may benefit you:
Trish has been an entrepreneur, marketer and maker ever since she crushed her first lemonade stand at age five. Growing up in rural Wisconsin, she spent many summers running barefoot with her sisters. These early memories later inspired her to build a brand which embraced the joy and freedom of childhood with the health and science of minimal footwear.
Trish relishes evolving the company to grow stronger and more competitive with each passing year. She is a frequent expert panelist for both e-commerce and entrepreneurship conferences. Trish enjoys spending time with her family, dogs and ducks on their property in Oregon and loves the proximity to both surf and snow. She has a background in Engineering Physics and an MBA from the University of Chicago.