Plie, straighten, releve, down -- it's a common refrain in dance studios across the globe, from Bangkok to Brooklyn. It's the sound of dancers beefing up the muscles that support their ankles. Whether you're into ballet or hip-hop, the ankle work you do in dance class isn't always enough. With every tilt, pivet, turn and glissade, you count on your ankles to carry you through, so it makes sense to invest in their health. It only takes a few minutes between classes to boost strength in this vital joint.
Warm up and prepare your ankles for action with five minutes of light prancing around the room. Work through all areas of the feet, pointing through the ankles, metatarsals and toes. Keep your knees soft and really sink into your plié. Take hold of a barre or counter top and do a set of 12 to 15 slow relevé -- or calf raises -- in parallel first position. Add a tennis ball to the picture to make your relevé even more productive; tuck the ball between your ankles and keep it there as you lift and lower your heels. Gripping the ball prevents your ankles from rolling inward or outward in releve, which is great for alignment.
Grab a resistance band and hit the floor. Sit with your legs extended in front of you and your feet flexed. Loop a resistance band around the ball of your right foot and pull back on the "reins" to remove slack. Push the ball of the foot into the band, slowly articulating through all the parts of the foot until it’s fully pointed. Relax the foot briefly and then repeat 12 to 15 times for a total of two to four sets. Switch feet and repeat on your left side.
Loop the band around your right foot again, but pass the reins to your right hand. Pull to the right until the band is taut. Leading with your big toe, press your forefoot to the left, working against the band's resistance. Release briefly, and then repeat 12 to 15 times for a total of two to four sets. Pass the reins to your left hand and tug to the left. Leading with your pinky toe, press your forefoot to the right, away from your body's midline. Repeat 12 to 15 times for a total of two to four sets. Switch to your left foot and repeat the two-step sequence.
Stand with your feet parallel, shift directly back onto your heels and take a walk on the wild side. Walk forward on your heels for about 30 seconds, taking small, quick steps. Take a 30-second break, and then repeat the heel walk with your toes angled inward. Take another half-minute break and then repeat the walk with your toes angled outward.
Use proprioceptive, or balance training, exercises to fire up your ankle stabilizers. Stand on one foot with the other leg bent. Balance for 30 seconds or up to several minutes. Remarkably, your working ankle will automatically respond as your weight shifts slightly, making thousands of tiny adjustments to keep you from falling over. When you master the "stork stand," try it with your eyes closed. If you're feeling really brave, rise onto one-legged relevé, bend into one-legged plie or move the exercise onto a wobble board.
- The Ballet Companion; Eliza Gaynor Minden
- Dance Magazine: Pre-Pointe Conditioning Exercises
- Washington Running Report: Sports Medicine -- Five Strengthening Exercises for the Foot and Ankle
- Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology; Karen S. Clippinger
- Harkness Center for Dance Injuries: The Foot and Ankle
- Stretch out your ankles after working them to promote flexibility. Sit in a chair, raise your right foot slightly off the floor and slowly rotate the foot 10 times in a clockwise direction. Reverse the rotational direction, and then switch to your left foot.
- If you experience ankle pain or swelling when you dance or exercise, stop immediately and consult with a doctor.
- If you’ve injured your ankle in the past, you might be more susceptible to reinjury. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if specific ankle exercises are advisable.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.