At its best, skating can be an artistic exercise. After all, are any athletes more graceful than Olympic figure skaters? But whether you want to be a figure skater, a hockey player or just enjoy skating recreationally, you need strong ankles to move those skates in the right directions. If you don’t want everyone to see your legs bend awkwardly the next time you hit the ice, spend some time building up your ankles.
Begin your program with some stretching. Place both hands at shoulder level against a wall, with your arms extended. Set your left foot just in front of the wall and your right foot about a stride-length behind you. Point both feet toward the wall and flex both knees. Bend forward from the front knee until you feel a stretch in your right calf. Stretch different muscles by extending your rear leg until your knee is straight. Hold both stretches for 15 seconds and perform them with both legs.
Walk on your heels and toes. Walk for 30 steps with only your heels touching the ground and your toes pointed up. Then take 30 more steps while balancing on the balls of your feet with your heels in the air to complete one repetition. Work up to three repetitions. In either case, balance your weight evenly across the part of your shoe that touches the ground. Twisting your foot to the right or left can result in an injury.
Develop your dorsiflexor muscles. The muscles that allow you to flex your ankle upward -- including the tibialis anterior, the extensor hallucis longus and the extensor digitorum longus -- may be weak because your skate’s boot helps support those muscles when you’re on the ice. To strengthen these muscles, perform the aptly-named “skater” exercise. Attach an ankle cuff directly to an exercise machine’s low cable. Bend 45 degrees forward from your hips and hold onto the machine’s frame. Place your feet close together, flex your knees, then raise the ankle with the cuff straight up about 12 inches. If your right ankle is cuffed, move your cuffed leg back and a bit to the right. Extend your hip and knee completely and rotate your knee and foot together toward the right. Return your leg slowly to the starting position. Perform the desired number of reps -- try to start with at least eight -- then repeat the exercise with your opposite leg.
Sit on a bench with one ankle extended just past the edge. Point your toes away from the bench and imagine that spot as the bottom-center point of a small circle. Move your toes clockwise around the imaginary circle’s circumference for 15 seconds, then rotate counterclockwise for 15 seconds. Repeat the exercise, but form a larger circle, then do the same with your opposite foot.
Stand erect behind the back of a chair with your feet about hip-width apart and your knees straight. Raise yourself onto the balls of your feet and maintain your position for two seconds. Slowly lower your heels to the ground to complete one rep. Work up to two sets of 10 reps. When you’re comfortable with the exercise, raise yourself with one foot, while lifting the second foot in the air completely.
- California State University, Chico: Ankle Strengthening Program
- University of Glasgow: The Ankle
- Sports Medicine Center; Figure Skating Safety
- Anatomy of Exercise; Pat Manocchia
- Ankle exercises work just as well for inline skaters as they do for ice skaters.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.