Although you may not give much thought to your joints in your quest for a toned, healthy body, Weak knees and ankles can wreak havoc on your fitness routine. Sprains, strains, tears and pain can cause falls and reduce the amount of time you're able to spend exercising. It may seem tedious, but spending a few minutes strengthening these important joints before your workout routine can save you from the agony of joint pain.
You might be pressed for time or in a rush to get to the most intense part of your workout. But a proper warm-up ensures your muscles are working smoothly, and makes stretching safer and more effective. A warm-up doesn't have to be complex or time-consuming. Simply walk, bike at a slow pace or engage in other low-intensity exercise for five to 10 minutes.
A proper stretching routine decreases your likelihood of overextending your muscles and can help reduce joint pain during exercise. To stretch ankles, sit on the floor with one leg extended and elevated slightly off the ground. Use your hands or a stool to support the weight of your leg. Rotate your foot clockwise five to 10 times, then rotate it counterclockwise. Repeat on the other leg. Then sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you. Point your toes forward, then flex them backward as far as they can comfortably go. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Good knee stretches stretch the muscles immediately surrounding the knee, enabling them to support the movement of this important joint. Stretch your quadriceps by standing up straight and holding onto a wall or table for support if necessary. Bend the knee of one leg and grab your ankle with one hand, slowly pulling your knee back as far as it will comfortably go. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg. Stretch your hamstrings by sitting on the ground with your legs extended straight out and flat on the ground. Bend over to touch your toes -- or as close as you can get to them -- and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat five to 10 times.
A ball squat can greatly improve the strength of your knees. Put an exercise ball between your thighs and squeeze the ball while lowering your body into a squat. Your knees should be bent at 90 degrees at the end of this squat. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat five to 10 times. You may need to use a table or wall to support yourself.
A leg lift can strengthen the quadriceps, which may improve knee strength. Lie on your back with your left leg bent and your foot flat on the ground. Keep the right leg straight, then gradually raise it 10 to 15 inches off the ground. Hold the lift for five seconds, then slowly lower your leg and repeat on the other side. Perform five to 10 reps on each leg.
Ankle exercises tone the muscles surrounding your ankles. Stand a foot or two away from a wall and then bend one knee, pushing it toward the wall with your foot flat on the ground, until it touches the wall. Hold for five seconds then repeat on the other side. Aim for five to 10 reps on each leg. Next, stand on one leg and hold for 30 seconds. To add difficulty to this exercise, try tracing the alphabet with the ankle of the leg that is off the ground.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.