If you’re an athlete – a professional, an enthusiastic amateur or weekend warrior – you know all about fitness techniques and the need to protect your joints. But you may be neglecting one important body part – your ankles.
They take a pounding, whether your game is basketball, skydiving, hiking or skateboarding. And as a bloke, you’ve got heavier bones and more muscle than your more petite female counterparts, which increase their load.
Your bones are thicker, but consider the strain on your ankles when taking a crunching slide tackle in soccer, putting a foot out as you come off your mountain bike or making sudden changes in direction during a rugby match.
Ankles sorely neglected
Many blokes spend time in the gym, building upper body strength, but neglecting the collection of bones and sinews expected to cope with 100kg that come crashing down. And you won’t find many machines that build your ankles at your local gym.
But there are a number of ways you can strengthen them: one easy way is to build yourself a little seesaw with a couple of bricks and a sturdy plank about 90cm long. Put your feet on each end of the plank and pump up and down like you’re walking up a flight of stairs. Keep your hips over the centre of the board and don’t bend your knees too much.
The exercise strengthens the ligaments and tendons that hold the ankle structure in place.
But if you want an exercise that improves your entire posture and your muscle tone, it’s time to learn a couple of yoga moves.
The Hero Pose
The first is called the Virasana or Hero Pose, which requires you to sit on your knees, preferably, barefoot.
• Keep your feet slightly wider than hip distance, with the tops of your ankles resting on the floor.
• Put your hands on your calves and push gently outwards toward your heels. As your legs move apart, you’ll find your buttocks touching the floor.
• Keep your heels close to your hips and keep your toes pointing straight back, not out to the sides.
• If your buttocks don’t touch the floor, try putting a folded towel between your legs for your buttocks to rest on.
• You can then roll forward onto your hands and knees.
• The move is worth doing, because it increases the flexibility of the ankles, especially across the front, an area which is often taut because of the weight training many blokes do on their legs.
The Upward Plank Pose
Next, try the Purvottanansana, or the Upward Plank Pose:
• Start by sitting flat on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, with your feet together.
• Put both hands flat on the ground about 15cm behind you, with your fingers pointed straight towards your feet.
• Keeping your feet on the floor, lift your hips off the floor, pushing them upwards until your body is in a straight line from head to toe.
• Keep your shoulders above your hands rather than stretching too far forward or back.
• Now drop your head backwards so that you’re staring straight behind you. Take note of the position of your feet and try keeping them together, spread your toes, pressing them into the floor.
• If you feel any tension in your Achilles tendon, concentrate on relaxing it, or you won’t be able to get your toes flat.
• When you’re done, lower your buttocks to the floor again.
• Even if you have trouble pronouncing it, the Purvottanasana is excellent for building strength in both ankles. It also helps to even out their strength if one is weaker than the other.
• You might find the moves a little tricky at first, but that simply means there’s some tightness in the ankle that will benefit from the exercise.
- (William Smook)