Filed under: Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Health, Sports
Recently a question about ankles was asked on an ultra email forum. Here’s an edited version.
“Rolling ankles seemed to be a weekly thing. So just wondering if there are any specifics to the alphabet drawing feet. Sitting, standing, flatfooted or pointed toes? One of these or all of the above? I have already been messing with it and: 1. I have very uncoordinated feet and 2. I can already feel a little “work-out” going on, so this is very promising! Any specifics would be much appreciated. Whatever that I can do to help my running while at the office is a major victory!”
Most athletes know the importance of strong ankles. Whether a runner, adventure racer, triathlete, hikers, or walker, you’ll benefit from making your ankles stronger. I responded with some basic advice.
“I’d suggest a wobble board or balance board. The best ones are round. They have a rounded ball on the bottom and when you stand on them, you are forced to work your ankles as you try to keep you balance. They are very good at strengthening ankles. Keep one at home and the office. You can always alternate standing on one foot with your eyes closed and arms out. Depending on your sense of balance, that works the ankles too.”
The reference to the alphabet in the question is about using your toes and feet to write the letters of the alphabet. The motion of the writing the letters works the ankle. It’s a very effective exercise.
I also like the simple and no-cost method of working your ankles by standing on one foot, arms out to the side, and then closing your eyes. This is harder than it sounds but is also effective at strengthening your ankles.
FitterFirst has a great line of wobble boards. Here is some text from a wobble board page on their website.
Regardless of your age or ability, daily use of a balance board or wobble board is an asset to your fitness, health and well-being. Our Professional series wobble boards are made of a durable 3/4″ Baltic Birch and feature our patented Tri-Level adjustment system, which allows for a quick and easy change to any of the three difficulty levels. Simply spin the sphere and select which setting suits your balance ability and in seconds you can be working towards better S.A.M. (Stability, Agility, and Mobility). A patented dual level fulcrum allows the board to adjust from basic to advanced with a simple twist of the wrist. Try our wobble boards for daily balance maintenance at the office, while talking on the phone, or while watching television.
You will experience:
- Improved balance & coordination
- Heightened sense of body awareness
- Increased core strength & stability
Message from John: This guest blog post is the first of several parts about the AFX, the Ankle Foot maXimizer. This is a new strengthening system that enables you to strengthen the muscles and tendons of the entire foot and ankle complex.
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By Matt Ferguson, MA, Medical Technology Development Professional
I hate to be the bearer of bad news however, I have to tell you that despite the fact that you run / hike / adventure race / walk, chances are that you have very weak feet.
I know, I know, your first reaction is: ‘what? That is impossible! I have logged thousands of miles over all kinds of terrain, been blistered, battered and bruised, ripped more rubber off the bottom of shoes than most NASCAR drivers do off tires, and YOU are telling me my feet are weak?’
Yes, I am. And yes, they are.
You see, during the process of attaining those impressive achievements, you likely wore well-supported shoes that had a firm sole, and competed in one direction: forwards. Even if you have transitioned to minimalist / barefoot and you have a stronger ‘base’, logging all of those miles in a forward direction still means that you are likely relatively weak in toe flexion, lateral (side to side) and dorsiflexion (toes towards shin) movements.
Therefore, to stay injury-free and get the most out of your favorite sport, you need to be actively strengthening and stretching your feet and lower leg muscles. If not, you could be in for a world of hurt. That is, if you aren’t hurting already…. c’mon, how is that plantar fascia? Shin splits doing okay? Achilles flaring-up? And how about further up the kinetic chain with knees, hips and back?
The fact is that with over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, your feet and ankles can be an incredible source of strength, stability, balance, agility, and power. But they need to be strong and mobile.
Do We Really Have Weak Feet and Ankles?
So why am I so confident that you have weak feet? In addition to the scientific research, we see proof of weakness and limited range of motion every time we have a booth at a marathon or similar running event. We do hundreds of demos and the response from runners is always the same: they confidently strap on the AFX – Ankle Foot maXimizer and with smug pride easily perform ankle plantarflexion.
I smile, acknowledge they are “strong like bull” and then say (also smugly), ‘okay, for this rep I want you to curl your toes and arch your foot so that you engage the intrinsic muscles’. The first thing that we see is what the AFX team refers to affectionately as ‘that face’: the scrunched-up ‘OMG I forgot I had muscles there’ face.
Repeat this same process with scrunched-up face for lateral movements (inversion & eversion).
Then repeat it for dorsiflexion and toe extension.
Tongue-in-cheek commentary aside, the unfortunate fact is that most athletes have significant deficits in their foot and ankle strength, and range of motion. These weaknesses and limited range can cause a host of problems including the aforementioned (and dreaded) plantar fasciitis, shin splints, Achilles issues, ankle sprains, and the list goes on.
What to Do?
So what do you do? I gave you the bad news at the beginning of the article, so here is the good news: by adding some foot and ankle strengthening to your training and seeking a little bit of education, you have a much greater chance of staying injury free, and improving your performance.
Prior to the development of AFX, if you wanted to strengthen your feet and ankles you were resigned to using makeshift equipment and conducting modified movements on exercises equipment. Rubber banding that slid down the arch or flew off the foot, scrunching a towel with your toes, picking up marbles, etc. The end result was programs that were too complex, confusing and not effective.
The AFX was developed to not only address all these issues, but to also enable more advanced training such as eccentric loading and fast concentrics – all from one comfortable seated position!
Foot and Ankle Strengthening
We know that you want to be outside doing what you love vs. being inside doing a strengthening program, so we’ve made the AFX effective and as easy-to-use; 8 to10 minutes a foot three times a week… and it is even portable so you can strap it on to your hydration pack and do your reps on a mountain top! Add to your workout some simple barefoot exercises like 1-leg deadlift, side-to-side ankle hops, and balance exercises on a Bosu.
Foot and ankle health is also about biomechanics, and not just the biomechanics below the knee, but the pelvis and core play a huge roll. Spend some time with a qualified running specialist to see how you can improve your overall posture. This will not only help you stay injury free, but will also improve your efficiency which is critical for endurance sports.
So the next time you are about to lace-up those new fancy $100 – $200 shoes or boots, think about the feet you are sliding in to them. Are they strong? Are they mobile? In your quest for conquering new challenges and achieving PB’s, are you taking care of the two things that are going to carry you to glory? When you put AFX to work, you’re harnessing a source of strength you never knew you had.
About Progressive Health Innovations
Progressive Health Innovations develops user-friendly and affordable products for the rehabilitation, sports medicine and fitness markets. The first product line is the AFX, a foot and ankle-strengthening technology for the athletic training, injury prevention and physical rehabilitation markets. Developed over five years in close collaboration with practitioners and researchers across the health and fitness spectrum, the AFX is the brain-child of three inventors: Matt Ferguson, MA, Medical Technology Development Professional; Rick Hall, MSc., Kinesiologist; and Dr. Jordan Myers, Chiropractor.
John’s Disclosure: I have no financial interest in the AFX.