If you've ever spent a winter driving in Minnesota, you can appreciate the need for traction. When you're on ice, you can have all the horsepower in the world, but if your tires don't have traction with the road, you're going nowhere.
The human body is no different. You can have a ton of strength in your hips, but if you do not include ankle stability exercises in your training program, much of that power will never reach the ground. And, like a Honda Civic in 12 inches of snow, you'll be going nowhere quick.
Here are three important reasons not to neglect ankle stability exercises in your training routine.
You're Only as Strong as Your Weakest Link
The human body is one continuous chain of muscle, bone and connective tissue. Motion created at one joint can have positive or negative effects on the joints next to it. Virtually all movements are the result of multiple muscles and joints coordinating with each other to create fluid motion. If any of these links are weak, it will negatively effect all other links in the chain.
As you watch the following two slow-mo videos, notice how tension is initiated in the core/hips, travels down the leg, and is eventually released into the ground through the ankle/foot. Without strong ankles, energy will be unnecessarily lost and never reach the ground, which sabotages speed and power.
Ankle sprains are the most common injury in high school sports, accounting for one-sixth of all sports-related injuries. It only makes sense that an athlete should do all he/she can do to reduce the likelihood of experiencing one of these injuries.
Although it is impossible to eliminate all ankle sprains, by strengthening the muscles and tendons of the ankle, an athlete will be able to withstand more stress before suffering an injury.
The following videos demonstrate two great ankle strengthening exercises. You can perform each one for 30-40 feet for 2-3 sets.
Toe Walk With Plantarflexion
In practice, athletes often have time to adjust and set their feet before making their next move. In competition, this rarely happens. At game speed, with defenders in the way, athletes must be able to execute split-second reactions from various positions and body angles. By training your ankles to react faster, you can improve balance and power—and prevent ankle sprains.
A great way to improve your proprioception is to balance on one leg without shoes on. As you improve, you can add a head turn, closed eyes and a softer surface to increase the difficulty. Balance on each leg for 20-30 seconds for 2-3 sets.
Swenson D, Collins C, Fields S, Comstock R. "Epidemiology of U.S. High School Sports-Related Ligamentous Ankle Injuries," 2005/06-2010-11. Clin J Sport Med 2013;23(3):190-196.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock