5 Ankle Strengthening Drills for Gymnasts: Enhancing Strength and Stability

Strong and stable ankles are crucial for gymnasts, as they provide the foundation for various tumbling skills, jumps, leaps, and landings. Ankle strengthening drills not only improve athletic performance but also help prevent injuries. In this blog post, we will explore five effective ankle-strengthening exercises specifically designed for gymnasts. Each exercise targets different muscles or actions in the lower leg, enhancing strength, stability, and flexibility.

Before we dive in, if you work in gymnastics and are wanting 30 hours of lectures on strength, power, and flexibility, be sure to check out the 2023 SHIFT Symposium on June 23rd – 25th where we will have world-leading experts going over the best drills for all of these! Tickets are closing soon, so make sure you jump on it here

  1. Seated Calf Raises: The seated calf raise primarily targets the soleus muscle, which is located deep in the calf. This exercise is performed using a calf raise machine or by sitting on a chair with a weight plate resting on the thighs. Here’s how to perform seated calf raises:

  • Sit on a block or chair with your feet flat on the ground and place a weight on your thigh.
  • Position the balls of your feet on a raised surface, such as a step or a block.
  • Slowly raise your heels by pushing through the balls of your feet until you’re on tiptoes.
  • Hold the contraction for a moment, then lower your heels back down to the starting position.

This is a super important exercise for gymnasts, as landings and running demand a ton of work from the soleus.

Seated calf raises primarily work the soleus muscle, which helps stabilize the ankle joint during landings and assists in maintaining balance.

  1. Standing Banded Releve Calf Raises: This exercise targets both the gastrocnemius (calf) muscles and the intrinsic muscles of the foot. By incorporating a resistance band, it adds an extra challenge and activates the muscles even further. Follow these steps to perform standing banded releve calf raises:

  • Stand with the balls of your feet on the ground and a resistance band looped around the balls of your feet, with the other end anchored to a sturdy object.
  • Rise up onto your tiptoes by pushing through the balls of your feet, stretching the resistance band.
  • Pause at the top for a moment, then lower your heels back down to the starting position.

This is a specific drill to help with both high releve balance but also build-up gastroc. Both number 1 and this exercise also help load the Achilles, an area that needs a lot of conditioning to reduce the risk of issues.

  1. Deficit Shin Raises Off Edge: The deficit shin raise exercise primarily targets the anterior tibialis muscle, which is responsible for dorsiflexion (bringing the toes toward the shin) and assisting impact loads. Here’s how to perform deficit shin raises off the edge:

  • Stand on an elevated surface, such as a step or a block, with your toes hanging off the edge.
  • Allow your toes to drop down, lengthening the anterior tibialis muscle.
  • Lift the front of your feet and toes as high as possible by contracting the anterior tibialis muscles.
  • Pause briefly at the top, then slowly lower your feet back down to the starting position.

Strengthening the anterior tibialis is essential for gymnasts to maintain balance around the ankle joint and maintain good impact tolerance against things like shin splints.

  1. Single Leg Scoop Tosses At Wall: This exercise targets the muscles of the ankle more so for balance, including the calves, soleus, and peroneals. It also challenges balance and coordination. Here’s how to perform single-leg scoop tosses at the wall:

  • Stand sideways parallel to a wall with one foot off the ground.
  • Scoop 2-4lb medicine ball sideways, throwing it at the wall.
  • Catch the ball with both hands nd try to maintain balance.

These help take the strength gained from the above exercises and others and maintain coordination as well as dynamic stability for events like beam.

  1. Weighed Pogo Hops: Weighed pogo hops are a dynamic and challenging exercise that targets similar muscles above. By adding weights to the exercise, you help increase the elastic loading for the Achilles and foot/ankle musculature.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of light dumbbells by your sides.
  • Engage your core and maintain an upright posture.
  • While keeping relatively stiff knees with a mild bend, explosively push off the balls of your feet.
  • Bounce 10 times, attempting to keep the ground contact time as low as possible, then stick the last repetition.

Weighed pogo hops improve ankle stability, enhance the ability to generate explosive power, and promote coordination between the lower leg muscles. This exercise is particularly beneficial for gymnasts as it mimics the explosive movements required during various acrobatic skills.

But that wraps it up! You can easily add in these drills to strength circuits, prehab, or side stations.

And remember, if you want to get massive amounts of information in one jam packed weekend, be sure to join us June 23rd – 25th for the 2023 SHIFT Symposium!

Have a great week,

– Dave
Dave Tilley DPT, SCS