7 Foot and Ankle Strengthening Exercises

Close up of woman's legs standing on yoga mat

They say you should never skimp on things that go between you and the ground: shoes, tires, and mattresses. Here at University Foot and Ankle Institute, we certainly agree and would like to add: your feet and ankles!

Your feet and ankles support and carry the rest of your body your whole life, so don’t skip out on taking proper care of them!

Whether you have healthy feet, are recovering from a foot or ankle injury, or just want to build up your foot and ankle strength, we’ve got some great, easy exercises for you!

Key Components of Foot and Ankle Health

The two areas we focus on with foot and ankle exercises are strength and flexibility.

Foot Strength Exercises

While our focus is ankle and foot health, strengthening your hips and leg muscles helps improve ankle stability and prevent injury. The muscles that support your lower leg, foot, and ankle also keep your ankle joint stable. Keeping these muscles strong can relieve ankle and foot pain.

Foot Flexibility Exercises

Stretching muscles alongside strengthening improves range of motion and prevents injury and pain. Stretching after performing strengthening exercises also helps reduce muscle soreness.

Foot and Ankle Strengthening Exercises

Before starting any of the following foot and ankle exercises, make sure to warm up with some light activity such as walking or riding a stationary bike. These exercises are recommended for preventing injury and should only be used for treating injury if assigned by a doctor or physical therapist. 

These exercises can be done at home, added to your gym exercise routine, or performed under your desk at work.

If you’re seeking medical advice for a foot or ankle injury, please get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to diagnose and recommend treatment for your injury.

1. Passive Heel Cord Stretch

This stretching exercise can be done anywhere you have a wall and works the calf, including the gastrocnemius muscle that supports and flexes the ankle.

To perform this stretch, stand facing a wall with one leg forward with a slightly bent knee. Your other leg should be straight and behind you, heel flat and toes pointed in slightly.

Keeping both heels flat on the floor and your back straight, press your hips forward toward the wall. Hold for 30 seconds, relax for 30 seconds, repeat, then switch legs. Repeat three times for each leg.

For a slightly different stretch, bend the back knee slightly.

This stretch works the Achilles tendon in addition to the calf muscles. Achilles tendonitis is a common cause of ankle pain, so keep your Achilles tendon strong and limber!

2. Ankle Range of Motion Exercises

Wondering how to improve ankle stability? It’s as easy as maintaining ankle strength and flexibility. This range of motion exercise works the dorsiflexors and plantar flexors (the muscles that move and flex your foot). Keeping these muscles strong keeps your ankle stable.

To do this exercise, sit down so that your feet aren’t touching the floor. Leading with your big toe, use your foot to write each letter of the alphabet in the air.

Keep the movements small, you only want to use your foot and ankle.

Close up of foot rolling tennis ball3. Roll Golf Ball Under Foot

The golf ball roll is one of the easiest foot exercises for plantar fasciitis or other arch of foot pain. All this exercise needs is a golf ball and a place to sit.

To perform this exercise, sit on a chair with both feet on the floor. Place the bottom of your foot on the golf ball and slowly roll it back and forth. If you have inflammation, you can freeze the golf ball before performing this exercise.

If you have any particularly sensitive spots, hold the ball there, applying gentle pressure, for 15-20 seconds.

Do this for about two minutes per foot.

If you don’t have a golf ball, you can substitute a tennis ball or frozen water bottle.

4. Marble Pick Up with Toes and Towel Curls

These exercises combined stretch the top and bottom of your feet and toes. They are also good foot exercises for arthritis.

For the marble pick up, sit in a chair and place 20 marbles on the floor in front of you. One at a time, pick them up using only your toes and place them into a bowl. Then, place the marbles back on the floor and pick them up with the other foot. 

For towel curls, sit in a chair with a towel on the floor in front of you. Place one foot flat on the towel, then curl the toes to pull the towel toward you. Relax, then perform 5 repetitions. Switch feet and start over.

You can make the towel curls more challenging by placing a weight (such as a soup can) on the end of the towel.

These exercises work together to strengthen the plantar flexor muscles.

Woman performing standing calf raise5. Standing Calf Raises

Your calf muscles (specifically the gastrocnemius-soleus complex) connect to your ankle, so keeping them strong helps support foot and ankle strength. To perform this balance exercise all you need is a wall or a chair.

Begin by standing with your weight evenly distributed over both feet. Hold onto the back of the chair or the wall for balance. Lift one foot off the floor so all of your weight is on the other foot.

Then, raise the heel of your grounded foot as high as you can (being careful not to bend the knee), then lower. You should feel this stretch along the back of the calf.

Repeat 10 times, then switch to the other foot.

6. Toe Extensions

Plantar fasciitis is a common foot injury, so stretching and strengthening the arch of the foot is important for injury prevention. Toe extensions are a plantar fasciitis stretch for prevention or treatment. To do this exercise, all you need is a place to sit.

To start, sit up straight in a chair with feet flat on the floor. Place your left foot on your right thigh and pull the toes up toward the ankle. You should feel a stretch along the bottom of the foot and heel cord.

Hold for 10 seconds, massing the arch of the foot if necessary to ease tension and pain. Repeat 10 times on each foot.

7. Ankle Dorsiflexion Exercises / Plantar Flexion

Dorsiflexion is the bending of the toes towards the ankle while plantar flexion is the downward bending of the toes. Together, plantar flexion and dorsiflexion movements allow you to walk and run. This is an important ankle exercise for strength and flexibility.

Resistance band around foot for stretchingFor these exercises, you’ll need a resistance band.

Start out sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.

For dorsiflexion, attach the band to a chair or table leg, then wrap it around your foot. Pull your toes toward you and slowly return to the start position. Repeat 10 times per foot.

For plantar flexion, wrap the band around your foot and hold the ends in your hand. Point your toes and slowly return to the start position. Repeat 10 times per foot.

Make sure you’re keeping your leg straight and your heel against the floor.

Dealing with Foot or Ankle Pain? Let us help!

If you’re experiencing foot problems, University Foot and Ankle Institute is here to help. Our renowned podiatrists offer the most advanced podiatry care and the highest success rates in the nation. We are nationally recognized foot and ankle specialists and leaders in researching, diagnosing, and treating all foot and ankle conditions including bunions, Achilles tendonitis, ankle sprains, and more.

At University Foot and Ankle Institute, we take our patients’ safety seriously. Our facility’s Covid-19 patient safety procedures exceed all CDC recommendations.

For more information or to schedule a consultation in the greater Los Angeles area, please call (877) 736-6001 or make an appointment now.

University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area as our foot doctors are available at locations in or near Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake Village, Granada Hills, and Valencia.

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