How to maintain mountain proof ankles

Rolled and sprained ankles are an incredibly common injury in the hiking and mountaineering world.

This is partly because hiking on uneven and unpredictable terrain requires very strong ankles.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have strong and sufficient ankle mobility and accept that ankle issues are just something that you have to live with being a hiker. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

The usual solution here is to turn to a high boot. The idea goes that this will give the ankles extra protection and support and greatly minimise the risk of ankle injury.

While it makes sense – long term, addressing the root cause of the limited range of motion rather than using a band aid to work around it would be a better solution.

So what is the best solution?

The combination of mobility and strength training.

Mobility develops the ability of the body and the joints to actively go through a full range of motion.

Strength training develops the ability of the body to generate a force to withstand and overcome physical obstacles.

Why do the ankles need to be strong for hiking?

The ankle is a hinge joint and can only move on its own in platerflexion (pointing the toes downwards) and dorsiflexion (pointing the toes upwards). As stated in the book Joint by Joint Approach, the ankle, specifically, the talocrural joint where the leg and ankle meet, needs to be a mobile joint when moving forwards and backwards. 

Several muscles and tendons are important for ankle joint function. The achilles tendon is important for hiking as it connects the foot to the calf muscle and allows us to come up on our feet. 

The bottom line is that if ankles are not mobile and strong, then other adjacent areas such as the midfoot or knee can and will compensate for that lack of mobility. This can create a negative knock on effect all the way up the posterior chain with the serious potential to cause an injury.Strong ankles will help provide a strong foundation to prevent ankle rolling and improve balance for hiking. 

How to test your ankle mobility

A couple of simple ways to test your ankle mobility;

  • In a staggered stance position with your knee 4 inches away from a wall, lean forward until your knee touches the wall. Does your heel come off the ground?
  • Perform a bodyweight squat as deep as you can – do your heels come off the ground?

Mountain proof ankle mobility and strength routine

Here’s a super simple 5 minute routine to start strengthening and mobilising the ankles. It is recommended this is done barefoot.

  • Hold kneeling ankle dorsiflexion for 60 secs
  • Hold kneeling ankle plantar-flexion position for 60 secs 
  • Do 30 calf raises with toes pointing forward
  • Do 30 calf raises with toes pointing in (internal rotation)
  • Do 30 calf raises with toes pointing out (external rotation)
  • Stand on one leg and balance for 30 secs on each side (close your eyes if this is easy)
  • Do this once a week to maintain ankle strength and mobility

(If you don’t know how to do these exercises, just type them into Youtube).

After several weeks you can retest your ankle mobility to see if it’s improved 🙂 

This will help strengthen the supporting muscles and structures of the ankle so you can stay stable, safe and injury free while on the trail! 

And if you would like to take this a step further, you can get access to a free hiking strength, endurance and mobility training programme when you sign up for a free trial here.

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