Hell on Heels - Ankle Strengthening Exercises

Exercises to strengthen your ankles and calves for those killer heels

Exercises At The Gym

Ankle Exercises

Single Leg Dumbbell Straight Leg Dead-lift

Stand balancing on your left leg while holding a pair of dumbbells near your thighs (A). Bend at your hips to lower your torso toward the ground. Bend your left knee slightly until you feel a stretch in your left hamstring. Extend your right leg straight out behind you (B). Snap your hips forward as you return to the starting position. That's one rep. Do three sets of 10 reps on each leg. Rest one minute between sets.

Calf Exercises


Whereas calves are not the primary muscles used during squats, they are stabilizers and as such do get a workout during the squat. I don't need to tell you that squats tone the whole of the leg, so as an all over improvement to leg strength and definition, they are included here. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips.

Your toes should be pointed slightly outward – about 5 to 20 degrees outward. For a body-weight squat, put your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the ground. Keep your spine in a neutral position. This means don’t round your back, but also don’t hyper extend and over accentuate the natural arch of your back.

Think about where your weight is on your feet – it should be on the heels and the balls of your feet, as if you were pasted to the ground. You should be able to wiggle your toes the entire movement (though that’s not a part of squatting!). Keep your entire body tight the entire time. 

Now, breathe in, break at your hip and push your butt back. Keep sending your hips backwards as your knees begin to bend. It’s important that you start with your hips back, and not by bending your knees.

Keep your back straight, with your neutral spine, and your chest and shoulders up. Keep looking straight ahead at that spot on the wall.

As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet. Many new lifters need to focus on pushing their knees out so they track with their feet. So, watch you knees! When they start to come inside the toes, push them out (but not wider than your feet). Think about it like this: if you were to attach a laser to the end of each of your knees, the laser would track between your second and fourth toes. Make sure your knees are out!

Squat down until your hip joint is lower than your knees (what we call parallel). We are looking at your hip joint here, not your thighs. Depending on the size of your thighs, your squat may appear to be less deep than it truly is. You can go deeper than this, however, anything less than parallel is a partial squat.

Look straight ahead and pick a spot on the wall in front of you. You’ll want to look at this spot the entire time you squat, not looking down at the floor or up at the ceiling.

Hip Raises

Start lying face up on the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips so that you form a straight line from your knees to your chest. Squeeze your butt for one second, then return to the starting position. That's one rep. Do three sets of 20 reps. Rest one minute between sets. These do dual duty as they also work your glutes for a firmer butt. Essential for the killer walk in heels.

Rocking Downward Facing Dog

No, this isn't yoga done to Rock music. It's a twist on the yoga move, to work the calves more. Start on your hands and knees. Pull your butt up to the ceiling while you straighten your arms and legs (A). Lifting at the heel, pedal your feet up and down (B). Alternate feet and try to get your heel to the floor. Pedal 10 times per foot.

Home Exercises

Ankle Exercises

Ankle Alphabet.

Moving your ankles in a dynamic stretch with a full range of motion boosts circulation and loosens the ligaments and tendons that reside in the ankle area. While seated on the floor with your knees up, elevate one leg in the air and begin writing out the entire alphabet with your foot. Alternate between feet, as well as tracing the alphabet in lowercase and uppercase letters, in cursive and manuscript.

Ankle Circles.

Standing on your right leg, raise your right knee to hip height; grab your thigh for support (A). Moving only at your ankle, slowly trace a circle with your toes (B, C). Do five circles per foot.

Arch Rolls.

This myofascial release move is equivalent to receiving a reflexology foot massage. Rolling a ball underneath the arches helps relieve tension and de-stress the bottom of your feet, which are often irritated for habitual high-heel wearers. (Roll for at least two minutes on each foot.)

Calf Exercises

Calf Stretch.

Stand at arm's length facing a wall. Step forward with your right foot; keep both feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the wall at chest-height. Press your right knee toward the wall so you feel a stretch in your left (rear) calf. Hold two seconds, then release the stretch. That's one rep. Do eight reps per leg.

Floor Calf Raises.

This exercise targets the calves and shins— the muscles responsible for stabilizing the ankles. Strong ankles are imperative for stiletto-wearers, as are the calves since they're in a fully flexed position when in heels. (Perform three sets of 20 reps.)

Foam Roller Myofascial Release.

Rolling the sides of the quads and calves on a foam roller is actually better than performing warm up and cool down stretches. It increases blood flow to the legs, bringing oxygen and vital nutrients to the muscles that are working the hardest. (Roll for five minutes on each side.)

Even a quick foot massage moving your foot in circles clockwise and anti-clock wise can be beneficial for tired feet at work

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