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Climbing Fitness #4: Love Thy Ankles

This is the fourth installment of a new series on how to stretch and strengthen those climbing muscles. It is brought to you by Ashley Edwards and Kate Evans, co-founders of City Yogis in Toronto.

As climbers we need strong, stable, and flexible ankles to improve climbing performance and prevent injury. Whether we are bouldering or sport climbing, our ankles need to be strong and flexible to stand on small footholds, balance on large volumes, heel hook, toe hook, and smear. In order to help preserve our arms as much as possible, we must rely on our legs, ankles and feet to get us up the wall.

Ankle injuries are a common setback for climbers. The most common ankle injuries are ankle fractures, sprains and strains. An ankle fracture occurs when the anklebone breaks, sprains are ligament injuries and strains occur in the muscle. Ankle sprains are one of the most common athletic injuries, generally occurring when the ankle is rolled and the ligaments are over-stretched or torn.

Strong ankle muscles not only help climbers stand on foot holds for an extended period, they will also help protect the ligaments, preventing injury. Flexible ankles promote ankle mobility and greater range of motion. Below are poses that will help strengthen, stabilize and increase the flexibility of your ankles. These poses are best done after a climbing session and should be done in bare feet.

Strengthen and Stabilize

Balancing postures are a great way to increase ankle stability by strengthening the muscles in the ankle, as well as increasing your mental focus and concentration.

Tree Pose (Vrksasana) – Beginner level

From a standing position, begin to transfer the weight into your right foot. Ensure that your heel and all 5 toes are pressing into your mat. Lift you’re your left heel, coming onto the toes of your left foot. Find your balance on your right foot. Lift your left foot and place it onto your calf.

To make the pose more challenging, lift your left foot higher placing the sole of your foot onto your thigh (ensure it is not resting on the side of your knee, as it will add pressure to the joint). Bring your palms together in front of your heart and draw your navel in engaging your core and lengthening through your spine.

Tree Pose
Tree Pose

As you exhale, gently draw your shoulder blades closer together and down your back. Find a spot in front of you to focus on. Try and hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds (or five to 10 breaths).

Tiptoe Pose – Beginner level

From a standing position, bring your feet together. Squat down, placing your hands on the floor. Press your hands into the ground and come onto your toes, lifting your heels up. Find your balance on your toes. If your knees are pointing down, lift your knees up until the tops of your thighs (quadriceps) are parallel to the sky.

Tiptoe pose.
Tiptoe pose.

As you inhale bring your palms together at your heart, balancing only on your toes. Try and hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds (or five to 10 breaths).

Tiptoe Twist Pose – Intermediate level

To increase the difficulty in tiptoe pose add a twist. From tiptoe pose, begin to twist your torso to the right, bring your left elbow to the outside of your right leg.

Tiptoe pose and twist.
Tiptoe pose and twist.

As you inhale, stretch through your spine, ensuring there is a straight line from you tailbone (coccyx) to the crown of your head. As you exhale, soften your shoulders, pulling them away from your ears. Keep your heels lifted, balancing on your toes and try and hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds (or five to 10 breaths). To come out of the pose, come back to center on your exhalation. Repeat on the left side.

Flexibility

Increasing the range of motion in your ankles, requires help from your calves. The poses below will help increase ankle flexibility and also lengthen your calf muscles.

Squat Pose – Beginner level

Begin in a standing position, with your feet parallel and hip-width apart. Ensure your toes are pointing forwards and that your weight is equally distributed across the soles of your feet. Engage your core and draw your navel in towards your spine. As you inhale roll shoulders back and gently draw your shoulder blades together. As you exhale, bend your knees lower down into a squat position.

Squat pose
Squat pose

If you are unable to lower all the way down while keeping your heels on the ground, open your feet to hip width, and place a block under your buttocks. Ensure your spine is long and that you are not hunching forward, causing your spine to round. Bring your palms together at your heart. Keep pressing down through your feet, pressing into your heels and each toe.

Try and work up to holding this position for 15 to 30 seconds (or 5 to 10 breaths). Once you are able to squat and hold this position comfortably, with both heels on the ground, you can move to garland pose a move advance posture requiring greater ankle flexibility.

Garland Pose (Malasana) – Intermediate level

From a squat position, heal-toe your feet and knees together. Root both feet into the ground. As you inhale reach the crown of your head up to the sky, lengthening through your spine. As you exhale, begin to slowly open your knees to either side.

Garland pose
Garland pose

Reach your hands in front of you. Try and hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds (or five to 10 breaths). To move deeper into the pose, lower your head to ground, rounding your spine, and grab your ankles with your hands.

 

Note: Use caution in poses with deep knee bends if you have a history of knee injuries.

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #1: Avoid the Dreaded Hunchback.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #2: Climber’s Elbow.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #3: Rotator Cuff Care.’

– Ashley and Kate will be bringing us regular ‘Climbing Fitness’ pieces. Until the next one, follow them on Instagram @CityYogis.