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Simple But Effective Ankle Strengtheners for Dancers

Photos by Nathan Sayers, modeled by Hannah Foster.

Even after years of pointework, ankle strengthening never stops. Freshen up your warm-up routine with these three daily exercises from Leigh Heflin Ponniah, MA, MSc, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries of the New York University Langone Medical Center. Although the movements are subtle, “these work on building stamina in the ankle and supporting muscles," she says. Each should be done barefoot or in ballet slippers.


Calf Raise with Tennis Ball

1. Stand in parallel with a tennis ball between your ankles, just underneath the medial malleolus—the bony bump on the inside of the ankle.

2. Rise to relevé while squeezing the tennis ball in place and keeping the alignment of the legs.

3. Lower and repeat 20 times.

What it does: This strengthens the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), as well as the muscles of the inner thighs and ankles that help with stability.

Heel Walks

1. Walk on your heels with straight legs and all 10 toes off the ground.

2. Continue moving around the studio like this for 30 to 60 seconds.

What it does: The walks build strength in the tibialis anterior, located in the shin. It also helps counteract overly dominant calves, which are often seen in dancers.

Romberg Balance

1. Stand facing the barre and lift the left foot off the ground without letting it touch the right leg. Close your eyes and remove your hands from the barre.

2. Balance for 30 to 60 seconds, and repeat on the opposite leg.

3. As you gain stability balancing barefoot, you can progress to doing this in pointe shoes (while standing on flat) for more of a challenge.

What it does: This improves proprioception, the sense of your position in space. According to Ponniah, this plays a major role in ankle stability and overall body awareness when you're dancing.

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