Improving your ankle flexibility can have a dramatic impact upon your swim splits by reducing the amount of drag created by your legs. If your feet “hook” when you swim they act like parachutes at the end of your legs and will slow you down. In extreme cases, the hooking effect can actually produce negative propulsion.
The problem is quite common among Triathletes, especially those who started out as cyclists or runners. These simple exercises will help.
The key to improving ankle flexibility is working on it every day. These exercises take just a few minutes. Consistently perform the exercises and you will quickly begin to see results.
Basic Ankle Stretch
Start by sitting on any flat surface, and stretch your legs out in front of you – toes pointed towards the ceiling.
Next, point your toes down as far as they’ll go, and hold for a second or two. Imagine trying to get your toes to touch the floor.
Now flex your ankles, and try to point the toes BACK toward your body. Repeat at least 10 times. Take it slow, and really feel the stretch in your ankles.
Now make circles with your feet. BIG circles, keeping your legs on the floor. Make 10 circles in one direction…
…then 10 circles in the other direction.
Make the circles as big as possible, really stretching the ankles.
Finally, point your toes toward the floor, and without turning your knees, try to get the soles of your feet to come together. Hold for a second, then flex the ankles and again without turning your knees, try to point the soles of your feet to the outside walls. Hold for a second, and then repeat the whole exercise at least 10 times.
The Ankle Alphabet
Sit on a sturdy bench, or at the top of a staircase. Extend one leg so that your knee is completely straight and your foot and Achilles tendon are hanging off the end. Now, start writing the alphabet in capital letters with your big toe, making sure to flex and point your toes as much as possible. Use as large a range of motion as possible with your foot, but keep your knee straight throughout the entire exercise. When you reach the letter Z, switch legs.
Increasing Foot Strength and Reducing Cramps
The final exercise is more for FOOT STRENGTH than ankle flexibility. If you get a lot of cramps in your feet while swimming, this final exercise will help increase your foot strength and reduce those annoying painful cramps.
Start with the feet pointing straight up. Now simply curl your toes, as if you were ‘making a fist’ with your feet. Hold for a second or two, then release.
With your feet pointing straight up, now try to SEPARATE your toes. Get them as far apart as possible. Hold for a few seconds, and then repeat at least 10 times.