This article originally appeared on Outside

You may not think about your ankles often. But they play a critical role in supporting your everyday activities, whether you’re training for a marathon or bending to grab your dirty laundry from the floor. However, a variety of factors, including poor footwear and rarely going barefoot, can leave your ankles lacking the necessary flexibility, strength, and mobility.

When your ankles become less mobile, they can no longer properly support your knees, hips, and low back. This makes you more susceptible to injury–and being sidelined from the activities you love. These exercises will allow you to assess the mobility of your ankles and learn how to build it back.

How to Test Your Ankle Mobility

Woman practices the Knee-to-Wall Test for ankle mobility

(Photo: Courtesy of Genevieve Gyulavary)

The Knee-to-Wall Test

This exercise assesses your ankle’s mobility. Ideally, its functional range of motion should be at least 10 degrees in a dorsiflexion position, which is when your foot and shin draw toward one another. This degree of mobility is essential for running, climbing and walking with ease. Without this amount of healthy bend, you’re more susceptible to discomfort and injury.

To start, stand with your toes approximately five inches away from a wall or box. (That distance usually equates to a little less than the length of your fist.) Come into a half kneeling position or low lunge and square your hips toward the wall. Slowly shift your front knee toward the wall, keeping your heel on the ground. See how close you can get until your heel starts to lift. Take note of your range of motion.

After evaluating the mobility of your ankles, you may want to work on increasing it. These two exercises will do exactly that.

2 Exercises to Improve Ankle Mobility

Woman does an exercise for ankle mobility

(Photo: Courtesy of Genevieve Gyulavary)

1. Kettlebell/Dumbbell Ankle Mobilization

This drill will increase both tissue flexibility and the space in your talocrural (ankle) joint, known as accessory mobility, helping build your ankle’s range of motion.

Come into a half kneeling or low lunge position and rest a moderately heavy kettlebell or dumbbell on your thigh above your knee. (If you experience discomfort or pain in your back knee, place a pad or cushion beneath it.) Slowly bend your front knee and shift it as far forward as your ankle allows while keeping your heel on the ground. Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat five to 10 times on each side.

After completing this movement, you can reassess your ankle mobility with the knee-to-wall test. The change in mobility should be noticeable immediately.

Woman practices an exercise for ankle mobility

(Photo: Courtesy of Genevieve Gyulavary)

2. Banded Ankle Mobilization

Like the previous exercise, this exercise will help increase the space in your ankle joint, giving you a more functional range of motion.

Attach one end of a heavy resistance band to an immovable object. Position the other end around your ankle bones. Depending on your preference, you can prop your foot on a box or a bench or leave it on the ground. Keep your heel planted as you shift your knee forward until you feel a stretch in the front and back of your ankle. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat five times on each leg. Following this movement, reevaluate your ankle mobility with the knee-to-wall test.

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