Ex dancer, choreologist, and fitness expert. Author of The Kand Technique, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.
Poorly aligned, stiff, and weak ankles and knees are sure to cause a lot of pain in the long run. They can make walking, running, and jumping difficult—if not impossible—especially in old age. Correcting the alignment of ankles and knees is a necessary preventive measure to maintain the entire body structure. The exercises and videos in this article will help you build strength, become better-balanced, more secure, and less prone to injury—well into your senior years.
How to Build a Strong Base
Once a supple yet strong base is established in the parts of your body that bear the most weight (legs), improvements in the core and upper body become much easier to accomplish. This article is the second in a progressive series that works through the entire body, starting at the feet. We have already discussed foot and toe placement in a previous article, The Feet You Walk On. Please bookmark this page and read that one first if you have not done so already.
Pain Prevention for Lasting Cure
Do a few simple daily exercises and follow the videos in this article. It won't help just sitting at your computer watching the videos. So be firm in the beginning. You need to actually do the exercises for real until the alignment in your ankles and knees has been corrected for good. Performing these exercises as regularly as you brush your teeth will make a huge difference in the way you carry yourself. Not only will you feel much more attractive, more importantly, it will also avert future problems. Once your ankles and knees are properly aligned, the behavior will be permanent and you won't have to keep doing the exercises, only occasionally check that alignment is still correct.
Let us begin with a video to loosen the ankles in a quiet, relaxing, and almost passive way.
Ankle Flexions and Rotations
1. Sit with your back straight against a wall and legs straight out in front of you.
2. Flex and point your ankles 8 to 16 times.
3. Rotate outwards for the same number of counts.
4 Rotate inwards ditto.
Make sure you go slowly and explore the furthest range of movement your ankle joints can achieve. You will find the circles become looser as you progress. Any little clicking noises are welcome and nothing to worry about. Clicking noise in a joint is merely a signal that the joint in question is exploring new territory. You are making the ankle move in a wider movement range than it is accustomed to. Your ankle is perfectly capable of doing so, even glad to expand its boundaries.
What are the Noises All About?
When a joint has, for a long time, not had a chance to move to its full movement range it will make funny noises when asked to move further than its usual semi-dormant state. Think of a door with rusty hinges. By moving a joint, you are "oiling" it with a fresh blood supply. Keep moving and the joint will soon stop clicking and squeaking altogether. Slowly keep circling your ankles until all the noises stop.
Now we can proceed to use the feet, ankles, thighs, and the whole leg with a weight-bearing exercise that ballet dancers begin their daily training with the "Pliés" and "Relevés" or Knee Bends and Rises in plain English.
Toning the Calves With Knee Bends and Rises
It is best, in the beginning, to perform the Toning the Calves exercise in front of a full-length mirror to check that the knees, when bent, are aligned exactly above the third toe of each foot and that the ankles also stay in a vertically straight alignment. Stand near a piece of furniture that you can hold on to in case your leg muscles fail, or in case you lose your balance.
You may need:
- a free wall
- a full-length mirror
- something to hold onto at hip height, such as a chair, or chest of drawers
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, in the parallel position (toes pointing straight forward). Your heels, butt, upper back, and head should be touching the wall.
2. Bend the knees to demi plié (half bend), that is, go down as far as possible but without lifting the heels off the floor. This action lengthens the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon and strengthens the thighs.
3. Straighten the knees.
4. Rise up on your toes (relevé / re-lift) as far up as possible. Feel how the entire body weight is being supported only by the balls of your feet and the toes. At the peak of the relevé, the knees lock and the butt is firmly contracted. Locking the knees tones up the thigh muscles further and contracting the butt helps you keep your balance and gives you a beautiful, firm derrière.
5. Slowly bring the heels down again.
That's it, you've done your first plié and relevé.
Make sure you go straight up by keeping the heels in line with the toes. That means do not allow the ankles to drop out sideways (sickle). Do not lean forward, keep your back straight and vertical.
How Many Repetitions?
Coordinating your breathing "out" on the plié and "in" on the relevé, repeat eight to 16 times, depending on your level of endurance, until you can really feel the calf muscles working.
Later on, you can try the Knee Bends and Rises away from the wall and only place a hand near the wall or chair in case you lose your balance. Finally, perform the exercise without holding onto anything at all.
Remember to lock the knees and fully tighten the butt on the rise.
Benefits of Knee Bends and Rises
Strengthens all the muscles in the legs
Re-aligns the ankle, knee and hip joints
Firms up the Buttox
And... Best of all, when you are able to stand high up, well balanced on the balls of your feet you get the feeling of being on top of the world. It is a great substitute for wearing high heels (which seriously damage the feet), yet gives the same appearance. Try it inadvertently in an airport queue!
Not Quite Finished Yet
Every strenuous exercise needs to be completed with its very own counter move or recovery move to avoid leaving you in pain the next day. In other words, whenever a particular muscle group has been hard at work it needs to be told to relax and lengthen with a move in the exact opposite direction. The counter move for the pliés and relevés is a lunge as shown next.
Counter Move -The Lunge Position
As a counter move, to the Knee Bends and Rises exercise, you can elongate the calf by doing a Lunge as shown in the above picture. Stay in the lunge position for a few minutes for each leg. Finally, you can also sit or lie down on the floor to relax and massage the muscles used to prevent any pain or cramp tomorrow.
Now you can step away from the wall, hold onto something, and extend the Knee Bends (demi plié) by going deeper into what is called in ballet, a grand plié. A "grand plié" (big bend) is effectively a "sitting on the heels" deep squat with the spine held upright.
1. Stand in the same position as before, this time away from the wall, but still holding onto something so you can use the arms to help in the action and won't lose your balance.
2. As soon as you start going into a deeper plié (deep squat with a straight back), the heels will come off the floor.
3. Go to full depth, until you are sitting on the heels, making sure to keep the spine absolutely straight and vertical. So far so good.
4. The real challenge comes when you make your way back up from the grand plié (deep squat or sit-squat) to the demi plié position as this requires a lot of strength from the thigh muscles. In the beginning, you may find that you need your arms, holding onto a chair or kitchen top, or whatever, to help in the action.
Do as many repetitions as you can muster before the burn in your thigh muscles prevents further action.
5. Lie down. relax and massage the thigh muscles.
Counter / Recovery Move for Deep Squat
No Pain, Just Gain
Remember that you are responsible for your own body. Do not go too far down at first and use slow yoga breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth) while you practice.
Full Potential Movement Range of the Leg
Watch the next short animated video for an awareness of the full movement range in your legs. In this animation, I wanted to explore all possible movements that could be made with the toes, ankles, and knees, without the restriction of a leg being attached to a body as it were... Sounds strange? Watch.
Legwork - Illustrating the Demi and Grand Pliés
Now that you are more aware of how to improve your ankles and knees, we can move on to the next level of your body, the pelvis, and find out how to instantly get rid of a fat belly just by the way you carry yourself. Meanwhile, share your views and put your questions in the discussion below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia, southern Spain on January 29, 2019:
Pain in the knees looking red and inflamed is a sign of arthritis (the formation of bone spurs (osteophytes) or extra fluids in the knee) partly caused by prolonged periods of inactivity.
What to do? Slow, gentle exercise to increase flexibility and increase mobility in the knee joints will certainly help to lessen the pain.
Deborah Mahoney on January 29, 2019:
Yes my knees turn red and hurt real bad a lot of pain
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia, southern Spain on February 09, 2012:
Great! As you found out for yourself, your feet can improve once you understand the problem and are able to do something about it. Just keep doing the exercises as part of your routine for continuous progress and remember my motto: "No Pain, Just Gain!".
Liz on February 07, 2012:
This has been very helpful. I'm a pronating, quite flat footed runner, so need these exercises more than most, and they really work, and as you say, easy to do often and anywhere! Thanks a lot ????
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia, southern Spain on March 02, 2011:
Yes Debbie, do the alignment exercises (pliés and rises) and also some vigorous massage on the ankles helps circulation flowing and gets rid of water retention.
DebbieFerrier on March 01, 2011:
My ankles always swell up when I've been on a long haul flight. Now I know what to do to get them back to normal. Great Hub, thank you. Nice to also read all the comments on here. Very informative.
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia, southern Spain on January 25, 2011:
The previous comment refers to the question:
"Knee hurts when I bend it. What should I do?"
Putting a heat wrap on it and resting is a good idea but check mobility during the healing process. Keep knee as mobile as possible without putting undue weight on it.
Jenny on January 25, 2011:
put a heat wrap on it to warm it help I think helps it!
Justine on May 08, 2010:
I find that when socks are so tight they leave marks on my skin, my ankles beging to swell up. Thank you for the exercises in this article which will help my ankles and knees stay supple, strong and mobile.
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia, southern Spain on January 17, 2010:
You're welcome KwameG. Well, here is your chance.
KwameG from MS on January 16, 2010:
hey thanks, I am always trying to get this right..
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia, southern Spain on December 14, 2009:
Come on Philipo, it's not difficult if you hold onto something like a kitchen top or a chest of drawers, or what about holding onto a piece of hip-height railing on a promenade watching the sun setting into the ocean? The beauty is, once you know the moves, you can do them slowly, safely, almost imperceivably anywhere any time.
Philipo from Nigeria on December 14, 2009:
Nice hub. Very informative though difficult to practice. Thanks for sharing.
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia, southern Spain on December 03, 2009:
Thanks Paul, I'm working hard to complete the EasyFitness series. Stay tuned.
Paul Bail from Massachusetts on September 18, 2009:
Body awareness is a good thing. The more the better. I'm looking forward to more installments.