How to Stop Ankle Injuries in Soccer With Single-Leg Heel Raises
Mar 28, 2022
When it comes to injuries, what is a soccer player’s Achilles heel (or Kryptonite)? Ankle injuries. They can bring the toughest players to their knees, making them clutch their ankles as they writhe in pain. The bruising, the tenderness, the swelling- it’s enough to keep you sidelined for a while. And unfortunately, they’re all too common.
For example, ankle sprains accounted for 15% of injuries in Spain’s La Liga, making them the most common injury in the league. They also afflict youth players to a high degree, especially young women. But there’s a way to fight back - single-leg heel raises. This simple soccer conditioning drill can help players of all ages and levels reduce the risk of ankle injuries.
Purpose of Single Leg Heel Raises
The purpose of a single-leg heel raise is to improve coordination and strength of calf muscles, namely, the soleus muscle. They also strengthen nearby muscles such as the front-thigh muscles. All of this muscle strengthening and coordination improves balance and stability, which makes the ankles more resistant to sprains and buckling.
Mechanism of Action
The single-leg heel raise is an eccentric exercise, making it highly beneficial in preventing ankle injuries. Like other eccentric exercises, it improves the architecture of the muscles - in this case, lower leg muscles that support the ankles.
They increase the thickness of these muscles, fascicle length and the overall muscle architecture. With more efficient muscle architecture, players can generate more forceful movements without injuring their ankles or surrounding muscles and joints.
Scientific Validity of Single Leg Heel Raises to Prevent Ankle Injuries
Many soccer players (and athletes) play with weak or unstable ankle joints. That’s problematic because jumping and sprinting - which happens a lot in soccer - put tons of impact forces on your ankles. To put it plainly, your ankles can’t be weak if you’re going to do those movements repeatedly.
These movements produce what’s known as a high level of ground reaction force. In weak and unstable joints, the reaction force is amplified. However, researchers have found that exercises such as the single-leg heel raise can reduce these ground reaction forces in a matter of weeks. That’s why we recommend them as a soccer conditioning drill.
How to Perform Single Leg Heel Raises
Single-leg heel raises are one of the easiest soccer conditioning drills to perform. They’re ideal for players of all ages and don’t require an advanced level of strength or conditioning. To complete the exercise, you just need a sturdy object to balance on.
Step to Complete the Single-Leg Heel Raise
- Stand against a sturdy object such as a wall or a counter to balance yourself. Lift one foot and push your weight on your other foot. Keep your knee straight.
- Raise yourself up by pushing off your toes. Hold for 5 seconds, and the slower yourself back to the ground.
And that’s all. A standard workload for single-leg heel raises is somewhere around 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps. Of course, you can tweak this where necessary. Also, it’s often recommended as a daily exercise, but this isn’t necessary if you’re doing other soccer conditioning drills.
Note: Don’t perform single-leg heel raises if you recently had surgery or if you have calf cramps. Wait until you have clearance from a physician first before performing them.
A Single Leg Heel Raise Can Prevent Ankle Drama
Soccer players who perform the single-leg heel raise will improve their ankle muscle architecture week by week. Not only will that reduce their risk of an ankle injury, but it’ll also improve players’ ability to sprint and cut more efficiently.
Of course, players should perform single-leg heel raises in conjunction with other soccer conditioning drills. Also, proper nutrition and post-recovery protocols will support these drills. But all in all, the single-leg heel raise is a simple way to prevent one of soccer’s most problematic injuries.
Looking for more tips on soccer conditioning drills? Check out our Storelli blog for training ideas and insights.