Training

Are Squats With A Sprained Ankle A Good Idea?

Updated September 24th 2022

Squats are notorious for giving all lifters strength and size gains for the lower body.

They are not only good— they are great.

Maybe not right after especially if you feel dizzy after squats.

But you get the big picture.

With the capacity of overloading the exercise, squats are one of the primary drivers for these attributes when paired with a proper diet and a great night’s sleep:

  1. muscular strength
  2. power
  3. hypertrophy

So, make sure you are not working out on 5 hours of sleep.

Otherwise, you could end up with these conditions that make it intolerable to squat heavy:

However, there is no debate that a sprained ankle can limit your potential to squat.

For those that suffer a more serious ankle sprain, walking is even out of the question.

But for those able to put weight on their sprained ankles, should you do squats anyway?

Squats with a sprained ankle

While you may be tempted to do squats when you are not fully healed, making sure that your sprained ankle is 100% healed will be more beneficial to your long term training and health.

One of the most important steps in injury recovery is to make sure your ankle is not being put through painful movements.

You should only be focused on moving your ankle and doing pain-free activities.

So, if you are able to squat pain-free, why not?

There is nothing wrong with that.

The issues start to appear when lifters want to push past their pain thresholds, knowing very well that it is not a good idea.

But you are eager to train!

What else would you do?

Learning how to control these frustrations and emotions will further develop your character.

This is another unspoken part of the strength training journey.

Can I heal my sprained ankle quicker to squat?

  • Eating high-quality foods
  • Rest
  • Sleeping 9+ hrs each day
  • Heat/ice
  • Massage

A combination of these interventions may help speed up your recovery.

Maybe you also thought about taking creatine without working out during your injury phase.

However, your body is doing its best to heal your injury as fast as possible.

There is no doubt that injuries suck.

They prevent us from doing to the gym and from functioning as human beings.

With that in mind, it is imperative that you do not aggravate your sprained ankle by squatting.

Nothing feels worse than trying to make some gains and re-injuring your ankle by doing too much too soon.

You will kick yourself mentally for not being patient enough with injury recovery.

This also applies to deadlifts as well, so you should not deadlift if your sprained ankle is painful.

There are some great rehab exercises I outlined in the linked article above.

As an exercise specialist, I have helped guide patients in rehabilitation through various injuries— one of which is ankle injuries.

Some of the exercises I mentioned in the article are ones I used personally that have helped many patients continue to develop their ankle flexibility, strength, and mobility.

Do squats put pressure on ankles?

Yes, squats put a ton of pressure on your ankles because your ankle needs to be mobile enough to dorsiflex when descending into a squat and maintain a stable position as you squat out of the hole.

Instead of squats, what can I do with a sprained ankle?

Finding pain-free movements is key to recovering from an injury. If you want to continue working on your lower body, finding pain-free lower body movements, like lunges, leg extensions, leg curls, cardio, etc, may help speed up your recovery.

However, it depends a lot on your personal preference and training motivation.

In my opinion, you should always be doing something to keep moving.

Sure, you may be injured but you are still able to do exercises.

Again, the key is to focus on pain-free movements that do not cause you any pain or discomfort.

  1. Walking
  2. Swimming
  3. Biking
  4. Similar squat movements

i) Walking

Any movement specialist will tell you how vital it is to keep your ankle moving even if it is injured.

If you are able to bear weight on it, take some brisk walks.

Take long walks.

The longer the better.

If you are unable to go to the gym and squat but can walk pain-free, this is good progress.

It will further set you up for a successfully healed ankle.

ii) Swimming

Everyone, including your parents, will urge you to swim.

If you want to swim, you can.

It is just another form of cardiovascular exercise that you can do to get your ankle moving pain-free.

iii) Biking

If you have a bike available or a stationary bike at the gym, that is another alternative.

It is great to get your heart rate up and improve your conditioning if you are unable to squat with a sprained ankle.

It should not be too long before you can begin to put more pressure on your ankles.

iv) Similar squat movements

If you are looking to improve your squats, you would want to do something that closely resembles them.

  1. Are you able to do box squats?
  2. Can you do leg presses?
  3. Can you do lunges?

There are so many different squat alternatives that can build up your lower body.

You just need one or two movements for the time being and try to focus on executing them perfectly.

Should I still do leg day with a sprained ankle?

You can still go to the gym as long as you do not feel any pain in your ankle.

Any exercises that cause you ankle pain will inhibit recovery and healing.

It will be better to rest than to re-injure your ankle by trying to do too much weight too soon.

The best option is to go see a medical professional to make sure your ankle is structurally sound.

Because if you continue to train with an injured ankle, you can throw off your body’s balance and ruin your knees and hips.

If you really cannot tame your gym itch, here are a couple of leg movements that do not require you to put any pressure on your ankles:

  • Reverse hypers
  • 45 degree back extensions
  • Leg extensions
  • Leg curls
  • Glute kickbacks
  • Bridges
  • Leg Raises

How much squat weight to do after coming back from a sprained ankle?

Take anywhere between 10-20% off your previous working sets.

If you have been severely deconditioned, you can start taking up to 50% of your previous working sets.

It is okay to start reconditioning your body in order to handle heavy loads again.

I understand that you may be on a beginner strength training program like Greyskull LP, but injuries are something you need to adapt for.

Leg workout with a sprained ankle

If you are persistent and want to have a leg day with a sprained ankle, there are always workarounds.

This would be a sample workout program I would perform if I ever had a sprained ankle.

2-4 sets of 8-10 reps for each exercise would be enough.

  • Single leg bridges, injured foot elevated
  • Side-lying clamshells
  • Leg extensions
  • Nordic curls
  • Modified reverse Nordic curls

Single leg bridges

According to research, a normal bridge would activate your glute maximus 40% and glute medius 47%.

With a single leg bridge with the leg planted on the ground, toes on the ground too, with a 90-degree bend, glute maximus, and glute medius activation go up to 51%and 57%, respectively.

This is a 27% and 21% increase in glute muscle activation, respectively.

There is also significant hamstring activation if you change your leg angle from a 90-degree bend to a full 135-degree bend.

The 135-degreee full knee bend single leg bridge also has similar glute maximus and glute medius activation as well. It is not significantly different.

This will allow your hamstring to be activated up to 75%, compared to the 90-degree bend that will minimize hamstring activation.

If you can bend your knee to full range, do so for more muscle activation.

Otherwise, a 90-degree bend would be your 2nd best option.

Side-lying clamshells

According to research, with a neutral pelvis and a 60-degree knee bend, this variation of clamshells will be the best way to recruit your glute medius maximally.

In the extreme case that you cannot bend your knees by 60-degrees, you can bend your knees to 30-degrees for a 2nd best exercise alternative.

But with a sprained ankle, you should have no knee issues going up the chain when doing these open chained exercises.

Leg extensions

This is a standard and straightforward exercise that you can find in any commercial gym.

It is also one of the few exercises that are open chained that do not require you to place any weight on a sprained ankle.

This will be good for maintaining your quad strength and hypertrophy if you do decide to continue strength training.

Nordic curls

This is where I got my source in learning how to do Nordic hamstring curls and it is a life-changing exercise.

Seriously.

Not only will it bulletproof your knees, but you can also get some major hamstring development.

It is typically done by having your ankles strapped down.

If you cannot handle any pressure on your sprained ankle, you can have the straps on your tibia, superior (higher) to your lateral and medial malleolus.

Modified reverse Nordic curls

This is what you should be aiming for.

However, there is a ton of compression pressure on your ankles in the original form.

You can elevate your injured leg on a bolster or pad and do a partial reverse Nordic curl for quadriceps stimulation.

Just working around the injury is something that you should build steps towards in order to make sure that when your sprained ankle does heal, you can have a smoother transition back into your sport.

Conclusion

Always make sure to get evaluated by a medical professional if you suffer any outstanding injury.

It may make the difference between a two-week recovery versus a six-week recovery.

Medical professionals are there to help you stay healthy and to prolong your longevity.

But regardless, it is common sense to not do anything that is causing you pain.

It is only making your symptoms worse and you will probably not enjoy knowing that your ankle is sprained.

It will definitely stop you from getting a 2x bodyweight squat, along with getting the necessary equipment for your home gym:

You probably want to figure out how much a squat rack costs before you buy anything else.

Compared that to using a deadlift bar.

It will be the cornerstone piece of equipment that you help you after your sprained ankle is healed.

Do squats help strengthen ankles?

Not directly. If you want stronger ankles, you should work on exercises that target the joint directly—

  1. Ankle 4 way with bands
  2. Working on your tibialis anterior (TA)
  3. Seated calf raises

1. Ankle 4 way with bands

Complete this series of exercises for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

2. Tibialis Anterior exercises

You can do these seated or standing, with weight or without.

Find something that is pain-free for you and tackle your ankle weakness with purpose.

3. Seated calf raises

Self-explanatory.

Perform these for 2-4 sets for at least 8-25 reps.

Why do squats hurt my ankles?

(Assuming you do not have a sprained ankle)

  1. You have limited ankle range of motion (ROM), most likely limited dorsiflexion
  2. Limited hip/leg ROM (case by case situation)
  3. Excessive pronation of foot

You have limited ankle range of motion (ROM), most likely limited dorsiflexion

Your talus needs to glide posteriorly in order for your ankle to dorsiflex without pain.

This can be one reason why you may feel a block in the front of your ankle.

 

Limited hip/leg ROM (case by case situation)

When you are flexing your knee during squats, your tibia needs to internally rotate.

Your tibia, fibula, or both may be stuck and not rotating properly, creating stress in your ankles.

Excessive pronation of foot

When your foot overpronates, it destabilizes your entire arch.

With an unstable base during high-intensity squats, the next joint that receives this load is your ankle joint.


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