Ankle Pumps – Complete Exercise Guide


JULY, 2021

The ankle pump exercise is used to work the muscles of the gastrocnemius (calf), soleus (beneath the calf) and the ankle.

Ankle pumps are used for rehabilitation, as a way to pump pooled blood up and away from the legs, as a way to strengthen the muscles of the lower leg, and as a tool for warming up the ankle before running, jumping and other activities.

ankle flex vs point

What Are Ankle Pumps?

Ankle pumps are a bodyweight exercise where the toes are repeatedly flexed and then pointed. They are most commonly done sitting down, but they can also be done lying down and standing. When standing, ankle pumps are often called calf raises.

How To Do Ankle Pumps

1. Sit down on a chair or lye down on a bed.

2. Flex your toes so that they are pointing up. Hold this position for 3 seconds.

3. Point your toes forward, as if pushing down on a car gas pedal. Hold this position for 3 seconds.

Some variation can also be introduced into the ankle pump exercise by flexing and pointing the toes at different angles, which will work the muscles in a slightly different capacity.

You may also want to try tracing numbers, letters and shapes, especially if you are coming back from surgery or incorporating the exercise as part of a post-injury rehabilitation plan. This will help you gain better control of your ankle faster and will help strengthen the ankle from all angles.

glute bands no p
glute bands sqr no p

Ankle Pumps As A Way To Prevent Thrombosis

Ankle pumps are a fantastic exercise to keep blood circulating through your legs. The calves are notorious for pooling blood, and it’s important to push this blood back into circulation.

This occurs because the veins rely on ‘muscular pump’ to bring the blood back to the heart, as blood pressure in the veins is significantly lower than in the arteries.

If this blood doesn’t return, usually due to a lack of movement and a lack of a ‘muscle pump’, then blood can pool and potentially even cause blood clots to form.

Blood clots are extremely dangerous, because not only can they restrict blood flow through a vein in the legs, but they can also dislodge from their original place of formation and can end up in the heart, brain and other extremely sensitive places.

Blood clots commonly form when patients are bedridden in hospital, on long aeroplane flights and when standing in one spot for extended periods of time.

Ankle pumps cause the muscles of the lower legs (gastrocnemius and the soleus) to contract, which squeezes the veins and pushes the blood back up to the heart.

gymnastics rings sqr

When To Do Ankle Pumps

Ankle pump exercises should be done in sport, for instance when warming up for running, jumping and other activities, ankle pumps can be a great way to warm up the Achilles tendon.

In many people the Achilles tendon, which is located at the back of the heel is very tight, and when performing any high impact activity, it can be strained – especially in cold weather! Ankle pumps can prevent injury to the Achilles tendon by warming up the tendon to the activity with very mild forces.

Ankle pumps in the form of calf raises can also be incorporated into strength training for both the ankle and the calves. Weighted ankle pumps or weight calf raises can be a great way to maintain ankle stability, especially in athletes that experience large lateral forces through their ankles.

 It would also be beneficial to older people, which are prone to falling. By having strength in the ligaments that stabilise the ankle, older people would be less likely to fall.

Ankle pumps can also be done post-surgery – either post leg surgery or post unrelated surgical procedures. Mainly the goal here is to keep the blood moving in patients and to prevent pooling in the legs. Many hospitals actually employ pumping machines that squeeze the calves to achieve just this. Ankle pumps would also be beneficial for strengthening the ankles and speeding up the recovery process.

It’s important to be aware of just how quickly muscles lose strength when they’re not used. Muscles undergo ‘atrophy’ which is a process of muscular deterioration if they are not used for extended periods of time. This is why many patients that come back from extended hospitalisations are much frailer and often skinnier. Ankle pumps will allow these patients to retain much better muscle structure than patients who don’t engage in ankle pump exercises.

On aeroplanes and long road trips, ankle pump exercises can also be a great way to create a muscle pump through the legs and move blood back to the heart. The exercise is awesome because it can be done while sitting, unlike other leg exercises that require standing.

Tips For Ankle Pump Exercises

Like any other leg exercise, ankle pumps need to be done consistently to achieve any kind of result. This is especially important in a hospital setting or an aeroplane flight, where blood pools quickly and can cause aberrant effects in a very short window.

It’s recommended to do ankle pumps every 30-60 minutes when inactive. You should complete 20-40 repetitions of the exercise – the more the better, especially if you are older or have poor circulation.

When building strength with the ankle pump exercise, you should consider progressing the exercise based on your ability. If you’re easily able to do the ankle pump exercise when standing, consider adding weight to the exercise in the form of dumbbells, or doing the exercise on one foot at a time.

Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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