Exercises to Keep Your Knees, Ankles and Feet Healthy at Work

Use these techniques at the office or whenever you're sitting

By Coach E

lower limb exercises active office worker

Having your feet stuck in dress shoes (aka coffins for your feet) all day weakens the intrinsic foot muscles and stiffens your ankles. Keep these areas alive with the 3 simple moves you’ll learn here.

I hope you’ve been enjoying the Active Office Worker series. We’ve made it all the way down to the lower leg for the final episode – an important area of your body that can easily get overlooked.

When you’re sitting in an office chair all day, your lower leg muscles (not to mention your core, hips, etc) tend to shut off [1]. Use it or lose it!

office exercises to do when sitting

The problem is, this can lead to muscle inhibition and stiffness in the joints that can cause trouble when you go play basketball or hit the treadmill after work.

You’ve probably experienced this when you hit the gym on a Tuesday versus a Saturday afternoon. You might find that a different warm-up is required after a day of sitting at your desk versus when you’ve been running around with the kids or the dog all morning.

runner stretching foot after work

If you take time to incorporate a little lower limb activity during the day, you can reduce the amount of time you need to spend warming up later AND reduce your likelihood of injuries.

The best part? You can do these simple knee, ankle, and foot exercises right at your desk when you’re stuck on a phone call or working on a spreadsheet.

Big Toe Pivots x 3-5 per

The first exercise will strengthen the muscles of the medial arch on the bottom of your feet – something that’s especially important for feet that are shoved into stiff shoes all day.arches of foot anatomy image

The arches of your feet aren’t just passive structures – they’re made up of muscles and fascia and they need to stay active to properly support your body weight and provide shock absorption. But because these muscles atrophy from being in shoes and are overlooked, they’re probably not providing the support you need.

Try to move through as big of a range of motion as you can. If you experience a little cramping, that’s normal. The muscles probably aren’t used to firing through their full range of motion, so just try to stick with it and breathe.

knee ankle feet exercises - big toe pivots

  • Sit up tall at the edge of your seat
  • Press your big toes into the ground as you pivot around them to take your heels out to the sides and hold.
  • Continue to press through the big toes as you pivot back in, moving your heels towards each other and hold.
  • Complete 3-5 repetitions in each direction

As your heels move out, you are internally rotating the tibia (or shinbone), and as you move your heels in, the tibia goes into external rotation. The tibia makes up the inferior segment of the knee joint – so you’re engaging and mobilizing the knee with this move as well!

Ankle CARs: 3 per direction

This next move is a Controlled Articular Rotation (CAR) technique that helps maintain ankle mobility by working the ankle through its full range.

Perform these CARs with a straight knee  so that you’re isolating the movement to the ankle joint. Move slowly and with control, trying to expand the range with each rep.

knee ankle feet exercises - ankle CARs

  • Extend your leg so that your knee is straight
  • Move through the full range of motion at your ankle – point your toes to move into plantar flexion, then rotate towards the midline to come into inversion, flex your foot toward your shin for dorsiflexion, then rotate out to the side for eversion
  • Complete 3-5 reps in each direction with each ankle

Reciprocal Knee Flexion/Extension: 3-5 per x 5 sec

The last leg exercise will engage your hamstrings with knee flexion and your quadriceps with knee extension as it brings blood flow and mobility to the knee joint.

Plus, this move will also engage your core stabilizers as your pelvis and torso balance on the chair while your legs are moving. (Depending on your stability or what kind of chair you’ve got, you might need to hold on to your chair for a little extra support.)

knee ankle feet exercises - reciprocal knee flexion extension

  • Slide forward in your chair and sit up tall
  • Bend your right leg under the chair to take your heel towards your butt as you extend your left leg out in front of you
  • Hold for 5 seconds then switch – extending your right leg and flexing your left leg under the chair
  • Fire up your muscles as much as you can as you move back and forth, completing 3-5 reps

With these 3 simple exercises you’ve worked through every range of motion in your lower leg – knee extension and flexion, tibial internal and external rotation, and ankle plantarflexion, dorsiflexion, inversion, and eversion.

Plus, we fired up the muscles of your leg, ankle, and even the muscles in the arches of your feet to help keep them active and engaged.

Try to throw these moves in once a day at work, and you’ll be doing yourself a big favor in terms of mobility, efficiency, and injury prevention.

If you’re already dealing with a nagging ankle or knee injury or maybe something like flat foot or plantar fasciitis, it’s probably time to take things a step further. My Lower Limb Control course is a great resource with techniques to help get you over the hump and back to performing at your best.

And if you missed the other episodes and are looking for additional ways to stay mobile in your office, take a look at rest of the Active Office Worker Series.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.