Let’s talk about ankle mobility, not flexibility, but mobility. If you remember from one of my early articles I wrote about how mobility and flexibility are different. If you want to go back to re-read that post, click here. But the TL:DR version is mobility is the strength and coordination it takes to control the movement of a joint or joint complex through a range of motion.
But why is ankle mobility important? If you are anything like me, you love to exercise. Our body requires our ankles to be mobile during any activity. Whether it is squatting, Olympic lifting, running or playing basketball. The greater mobility of our ankles, the easier these activities are to do safely.
But wait, what if we don’t have the ankle mobility needed for something like squats? Good news, our body will compensate. Bad news, that compensation can lead to injury. One thing our body is really good at is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Our body will find that mobility somewhere else, it could be your knees, hips or low back. This happening one to two times, no much of a problem. Repeatedly over time, it begins to become a problem.
Let's look at squatting some more, I love using squatting as an example because it is one of my favorite movements. Next to a deadlift, it is one of the most common movements we do on a daily basis. I believe that all exercise plans need to incorporate squatting in some fashion. It can be as simple as a bodyweight squat or a box squat or has hard as throwing 500lbs on to your back for multiple reps. Several things have to happen in order to perform a squat properly. One thing your ankles have to dorsiflex as your knees bend. When you can’t get motion out of your ankles, your body will seek it out in other places like your hips and knees, eventually leading to pain.
So what can we do to make sure we have mobile ankles? Working on some simple stretches and exercises can go a long way.
Banded ankle mobility
This is one of the easiest exercises to do. I suggest everyone have a handful of resistance bands. They make life easy for stretching, or simple exercises. They are also relatively cheap, you can easily pick up one from Amazon for less than $15, in fact, if you need one follow this link.
For this drill, loop the end of the band around something sturdy, It is easier to do this in a gym where you can tie off on a rig, but essentially any stable pole, column, or anchor point will work. Then loop the other end around your ankle so that it pulls the front of your leg backwards slightly. Step down into a lunge, with your banded ankle up. Now just simply lean forward slightly, pushing your ankle into dorsiflexion.
Wall ankle drill
If you can’t do the above for any reason, there are other options. Start in a lunge, about 3-4 inches from the wall. Now lean forward until your knee touches the wall, but keep your heal on the ground. If it was easy, back away another inch and repeat. Keeping doing this until you find a distance where the wall is just out of reach for your knee. This is where the work starts. Push yourself into the wall, just don’t force it to the point of pain while keeping your heel on the ground. Over pressure can be applied to the ankle during this as well.
Make it Permanent
Now that you’ve increased this range of motion, we need to make it permanent. Stretching is great for a lot of reasons, but stretching alone, for the most part, is temporary. Once we’ve increased the range, we need to work on creating a neurological demand so the increased motion becomes permanent. The best way to do this to load. For this exercise, stand on the edge of a box or step. Use a wall, rail or something sturdy to support yourself. With your heel hanging off the edge, raise up on to your toes. Slowly lower yourself back down so that your heel is parallel with the ground. Do not let your heel drop lower. At this point, but a slight bend in your knee.
If these exercises aren’t helping you out, please let me know, I’d love to help you out!
Dr. Maurice Pearl