Samantha Keener – @SKeener0924
Are you finding that a poor range of motion in your ankles is effecting your training? Chances are, your ankle mobility is subpar and I’m here to give you solutions! When you think about the big lifts requiring the activation of your lower body, you probably think of squat variations, dead lifts or lunges. So much time and energy is spent focusing on proper hip and knee function, even specific foot placement, that the ankle is often overlooked. These big lower body lifts are found in any training program, ranging from the Olympic athlete to the average Joe. The importance of ankle mobility is not exclusive to the elite athlete, it benefits all. These movements will not only increase your ankle’s range of motion, but will also increase ankle stability. Here are a few mobility exercises to get you started, but I highly suggest that you continue to add onto these with other varieties that can be found online.
To begin, I find that starting with some simple ankle circles, foam rolling your calves, and using a lacrosse ball to massage out the bottom of your feet, also known as your plantar fascia, really help to loosen up the area. By foam rolling and using a lacrosse ball on the bottoms of your feet, you’re working out muscles that cross over the ankle joint. A good rule of thumb while performing these is to avoid rolling over any bony areas and directly behind your knee. Also, there’s no need to apply so much pressure that it causes you to grimace. Start slow; as I mentioned before, we are probably digging ourselves out of a deep hole, metaphorically speaking.
A great movement to perform after loosening the ankle joint would be some Ankle Rockers. This movement is a great way to analyze just how much range you currently have in your ankle. This can be done by standing or kneeling. If you choose to stand, start with one foot in front, with the other behind. Place to the toe of your front foot four inches away from a wall. If you don’t have a ruler or measuring stick, you can use your fist to place between your toes and the wall. The average fist is about four inches in width. Obviously, if you have smaller hands, give yourself a little more room. With a bent knee, begin to bend at the ankle toward the wall, allowing your knee to come forward, while keeping your heel locked to the ground. Here, we are testing your dorsiflexion. The goal is to have your knee touch the wall, resulting in 40 degrees of dorsiflexion, which results in adequate ankle mobility, thus improving any of your lower body movements.
As I stated previously, this same movement can be performed in a kneeling position. Following the same concepts listed above, begin by kneeling with one leg forward and bent at a 90 degree angle. You will need a dowel rod, pvc pipe, or a straight-bar cable machine accessory. Use this by holding on with both hands and placing the bottom of it next to the inside of your big toe. The only difference here is that once you flex your ankle forward, you will need to use a form of measurement, such as your fist to see if your knee is reaching the ideal four inches, or 40 degrees of dorsiflexion, while still flexed forward.
Using either the standing or kneeling methods, we can take this same movement a couple steps further by performing some internal and external rockers. These will be performed in the same fashion, but rather than flexing your ankle forward, you simply flex your ankle internally or externally. If you think about your positioning during a wider stance squat or a sumo deadlift, you can see clearly that to perform these movements effectively, your ankle needs to be able to flex in different angles. Remember, the goal should be to improve ankle mobility in all directions.
Another great way to improve ankle mobility is buy using bands. Wrap a band around something fixed, like a post from a cable machine, making sure to give yourself a considerable amount of tension. To begin, position yourself in a kneel, starting with your front leg at a 90 degree angle. Place the band around the ankle of your front foot, resting the band right on top of the crease that’s formed between the top of your foot and the bottom of your shin. Again, with considerable tension being placed, begin to flex your ankle forward, allowing your knee to move forward as well. If needed, move yourself forward to allow for proper tension. This movement should be performed slowly. Allow yourself a 2-3 second pause at the peak of flexion, before slowly returning to your starting position.
These are great mobility exercises to begin working toward the improvement of your range of motion in the ankle joint. As this is just a start, there are many more movements to add to your arsenal while working on mobility. I hope you find these exercises useful and that many PRs are in your future!
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