3 Steps to Better Ankle Mobility
Written by: Coach James
Last week, we looked at “6 Drills for Better Wrist Mobility” and some exercises to help improve flexibility and mobility. This week, we will continue with “Warming Up for the Warm Up” and take a look at the ankle. Poor ankle flexibility can prevent you from reaching the bottom of the squat while maintaining the three points of contact (ball of your big toe, pinky toe, and heel of your foot). We will touch base on soft tissue mobilization, calf stretching and mobilization with a band.
First, let’s take a look at soft tissue mobilization of the ankle and the calf and some different ways you can approach this. Your first option, and most popular but not the most effective, is the foam roller. This can help break up the soft tissue in the ankle and calf but with a wide surface area you’re not able to keep deep in the muscle to break it up. I would recommend using a lacrosse ball instead. It is much smaller which will lead to greater pressure in a single isolated area. When using the lacrosse ball, you should focus on splitting the calf muscle. I know this might sound horrible, but it will be beneficial. Your calf is comprised of two muscles, your gastrocnemius and your soleus. Your gastrocnemius is what makes the rounded shape of your calf while the soleus runs under the gastrocnemius and is longer and flatter and runs further down the leg. Another way you can approach this is with a barbell (as seen below). The reason the barbell will work better than the foam roller is because it has a smaller surface area, same as the lacrosse ball.
Now that you have broken up the soft tissue, the next step is stretching the calf. There are a couple different ways to do this. The first one is to stand arm length away from the wall in a stagger stance (one foot in front of the other). Keeping the back leg straight start to slowly bend your elbows and front knee until you feel the stretch in the calf. Hold this position for 30 seconds and switch. I would repeat this 3-4 times each leg. A second way, you can approach this stretch is to do the plate stretch. Start by putting the ball of your foot on the plate so that your heel and mid foot are off or on the ground. Next, bend the knee forward as you did with the wall stretch. You can try with the opposite foot forward for 2min, and then with the opposite foot back for 2min to stretch the calf from different angles.
The last step in attacking poor ankle mobility is mobilization with a band. First, attach a band to the rig. Next, place your foot inside the band, placing the band low on the foot (not the ankle) and walk out away from the anchor point until you feel tension. You should be in the stagger position with the banded foot out in front. You should hold this for 2 minutes and, if your ankle allows, rock forward and backwards trying to push your knee over your toe. If you’re comfortable with this stretch, you can add a plate or even a small box into the mix and elevate the front foot. Once your foot is elevated, you can press your knee over your toe by slowly rocking back and forth. If you want to spice it up a little more, you can pulsate 10-15 times slightly shifting your knee medially (towards the inside of your foot), forward, and laterally (towards the outside of your foot).
With these 3 steps and a little time, we should increase your ankle mobility, help your range of motion, and improve your squat stance.