In this series we are going to discuss the ankles and why they can have such a big impact on the rest of our body. Let’s start by discussing the topic of ankle mobility; what is ankle mobility, why it’s important to have good mobility and how we can improve our ankle mobility.
The ankle is able to move in the sagittal plane, that is up and down, and its primary movements are plantar flexion; when we point our toes down and dorsiflexion; when we point our toes up. Out of these two movements, the one that we are most concerned about is dorsiflexion. Dorsiflexion allows the tibia to move forwards over the knees which is essential for everyday life such as walking, sitting or lunging/squatting down to pick something up from the floor as well as for sports performance such as better force application when sprinting and more efficient positions in weightlifting. Lack of ankle mobility and dorsiflexion can cause various issues and injuries up the rest of our body mainly in our knees and hips causing a chain reaction effect due to compensations having to be made for the lack of dorsiflexion. Such examples include feet turning out and over pronating, knees falling in, forward lean in the trunk and anterior pelvic tilt which will in turn lead to weak glutes while relying on your quad strength.
Lack of ankle mobility can be caused by a number of things such as old injuries in the ankle and lower leg that haven’t been treated properly leaving scar tissue or leading to compensations or lack of flexibility in the calf muscles. A good way to test your ankle dorsiflexion is by kneeling in a lunge position in front of a wall. Start by touching the front toe to the wall and try and reach the wall with your knee while keeping the heel on the floor. Keep moving back with that same foot until your knee cannot reach the wall any longer; if the space between your toes and the wall is around 5 inches you have good ankle mobility, if not you need to start working on achieving that range.
Some exercises and techniques that you can use to improve your ankle dorsiflexion include foam rolling or self-myofascial release. Do this long your calf and achilles tendon and when you find a tight sport hold it for 20-30s. make sure to foam rolling along the fibers, that is up and down the length of your calf, but also across the fibers which means going from left to right. Stretching your calf muscles will also be beneficial; stretch your calf by stepping on a step and pushing your heel down or hold your toes up against a wall while keeping your heel on the floor. Lastly, do a few mobility exercises before your session or even while you’re resting such as band ankle mobilisations in which your strap a thick band around the crease of your ankle, attached from behind, and actively pushing your front knee over your toes while in a lunge position. Another great ankle mobility exercise includes holding the bottom of a squat position, or the lowest you can go, with good posture for at least 30s at one time.
Go ahead, test your ankle mobility and give these exercises a go if you find that you are tight in you ankles – we guarantee that most people are.