What you will learn in this blog post: MY TOP 4 EXERCISES TO GET MORE FLEXIBLE ANKLES
Why should I want more flexible ankles?
The most common reason people seek to get better ankle range of motion is to improve their squat. If you have stiff ankles you are more likely to lean your toros forward at the bottom of your squat.
And that ↑ does increase your risk for a lower back injury while squatting.
Having a good amount of ankle dorsiflexion (bringing your foot up towards your shin) allows you to get lower in your squat without your heels coming up off the floor while keeping your torso more upright. Having this more optimal squat position means you can lift more, get stronger and reduce your risk for injuries.
Now, for an important correction...
I used the work "flexible" above because that is what most people are familiar with and think they need.
BUT when trying to improve your squat, or get stronger ankles you don't want better ankle "flexibility" you want better ankle "MOBILITY".
Flexibility refers to your joints ability to move through a range of motion completely passively. So if you wrapped a strap around your foot how far could you pull your foot up towards your shin. The strap is doing all the work, no muscles are involved.
Mobility is your joints ability to move through a range of motion actively with stability and control. So how far can you actively pull your foot up towards your shin using only your own muscles.
When looking to improve your ankle strength and stability to achieve better squats, or running form, you want to be able to support your body weight within your entire ankle range of motion. Hence you are actually looking for better ankle mobility NOT flexibility.
How does my ankle range of motion improve my squat form?
It's all physics! But before you cringe thinking about your high school physics class, let me explain ↓
When you squat down, your ankles need to dorsiflex in order to shift your bodyweight forward. That forward bodyweight shift allows you to keep yourself balanced over your feet so you don't just fall backwards on your butt!
If you don't have the dorsiflexion in your ankles (and your ankles stay closer to a 90 degree angle) you still need to shift your weight forward somehow so you don't just fall on your butt. Your body does this by leaning your torso forward.
You see on the left the ankles stay closer to a 90 degree angle and his chest leans forward towards the ground. The squat on the right has much more ankle dorsiflexion so he is able to keep his chest more upright AND get lower in his squat.
This is why you might see people at the gym squatting with "lifting shoes" or with their heels propped up on an elevated surface when squatting.
Lifting shoes have a small wedge build into the heel of the shoe to help put your ankle in a more optimal position at the bottom of your squat. Squatting with your heels propped up on an elevated surface functions similarly.
What exercises will improve my ankle mobility?!?
1. ANKLE CONTROLLED ARTICULAR ROTATIONS (CARs)
These can easily be added to your warm ups and cool downs
Make as big a circle as you can WITHOUT moving in your lower leg or knee
Keep these pain free (so make the circle smaller to find a pain free range)
3 sets of 5 circles in each direction
2. KNEE TO WALL TAPS
Find a distance from the wall that feels challenging for your ankle but you can successfully tap your knee against the wall WITHOUT your heel popping off the floor
3 sets of 10 taps
Hold the last rep of each set for 10 solid seconds
The first 9 reps can feel somewhat passive, but make the 10 second hold feel ACTIVE (engage your shin muscles and foot muscles to pull you closer to that wall)
3. SQUAT TO KNEELS
These are great for your ankle mobility, but also work wonders for your quad strength
Be cautious with these if you have any knee pain and use your hands on the floor for extra support
Your goal is to keep your heels planted on the ground as long as possible on your way down
On your way up, get your heels back on the ground before you stand
3 sets of 5-8 reps
**For an extra challenge check out the single leg squat to kneels** ↓
4. DUCK WALKS
Duck walks also improve hip mobility
Goal is to keep your heels on the ground for as long as you can as you "walk" forward
Be cautious with these if you have any knee pain and begin in a more standing squat position if needed (watch video for this modification)
Don't push through any sharp knee pain with these!
3 sets of 8-10 steps
And there ya have it! My 4 favorite exercises to work on your ankle mobility. Comment with any questions or email me directly! firstname.lastname@example.org
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➡ Want to get stronger but don't know where to start
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