Breaking Ankle Mobility

Today I want to discuss something that’s overlooked by many athletes and recreational gym-goers. That something is ankle mobility.

I want you to try a test. Take your shoes off and place your foot about five inches away from a wall (about the length of your hand plus a thumb). Now, while keeping your foot flat on the ground (meaning, your heel does not pop up), push your knee toward the wall. Can you touch it? If not, you need to work on your ankle mobility.

This isn’t necessarily the test of all tests for ankle mobility, but it’s a good starting point to see how much you need to work on your personal ankle mobility issues.

Another test you can do is just a simple bodyweight squat (below parallel). Pay attention to what your feet do. Do they spin out at the bottom to achieve full depth? If yes, then you have an ankle mobility restriction. They can spin out a tad (no more than 12 degrees), but for most people, the feet should be relatively straight forward in a bodyweight squat.

You’re probably thinking, “Katie, why is this important?” Because having adequate dorsiflexion at the ankle joint can prevent injuries. This is especially true for squatting. As you descend into the squat, the talus bone shifts backwards and the shin shifts forward into dorsiflexion. If you don’t have adequate dorsiflexion, your feet will “spin out” in order to squat to full depth.

If you felt a “pinching” sensation in the front of your ankle when doing the ankle mobility test, you most likely have a joint restriction. In order to improve this, you need to add in some banded mobilization into your routine.

To do this, take a monster band and secure it around a pole or the squat rack. Place the band under the bone on your ankle (malleolus); the position is important because if the band is placed too high, you won’t achieve the proper mobilization of the joint. Once the band is secure around your ankle, push your shin forward while keeping your heel down. Hold for 5-10 seconds and relax. Repeat this for a total of two minutes each ankle.

It’s also important to make sure your arches in your feet don’t collapse during this exercise. If your arches are collapsed, you don’t have a stable foot. Think about it — would you want to squat with unstable feet? Not a chance.

If you also felt some tightness in the back of your ankle or your calf, chances are you have a soft-tissue restriction in your calves. Make sure to foam roll and stretch the entire calf muscle. Pair this with the banded distraction exercise for your ankles and you’ll definitely see improvement in your ankle mobility.

I want to add that you will not see great improvement in your ankle mobility right away. It takes doing your mobility exercises paired with proper movement patterns to see improvements over time.

Let’s compare the ankle joint to the hip joint: The hip joint is a ball and socket joint, so it has a super-wide degree of freedom. The ankle joint is a hinge joint, so the degree of freedom it can move is nowhere near as much as the hip.

What does all of this mean? It means that you can do 10 minutes of hip mobility and see a tenfold improvement. But you can do the same for ankle mobility and only see so much. So, this is something that needs to be incorporated into your routine every single day.

I want you to start thinking about the squat as a movement before an exercise. If you can’t do the squat movement with proper form, do you really think it’s a good idea to load up a barbell with a ton of weight and do squats? Definitely not.

I can’t tell you how many clients I have had to breakdown a basic bodyweight squat to. Sure, they could squat 300 pounds, but they couldn’t do a simple bodyweight squat with good form. Start thinking about moving better, rather than moving more weight.

Always remember this:

“Lifting big weight alone is NOT impressive. Lifting big weight with GREAT TECHNIQUE – now that’s something to be admired.”

– Squat University

Meet JYM Girl Katie Kollath, MS