Limitations in this movement can impact not only squatting (double and single leg squat) technique, but also step down activities, and even landing from a jump which are incorporated into many exercises performed whether you are an athlete or fitness enthusiast.
Ankle mobility exercises can be incorporated into your ankle rehab (depending on goals of current treatment with your Physio or Surgeon), or in your warm up to improve ankle dorsiflexion movement, and thus, improve your squatting technique. But first, how can you determine if your ankles are really the cause to these limitations such as a poor squat technique?
If you experiencing any ankle pain or are suffering from an ankle injury (especially recurrent ankle injuries), it is best, first and foremost to book in and see a Physiotherapist to perform a thorough assessment on you and develop an appropriate treatment action plan.
One great, quick and easy assessment you can perform at home, to determine if you ankles are restricted is the half kneeling ‘knee to wall’ test. In this test, you can either kneel on the ground or stand barefoot facing a wall, in a position similar to stretching your hip flexors (muscles at the front of your hips).
You will lean your lead knee towards the wall, ensuring that your heel of your foot remains on the floor. Every time you achieve the knee to wall movement, where your knee touches the wall, you move your foot slightly away from the wall. You continue to retest until the point your heel starts to lift. You measure the distance from the wall to the last point you achieved with your heel down. If you can touch the wall from 12.5cm, you have pretty good mobility.
**note the images below, shoes are worn, please perform this test with no shoes.
So if you have ankle mobility restrictions, there are 3 key focus areas, these include;
- Self-myofascial release for the calf
- Stretching of the calf
- Ankle mobility drills
Self Myofascial release
Massage aka 'Torture' stick:
There are some great self myofascial release techniques for ankle mobility, and some great tools you can use are the foam roller and using a massage stick, aka ‘Torture stick’, were you will target your calf complex. Position yourself in a half kneeling stance, and in dorsiflexion to get the best results.
The foam roller has benefits as you can turn your body side to side and get the inside and outside aspect of your calf along its full length. You are to roll up and down the entire length of the calf for up to 30 seconds, if you locate a really tender spot, pause at the spot for ~8-10 seconds. You will find by by placing your non-foam rolled leg on the other, provides a greater load onto the foam rolled leg, and therefore deeper release.
Following the self-myofascial release drills, stretching the soleus/gastrocnemius muscle complex is next. This will help improve flexibility of the calf and soleus, and assist with improving mobility by reducing tightness and restrictions. Hold the stretch for about 10-30 seconds (if really restricted, more so of the 30 second range) with a few repetitions.
Locate a step, or object that you can hang your heel off. Position yourself in a stable position, keeping your toes of one foot on the step, lower your heel to the ground. It is a great idea to separate these into two stretches, the first is stretching the gastrocnemius, and the second stretches the soleus, both make up the calf complex. Alternatively you can perform the stretches in standing position on the ground, as seen below;
Here are some examples of some ankle mobility exercises that work a treat; depending on the extent of your motion restriction, some may be easier than others. These drills can incorporated into your warm up as corrective exercise strategies.
1. The first drill involves simple standing with your toes on a slight incline such as a weight plate and moving into dorsiflexion by moving your knees forward. Your best starting at a slight incline, as you will have difficulty with greater includes (thicker weight plates) if you are quite restricted.
For those that have a “pinch” in the front of the ankle or tight joint restrictions of the ankle in general, Erson Religioso recommends a drill that involves a mobilization technique called Mulligans, that involves movement using a band.
To set up the exercise, anchor the band to something behind you (make sure its stable), you place the band on the ankle joint (shown in the photo below), step out to create tension on the band, which will move your shin (tibia) backwards as you move forward your knee forward, which creates a dorsiflexion movement at the ankle.
Studies had also showed that placing a wedge at your heel, that created a heel lift, it can eliminate the restrictions in ankle movement (dorsiflexion) during squatting technique. This is often seen with the use of Olympic weightlifting shoes used by both Weightlifting and Crossfit enthusiasts.
A later blog will touch on the effects of Olympic lifting shoes with foot mechanics and positioning, as they do have a place in both sports, however it is important to remember the key points mentioned above, in that improving the restrictions rather than just eliminating them in movements by using specialized shoes, will not only improve movement at the ankle as well as squatting performance, but also play a positive role in preventing injuries.
Yours in health,
Macrum, E., Bell, D., Boling, M., Lewek, M., & Padua, D. (2012). Effect of Limiting Ankle-Dorsiflexion Range of Motion on Lower Extremity Kinematics and Muscle-Activation Patterns During a Squat. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 21, 144-150.
Macrum, E. (2008).The Relationship Between Dorsiflexion Range of Motion and Lower Extremity Movement Patterns and Muscle Activation. University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill.
Georgios , P., Fotis , K., Thomas, N., Vassilios, P., & Iraklis, L. (2006). Influence of the ankle joint dorsiflexion on execution of vertical jumps. SUG4-1.
Cook, G., Burton, L., Kiesel, K., Rose, G., & Bryant, M. (2010). Movement: Functional Movement Systems. Loftus Publishing: USA.