ankle mobility resistance band

2 Ankle Mobility Exercises using Resistance Bands by Dr. Michael Risher

November 29, 2019

Are ankle mobility issues restricting your capacity to train effectively, or even more critical, making you susceptible to injuries?

Poor ankle mobility can be the cause of many limitations in sports, weightlifting, and daily life. So, it is crucial to take action by performing ankle mobility exercises and stretches.

ankle mobility resistance band

For most people, ankles are the last thing they think of when hitting the gym or attempting to improve sports performance. They may not even consider their ankles at all. And it may very well be their ankles that are the "Achilles heel" of their workout.

Our feet and ankle joints are the base of our foundation. They are put to work the moment we get out of bed. The ankle is the primary joint that establishes how all the joints in our kinetic chain respond. If the ankles are not moving well, all our other joints from the knees up will have to compensate. Ergo, it is vital that we consider all of our joints from the ground up.

In this post, we are going to cover the following:

  • Anatomy of the ankle
  • Importance of ankle mobility
  • What causes poor mobility
  • What is the cause of YOUR bad ankle mobility (test and assessments)
  • How to improve ankle mobility
  • 2 Ankle Mobility Resistance Band Exercises that you must do (Ankle Mobilization)

Overall, the goal of this post is to teach you how to improve your ankle mobility by using proven methods and exercises with resistance bands. Creating normalcy in your ankles' range of motion will be a game changer for your training, performance, and overall well-being. These are not short term solutions, they are long term fixes.

ANKLE ANATOMY

ankle anatomy

The ankle joint is called the “Ankle Mortise” joint or “Talocrural” joint. It is where the Tibia articulates with the Talus. It performs dorsiflexion and plantar flexion while other joints of the ankle move in different directions.

Plantarflexion is the movement of your toes pointing downward, while dorsiflexion is the movement of your toes towards to shin.

Although both plantarflexion and dorsiflexion are both important, dorsiflexion is particularly important as it allows your shins to move forward, relative to the position of your foot. This enables correct body positioning and effective implementation and production of force.

All in all, the ankle joint is one of the most crucial joints in our body. It is needed for the most basic movements in life all the way up to the most dynamic.

Unfortunately, it’s not a joint that many people focus on. You’ll see people working on hip mobility, thoracic spine mobility, and shoulder mobility. But the ankle is often overlooked.

IMPORTANCE OF ANKLE MOBILITY

importance of ankle mobility

Let’s discuss what ankle mobility means exactly and the importance of ankle mobility.

What is ankle mobility?

Ankle mobility deals with the flexibility of the ankle joint (talocrural joint) and its encompassing muscles and tendons. If your ankle is flexible, you will have a good range of motion, which is important for all sorts of daily activities, not to mention, fitness and sports.

Now, you don’t want your ankles to be too flexible. That isn’t ideal, as it can actually lead to injuries and overall weakness during activities like squats and sprints. What you want is to have “normal” ankle mobility.

So, the goal is to create or maintain normalcy in your ankle joint - i.e. a full range of motion.

The Importance of ankle mobility:

One of the most prevalent issues that people have, including athletes, is a lack of ankle mobility, especially the dorsiflexion range of motion.

Benefits of good ankle mobility:

  • Stronger and more explosive (e.g. squat heavier, jump higher, accelerate and run faster).
  • Better balance and stability.
  • Decreased risk of injury.

Without proper ankle mobility, the following issues are likely to arise:

  • Compensation during movements and exercises. For example, pointing your toes out during squats, which is a less biomechanically correct way of performing the exercise. Compensation due to a lack of ankle mobility is commonly seen in squats, lunges, and sprints.
  • Muscle imbalances. To make up for a lack of ankle mobility, often times people recruit the wrong muscles to get the job done. This is also due to improper form.
  • Injuries. Compound the issues above and the result is likely going to be an injury. And most commonly, it’s the knees that receive this fate.

WHAT CAUSES POOR ANKLE MOBILITY?

  1. Bony Limitations
  2. Increased scar tissue and soft tissue
  3. Decreased joint mobility at the talocrural joint

For bony limitations, doing exercises like the ones we are going to present below or doing myofascial release won’t help the situation as the issue is at the structural level. You will need surgery to fix your ankle mobility if this is the cause. No if, ands or buts.

For increased scar tissue and soft tissue, ankle myofascial release will help. 

For decreased joint mobility at the talocrural joint (your ankle), which is the most common cause of poor ankle mobility, there are a few exercises and stretches that you can do to improve your ankle mobility. This is the feature of this article, so we are going to go in-depth on this point below, while also showing you a video that demonstrates 2 essential resistance band ankle exercises to increase joint mobility at the talocrural joint.

Now, you may be wondering..

ankle mobility stretches

“What causes decreased mobility at the talocrural joint?”

There are many thing that cause a decrease in ankle mobility over time.

Bad posture, regularly wearing shoes with elevated heels like boots and high heels, and simply not moving your ankle through its full range of motion because of a sedentary lifestyle or an old injury can all cause decreased mobility in your ankle. Thankfully, it is fixable.

But, before you start trying to fix your ankle mobility, let’s be sure your ankle mobility isn’t caused by other issues such as soft tissue or bony limitations. Moreover, let’s make sure you actually have poor ankle mobility. As you don’t want to fix what isn’t broken…Remember, you just want a full range of motion, you don’t want to be hyper-flexible.

ANKLE MOBILITY ASSESSMENT AND TEST

To find out the state of your ankle mobility, we will run through an ankle mobility test and a couple of assessments.

How to know if your bad ankle mobility is caused by bony limitations?

Unfortunately, you won’t know for sure if you have bony limitations (aka a structural problem) unless you do an x-ray.

The good news is, doing ankle mobility exercises won’t hurt the cause, it just won’t fix it.

Ankle Mobility TEST

Let’s run through the test now then we can determine if it is soft tissue issue or simply decreased joint mobility.

how to do you test for ankle mobility

How do you test for ankle dorsiflexion:

  1. Find a wall, face towards it, and get into a half kneeling position with you front leg at 90 degrees and foot flat to the ground. Pointing directly forward, your front foot’s toes should be 4 inches away from the wall. Your back leg should be at 90 degrees with your toes/ball of your feet to the ground.
  2. Slowly move your knee towards the wall and try to touch it while keeping your heel on the ground. You can push the wall with your hands. Note: Your knee will be moving directly over your foot.

In terms of “normal” ankle mobility, if you can touch the wall, your range of motion is normal, 1 inch away from the wall is abnormal, and 2 inches is very abnormal.

So, essentially, if your knee doesn’t touch the wall, it’s time to improve your ankle mobility.

Test both sides!

It’s actually somewhat common to have one side that is more restricted than the other. This is especially true for those who’ve had calf, knee or ankle injuries. Knowing the state of your ankle mobility on both sides is vital for optimal success. Don’t just assume if one side is lacking mobility then the other is too.

Pay attention to your squat - THE SQUAT TEST

To perform squats correctly, you need a certain amount of dorsiflexion. If you can’t keep your heels on the ground, it is due to a lack of ankle mobility.

ankle mobility squat test

How to know if your bad ankle mobility is caused by increased soft tissue or scar tissue?

When doing the wall test (and your knee can't touch the wall), if you feel tightness or stretching in the your back calf and achilles, it is likely that your mobility is limited by soft tissue.

In this case, doing myofascial release can help. Follow these ankle myofascial release exercises to reduce soft tissue so you can get your mobility back to normal.

DECREASED JOINT MOBILITY

When doing the wall test (and your knee can't touch the wall), if you feel pinching or pressure at the front of the ankle, that is a clear sign of joint mobility limitation. And it’s time to do some stretches.

Note:

In any case, if your knee doesn’t touch the wall during the test, the following stretches can only be beneficial. Same goes for myofascial release.

If you don’t see any improvements when doing a few weeks of consistent ankle mobility stretches, then you may very well have limitations of the bone, which, again, will require surgery. At this point, it would make sense to consult a doctor/physiotherapist.

HOW TO IMPROVE ANKLE MOBILITY

We are now going to show you 2 of the best ankle mobility stretches, and then we are going to go over a few other ways that you can improve ankle mobility.

The following stretches are go-to ankle mobility resistance band exercises for physiotherapist, chiropractors, athletic coaches, and fitness trainers across the world.

The video was created by Dr. Michael Risher of RehabLab in Chicago. Dr. Michael Risher has a Bachelor of Science in Applied Health Science (Wheaton College, 2015), a Doctorate of Chiropractic (Palmer Chiropractic College West, 2019), and is a Certified Practitioner of Applied Kinesiology and CrossFit L-1 Trainer.

He is also one of SET FOR SET’s partners, so he used a SET FOR SET Resistance Band to demonstrate the two ankle mobility exercises. 

ANKLE MOBILITY STRETCHES

 

Ankle Mobilization Exercise #1:

  1. Attach the resistance band around an anchor and pull it tight.
  2. Face away from the anchor point, and wrap the band around the front of your ankle.
  3. Get into a lunge position and make sure the band is taut.
  4. From here, lunge forward slowly while keeping your heel on the ground.
  5. Hold for a second or two and come back. That’s one rep.

If you don’t feel that there is enough stretch, simply pop your foot forward a little more.

After you do 1 or 2 rounds of 10-15 lunges on both ankles, do the next ankle mobilization exercise.

Ankle Mobilization Exercise #2:

  1. Attach the resistance band around an anchor and pull it tight.
  2. Wrap the band around the back of your ankle, as you face the anchor point.
  3. Get into a lunge position and make sure the band is taut.
  4. Lunge forward slowly while keeping your heel on the ground.
  5. Hold for 2 seconds and then slowly lunge backwards - for this one, instead of stopping at midway point, continue moving back to stretch in the opposite way. So, you will be lunging forward and backward on this one.

Do 1 or 2 rounds of 10-15 lunges on both ankles.

Key Anatomy & Movement Points:

  • Tibia (shin) attaches right into your ankle mortise joint.
  • The ankle mortise joint has a horizontal joint plane parallel to the ground.

So, with the band set up, it will be pulling in the direction of the ankle mortise joint; pulling through the joint plane.    

As we try to get more dorsiflexion (moving foot towards shin), we will use the band to pull into the ankle mortise joint from the front and back.

Basically, what we are trying to get the joint to glide a little bit more in either direction. So, as the band pulls at your ankle, it applies force through the joint line, thus giving you a little more dorsiflexion in your ankle.

This will help you in your squat, deadlifts, olympic lifts, pistol squats, vertical jump and more.

All in all, ankle dorsiflexion is crucial for all types of exercises, and it will improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury. 

ankle mobility exercises

When to do these 2 resistance band ankle mobility exercises?

These two ankle band exercises are great to do before a workout, as a warm up.

There have been studies that show ankle mobilization and ankle adjustments help increase lower body strength in athletes. This is why these two exercises are common practice for professional athletes.

Note: These two ankle mobility resistance band exercises can also be done after a workout or anytime during the day.

How many reps and sets?

Do each exercise for 10-15 reps for 1 or 2 rounds, on both sides.

That is the perfect amount to give your ankle the mobilization it needs without overdoing it, as if you do too much your ankle will be too lax and your ankle will have a range of motion that it’s not use to. The recommended amount above will have your ankle gliding more smoothly, giving your the right amount of range of motion to complete the exercises at peak performance.

OTHER WAYS TO IMPROVE ANKLE MOBILITY:

Here are a few other exercises and stretches to improve ankle mobility.

Stretches:

  • Wall Lean Stretch
  • Standing Wall Calf Stretch
  • Ankle Circles
  • Standing Heal Lifts
  • Banded Ankle Flexion (Plantar)
  • Banded Ankle Flexion (Dorsiflexion)

Note: Stretching your calves can help with your ankles range of motion. Work on eccentric calf raises. Research has shown that eccentrics can help change the structural make up of muscles, which improves flexibility. Eccentric movements is when the active muscle is lengthening under a load. To do this, lower down slowly during the calf raise.

Squatting with poor ankle mobility

Barbell Back Squats require adequate dorsiflexion to be done correctly. It helps for proper tracking of the lumbar spine, hips, and knees.

So, until you create normalcy in your ankle mobility, you’ll want to do other squat variations, as you don’t want to NOT squat just because you have bad ankle mobility.

Plus, these variations will help improve your ankle dorsiflexion as well.

Here are two squat variations that are good for someone with less than adequate ankle mobility:

  • Goblet Squats
  • Box Squat

squats for people with poor ankle mobility

Summary:

Ankle Stretching and Mobilization is an important part of exercising and it is not to be overlooked.

It is key to enhancing your performance in sports, running, lifting, and overall daily life. It helps with balance, stability, strength and explosiveness.

So, be sure to add these 2 ankle mobilization resistance band exercises to your routine.

Note: If you are recovering from an injury, it is always smart to check with your doctor before doing any new exercise.

RESISTANCE BANDS

resistance bands

Resistance bands are an essential tool for athletes and weightlifters alike. Resistance bands are a fantastic implement for ankle mobility/mobilization. Not to mention, the mobilization of all our joints.

What's more, resistance bands are great for stretching, warming up, working out and rehabilitation. This is why you will find bands in every gym.

At SET FOR SET, we sell resistance bands. Our loop bands are of the highest quality. Our reviews speak to this. So, get yourself a band or a set of bands as they will come in handy throughout your entire fitness journey.

What size band for Ankle Mobilization?

ankle resistance band exercises

As seen in the video by Dr. Michael Risher, our blue band is great for Ankle Mobilization. It is also an effective size for hip mobility. That said, a green band will also be good.

We recommend getting a full set as all 5 bands are very useful, and you can read about the uses of each on our resistance bands product page.

If you want to save a little money, the set of 3 bands (yellow, black, and blue) is the best option in terms of versatility.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Let us know your favorite ankle mobility exercise in the comments below.

Dr. Michael Risher's 5 Rotator Cuff Exercises To Bulletproof Your Shoulders Using a Steel Mace. 



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