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February 21, 2022
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. This post covers 7 of the best ankle mobility exercises that can be done in the comfort of your home to avoid potential injuries
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:
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.
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.
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:
Without proper ankle mobility, the following issues are likely to arise:
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 strengthening exercises to increase joint mobility at the talocrural joint.
Now, you may be wondering..
“What causes decreased mobility at the talocrural joint?”
There are many things 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.
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 do you test for ankle dorsiflexion:
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.
ANKLE MOBILITY 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.
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 your back calf and Achilles, it is likely that your mobility is limited by soft tissue. In this case, doing myofascial release can help.
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, might require surgery. At this point, it would make sense to consult a doctor/physiotherapist.
We are now going to show you 7 of the best ankle mobility exercises, and then we are going to go over a few other ways that you can improve ankle mobility.
The following exercises 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.
Now we're getting to the meat and potatoes with 7 of the best ankle mobility exercises your can do to prevent injury and improve how you move.
Ankle circles will help to improve the range of motion in the joint. This is a low impact exercise that most people should be able to do.
Standing heel lifts are a great ankle mobility exercise to get a good stretch. They are also versatile as you can make them more difficult by adding resistance while holding onto weights or make them easier by performing them while seated.
Note: Perform these next to a wall or chair so that we use brace your body if needed.
This ankle mobility exercise is similar to the standing heel lifts except for the fact you’ll move through a wider range of motion.
Note: Use a railing for support if needed.
Toe heel walks are a great ankle mobility exercise that also strengthens the feet. We prefer to do this exercise without shoes on but feel free to perform with your shoes on as well.
This is one of the more advanced ankle mobility exercises that requires more ankle dorsiflexion. This exercise will help to target the ankle, Achilles Heel and calf. You'll also work your core, shoulders and arms slightly while bracing your body in position
This is a great ankle mobilization technique to do with a resistance band before your workout so that you can reap the benefits of it while you train. Watch the video below where Dr. Risher takes you through the movement.
Note: 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.
This is another awesome ankle mobility exercise with bands that can use the force and tension to work on improving the dorsiflexion of the ankle. Check out the video beneath for a step by step demonstration.
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.
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.
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.
What size band for Ankle Mobility & Strengthening 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. Buy SET FOR SET resistance bands to aid you in improving your joint mobility and overall health.
Here are a few other exercises and stretches to improve ankle mobility. Stretching your calves can help with your ankles range of motion. Work on eccentric standing 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.
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:
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 7 ankle mobility 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.
Let us know your favorite ankle mobility exercise in the comments below.
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