Supple Ankles Anyone?

How much can your ankles really inhibit your favorite activities?

The ankle is a tiny joint and after all, it only holds your foot onto your leg! For most people ankle mobility is an underrated and misunderstood necessity. You keep hearing (what quickly becomes ever so obnoxious) your coach yelling, "Sit back in your heels Emily", "Get your chest up Emily", "Emily, you have lost all of your lumbar curve, seriously?!" Squats turn south quick without the much sought after supple ankle. So what kind of range of motion are we looking for here and how do we get it? 

The ankle is a hinge joint and moves (on its own) through one plain of motion: the sagittal plane. We can identify two movements within this plane: plantarflexion and dorsiflexion. The way I remember the difference between the two is plantar flexion is "pointing" your toes ("P" for plantar and point) and dorsiflexion is pulling the toes back, like when you prop up a door ("D" for dorsi and door). Brilliant word association, I know. 

For many people, dorsiflexion mobility is the limiting factor to squatting with A+ form. Tightness in the ankle can come from a myriad of sources: tight calves, tight ankle joint, bad posture, previous injury, and wearing heels (YES, I am suggesting you wear flats).

How do we know if our ankles are supple versus sucky?

One of the easiest tests you can do is to have a friend (or total stranger, that's fun too) watch you complete a couple air squats. Do your heels come off the ground and/or are your ankles caving in? Another test I enjoy is to kneel in front of a wall and step one foot forward as if you were going to stretch your hip flexor. Position your front foot about five inches away from the wall. While keeping your heel firmly planted on the ground, see if you can touch your knee to the wall. No, you can't? Yeah, I figured that much. But don't you fret! MOD is here to save the day. 

Below are some easy-peasy ways to get that ankle moving so well that you'll be able to brag to all your friends and be the hit of all the mobility parties. 

TOE UP THE WALL

Place the ball of your foot on the wall with your heel on the floor. From here you can do two things. First, hold a static position and slowly move your hips towards the wall with a straight but soft knee for 30-60 seconds before switching sides. Second, making sure to keep your foot planted, bend your knee towards the wall. Continue to bend and release for 1-2 minutes before switching sides.  

Place the ball of your foot on the wall with your heel on the floor. From here you can do two things. First, hold a static position and slowly move your hips towards the wall with a straight but soft knee for 30-60 seconds before switching sides. Second, making sure to keep your foot planted, bend your knee towards the wall. Continue to bend and release for 1-2 minutes before switching sides.  

ANKLE FLEXION WITH RESISTANCE BAND

  Attach a strong resistance band to a rig or other solid setup at ankle height. Step one foot into the resistance band and position the band to fit at the base of your ankle. Take a large step forward and scoot yourself out as far as you can. From here step into a low lunge (like your stretching your hip flexor) with the banded ankle forward and use the weight of your upper body to push your knee forward and out to the side (not towards the center). Work on each ankle for 2 minutes. 

 

Attach a strong resistance band to a rig or other solid setup at ankle height. Step one foot into the resistance band and position the band to fit at the base of your ankle. Take a large step forward and scoot yourself out as far as you can. From here step into a low lunge (like your stretching your hip flexor) with the banded ankle forward and use the weight of your upper body to push your knee forward and out to the side (not towards the center). Work on each ankle for 2 minutes. 


ANKLE FLEXION WITH BARBELL ASSIST

Using a 35-45 pound barbell, come down into a squat with knees and feet slightly turned out. Rest the barbell on your thighs right above the knee. Hang out here for two minutes and feel the magic happen!  


Using a 35-45 pound barbell, come down into a squat with knees and feet slightly turned out. Rest the barbell on your thighs right above the knee. Hang out here for two minutes and feel the magic happen!  

So there you have it supple-ankle seekers. You now have three exercises to get those ankles so supple even your coaches will be like, "Dang! Where'd you get those ankles?!"  Your response, "Wouldn't you like to know." Spread the knowledge, spread the supple ankle.