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October 14, 2022 10 min read

Introduction

Ankle mobility is a term that is commonly used by physical therapists, athletic trainers, and other medical professionals when assessing the range of motion in the ankle. The ankle joint has two different roles in human movement. It acts as a hinge joint when walking, running, and jumping, and it acts as a ball and socket joint when standing on one foot.

Ankle mobility is important for injury prevention in sports because injuries can occur if the ankle is not able to move through its full range of motion.

Another easy test is just to try a bodyweight squat with a flat foot and see if you can comfortably come down and stay in the position without feeling any discomfort or pain. If getting into a squat or holding squat depth below parallel is difficult or impossible, then ankle mobility may be an issue for you.

If your ankles are stiff and unable to move, this can lead to knee and back pain. It can also lead to poor athletic performance and injuries. It is important to perform ankle mobility exercises if you want to avoid these problems. Ankle mobility exercises can help you to improve your overall health and fitness. They are also useful if you have ankle joint pain or other problems with your feet.

If you’re experiencing tightness and limited ankle range of motion, a combination of exercises can help you improve. Regardless of whether you have mobility issues due to arthritis, injury, or some other cause, improving ankle mobility is one way to help prevent further movement problems.

There are many different ankle mobility exercises that you can do to increase your range of motion. Some of these are simple and easy to perform, while others may require some equipment or assistance from a partner. You should start with the easiest exercises first, then move on to those that require more effort.

Ankle mobility is a big deal for athletes, especially those who play sports that require quick movements. If you're an athlete looking to improve your ankle mobility, we've got you covered.

In this post, we'll go over what ankle mobility is, how to improve it, and how to do it safely!

What Is Ankle Mobility?

Ankle mobility refers to the range of motion in your ankles. It includes:

-Dorsiflexion—the movement of lifting your toes up toward your shinbone (as in a calf raise).

-Plantar flexion—the movement of pointing your toes down toward the ground (as in a toe touch).

-Inversion—the movement of rotating your foot inward so that the sole of the foot faces toward the midline of your body (as in a squat).

-Eversion—the movement of rotating your foot outward so that the sole of the foot faces away from the midline of your body (as in lunging).

If you're experiencing pain during squats (bodyweight squats, dumbbell squats, kettlebell goblet squats), this could be due to a lack of ankle mobility. With poor ankle mobility, the ankles have less range of motion and are unable to flex and extend properly. When squatting, the ankles must be able to properly flex and extend so that they can absorb the impact of landing after rising from the bottom position.

If your ankles aren't mobile enough, they will not be able to absorb this impact as well as they should and may result in pain.

Feel free to use these exercises in your daily warm up routine. Try doing two sets for 10-15 reps at a time, and then later build upon it with more sets, or try to add weight around your ankles. Or perhaps take some of the movements and try to incorporate them into your next training cycle for those heavier compound movements: the squat, deadlift, and lunge would be the best places to start.

The Ankle Is Complex

The ankle is a complex joint that allows the foot to flex and extend while performing movements such as walking, running, jumping, and squatting. Ankle mobility is essential for these movements.

The ankle has three main joints.

The talocrural joint (ankle) connects the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) to the tarsal bones of the foot. The subtalar joint connects the talus to the calcaneus (heel bone). And finally, the midtarsal joint connects the talus with its neighboring tarsal bones.

There are also two ligaments that prevent excessive rotation at each ankle joint: the anterior talofibular ligament — which limits outward rotation at the talocrural joint and the posterior tibiotalar ligament — which limits inward rotation at the talocrural joint.

1. Ankle circles

  • To do ankle circles, stand on one leg and rotate your foot around in large circles with the toes pointed outwards. Do this exercise by holding onto something for balance if it helps you feel safer when doing so. You can also use a small ball to roll over and massage your feet while doing the movement to give yourself a little extra support as well.

  • This exercise is great for improving ankle mobility because it helps improve flexibility in the muscles that surround your ankles, which means they’re able to move more freely than they could before you started this routine! It also helps develop ankle strength and strengthen those same muscles in preparation for other exercises that require exertion from those areas like jumping or running fast around an obstacle course set up at home (it doesn’t necessarily need to be a real obstacle course; anything, where there are lots of different surfaces underfoot, will suffice).

  • Doing these types of movements regularly will help keep those sore spots away.

2. Heel lifts

To start, stand with your feet under your hip and raise your heels so that you are on the balls of your feet. Hold for 5 seconds before lowering back down to 90 degrees (bent knees). Repeat 10 times, then switch legs and repeat as needed.

This is one movement that will help improve ankle mobility in a wide range of people. If this version is too much for you, try doing heel lifts while sitting in a chair or lying on the floor with a rolled-up towel under each foot. It may take some time before you can hold these longer periods without pain or discomfort, but it’s worth it!

3. Pigeon ankle stretch

The Pigeon ankle stretch is a great way to work on ankle mobility while also strengthening your glutes and quads.

  • To perform the exercise, place your right shin flat on the ground and your left knee on the ground with your foot in front of you.

  • Then, straighten out your right leg behind you while keeping your hips square with the ground (do not rotate).

  • If possible, push through that heel until it's about an inch off of the floor; if this is too challenging for you, don't worry! Just try to get as far as feels comfortable for now.

  • Hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute before switching sides and repeating for 3 sets total per side.*

4. Gastrocnemius and soleus stretch

  • Gastrocnemius and soleus stretch

It's not a stretch to say that the gastrocnemius is the most important of the calf muscles. It originates at the inferior aspect of the femur and attaches to the Achilles tendon, along with the soleus muscle. The gastrocnemius has two primary functions: plantarflexion at the ankle and knee flexion. When you push off with your toes during a sprint, this is when the calf muscles contract in their respective functions.

To do this exercise, place a towel or strap around the ball of your foot. Your leg should be straight with your knee locked out and lifted up towards the ceiling. With this position, pull your toes back towards your shin while keeping your knee straight. Hold for 30 seconds, then release slowly before doing it again for another 30 seconds on that side of the body. Repeat 3 times total per leg in order to achieve optimal results!

5. Calf foam rolling

  • Place the foam roller under your calf muscle, resting it on top of your foot.

  • Roll back and forth for 30 seconds, holding for about 10 seconds on each side. Repeat this three times to ensure good circulation throughout the calf muscles.

  • Make sure not to roll over any joint from knee to ankle. This can cause damage if you do so and should only be done by a professional therapist or trainer.

6. Achilles tendon stretch

  • Achilles tendon stretch

Place a towel under your foot and straighten your leg. Gently pull your toes back toward you, hold for 30 seconds, then release and repeat three times on each side.

 

7. Ankle Dorsiflexion Testing

If you’re looking for a way to test your ankle dorsiflexion, it’s easy!

First, find a wall. Your back leg should be at 90 degrees with your toes/ball of your feet to the ground. Your front foot should be at 90 degrees with your toes/ball of your feet to the ground and pointing directly forward. Pointing directly forward, your front foot’s toes should be 4 inches away from the wall.

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 if you want. Note: Your knee will be moving directly over your foot.

8. Ankle dorsiflexion mobilization with a resistance band

Place a resistance band around your ankle and step forward so that you can obtain tension in the band.

Pull toward your shin, then pull to the front of your foot, then pull to the side (you may have to bend your knees more for this), then pull toward the back of your heel. Repeat in each direction for ten reps on each side.

9. Ankle dorsiflexion mobilization using a foam roller

  • Ankle dorsiflexion mobilization using a foam roller

This is a great stretch to help improve ankle mobility by targeting the plantar fascia and calf muscles. To perform this exercise, lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Place the foam roller underneath your ankles for stability as you lift one foot off of it at a time. Lift up only high enough so that there’s some tension in those muscles but not so high that you feel pain or discomfort in any part of your body (including your back!). Hold each position for about 30 seconds before switching sides and repeating for 10-12 reps per side (3 sets total).

10. Anterior Tibialis Strengthening Exercises

The anterior tibialis muscle is located on the front side of your lower leg and helps control pronation (turning inward) and eversion (twisting outwards). Weakness in this muscle can cause increased pronation when landing or jumping off of one foot, which could lead to ankle sprains and other injuries such as shin splints, knee pain, and hip pain.

Toe raises/heel drops.

This ankle mobility exercise is performed while standing on a step and involves alternating between rising up onto the toes and dropping the heels down. This exercise can be done with both feet together or one foot at a time.

Toe raises are one of the most basic exercises you can do to improve ankle mobility. Toe raises can be performed at home or in a gym, but I recommend using the latter because it makes your body more stable and therefore safer.

Perform this exercise by standing on a step with your heels hanging off the edge and your toes on top of the step. Slowly lower yourself down by bending your knees so that your heels come off the edge. Then press yourself back up by straightening your knees as much as possible.

Repeat this exercise for 10-20 reps and keep a neutral spine throughout the movement (don’t flex or round your back).

Soft Tissue Work

Soft tissue work is important for improving mobility, but it’s not always necessary due to the fact that most athletes are already doing some form of soft tissue work (i.e foam rollers). However, if you feel like your ankles are tight or you want to improve them even further, it would be good to add some soft tissue work into your routine after every training session (5-10 minutes). You can also use lacrosse balls or a massage gun on any tight spots like the top of your foot or under your arch.

Kneeling Position

The kneeling position is an excellent way to assess ankle flexibility. Begin by kneeling on one knee with your other leg straight out in front of you. The goal is to get your heel flat on the ground while keeping your toes pointing up toward the sky. If you can’t get your heel flat on the ground, use a foam roller or other object under your foot until it becomes easier. Do not let your knee cave in toward your chest and sit up tall throughout the entire exercise.

The big toe can limit ankle mobility.

The big toe is a powerful muscle and it’s not just for standing on. It’s important to be able to push off with your foot and walk, run, jump, dance, and play sports.

When the big toe is tight or stiff, it can pull on the muscles around it and make them shorter. This can cause problems in the ankle joint because this joint relies on muscles and ligaments working together to keep it moving smoothly.

If you have tightness or stiffness in your big toe joint, it can cause pain when walking or running that comes from too much stress on the joints in your feet. These injuries are called metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of the foot) or hallux limitus (pain at the first joint of your big toe).

Poor ankle mobility can lead to knee and back pain, but it can be improved!

Poor ankle mobility can lead to knee and back pain, but it can be improved!

  • Improving ankle mobility will help prevent injury.

  • How to improve ankle mobility: these exercises will get you there!

Conclusion

These exercises will help with ankle mobility and prevent pain in other areas.

The ankle joint is important in terms of both stability and mobility. On the one hand, it must be capable of withstanding the stress of standing, walking, and running. On the other hand, it must allow for sufficient flexibility to aid normal movement patterns (e.g. walking, running, and jumping). Ankle injuries can have a serious impact on sporting and recreational pursuits, as well as on the general quality of life and comfort of affected individuals.

The second method is to use a foam roller or massage gun to massage your calves, ankles, and feet. Massage can help break up scar tissue that may be limiting your ankle range of motion. A massage therapist can help you find the tight areas in your calves and feet, but you can also do some self-myofascial release (SMR) by rolling over your legs with a foam roller or lacrosse ball.

You can increase your ankle mobility in a few different ways. The first and easiest is to simply get on the ground and practice these exercises several times per week.


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