Mobility Series Part I: Ankle
We decided to create a series of articles on common mobility issues that I see in athletes, and I wanted to begin with the ankle and the lower leg. For each of these segments, I’ll go over the telltale signs of a lack of mobility in the area in question, and then discuss some fixes that I’ll usually program for them.
Stiff or immobile ankles can show up in a lot of ways, but are very easy to spot when an individual is performing a squatting movement. The type of posture required for Olympic-style squats demands good ankle mobility in order to keep the upper body as upright as possible. I can see that an athlete has bad ankles if they squat and their knees can’t push forward very far, and their chest is dumping forward to compensate. Athletes snatching with immobile ankles will often dump their chest forward and miss the bar behind them as a result.
So, some common fixes that I like to program are:
Angle Board Stretch
I think most people have done a variation of this stretch before, just dropping the heel over an angled board in order to lengthen the Achilles and the muscles in the calf. Athletes can alter the stretch by leaning their body forward into it, or pushing the knee forward as well to target different areas.
PVC Pipe Walks
This is one of my favorites for opening up the fascia of the feet, reinforcing the arches, and stretching the Achilles. I tend to program several sets of 1 minute duration, with the athlete rolling the pipe forward with their feet. Athletes who need more ankle focus can actively try to drop their heel over the back of the pipe in order to increase the stretch to the back of the lower leg.
Lax Ball Roll
I’ll have athletes generally perform this as a warm-up, and it follows similar principles as most rolling techniques. An athlete will sit with their extended and a lacrosse ball (or other hard surface) rolling under the leg, loosening up the muscles in the lower leg. This can often allow athletes to immediately get into much better positions with regard to ankle dorsiflexion.
Bar Supported Squats
I couldn’t come up with a catchy name for these, but many people familiar with weightlifting will recognize them. The athlete sits into a deep squat position with the bar (or another relatively heavy object) resting across their knees. This will bias the individual’s center of mass further forward, as though they had proper range of motion in the ankle joint. They can then work to press their knees forward and stretch the ankles, while also mimicking a proper upright posture with the upper body.
Hopefully you found this guide informative, and feel free to drop any questions in the comments below. Be on the lookout for the next entry in our mobility series.