If we think of the body and its function as a whole, ultimately it must work as an overall unit to exert its full potential. Often athletes work endlessly to improve on certain areas of their body to get stronger, fitter and more mobile, but tend to neglect those areas that can optimise your overall performance. If you have any imbalances in your body, it places you at a higher risk of injuries.
One of the many neglected areas athletes generally do not work on is their ankle mobility. From as little as walking, lifting or jumping, an area as small as the ankle can have a large impact on how your body adapts to movement.
Ankle Mobility 101
The term ankle mobility refers to the movement and flexibility of the foot in both planar and dorsiflexion.
The two bones of the leg are known as the tibia and fibula. These two bones are the main bones that make up the ankle joint. Along with the two main bones of the leg, there are also several smaller bones which allow the ankle to rotate, move up and down, in and out and side to side.
Why is ankle mobility important for optimum performance?
The flexibility of the ankle can determine the ability of how to perform an exercise. As stated before, the body is a whole unit. When one area does not function at 100% then it causes a domino effect on the surrounding areas. Poor ankle mobility can even cause poor posture as the chest begins to lean forward.
Some reasons why ankle mobility is important:
- Prevents knee and hip muscles from weakening
- Prevents ACL injuries
- Increases mobility around strength training
- Reduces risk of foot collapsing (foot becoming unstable)
For example, the range of a squat. I used to hear the good old myth that "your knees shouldn't go past your toes when you squat" and would live by it!
When I used to perform a squat, my chest would cave forward and my depth would be limited. I would always work on my hips and try and find different ways to keep my chest tall but I was never able to get to the depth I needed. My thought process at the time was that I needed to work on my hips and glutes but never even thought about working on my ankles.
I started researching a lot about mobility and how to improve my squat. I came across a guy named “knees over toes guy” on Instagram and he completely changed how I performed a squat as well as how I coach someone through that movement. The knowledge and proof of how mobility in ankles works to perform better was crazy!
I have not looked back since and encourage your knees to go over your toes when squatting for the ultimate form and depth.
Testing for poor ankle mobility
Perform a bodyweight squat in front of a mirror or record yourself side on.
- Do your heels come off the ground?
- How low does your rnage allow you to go? 90 degrees? 45 degrees?
- Do your knees track over your toes? If they don't, your mobility is limited.
Find yourself a wall and perform a hip flexor stretch with your foot about 12cm (5 inches) from the wall. Drive your knee forward in an attempt to touch the wall. Your heel needs to be flat on the ground. If you fail to touch the wall or your heels come off the ground, your mobility needs to be worked on.
How to improve mobility
- Performing heel raises. Starting on a flat surface, hold the wall in front and begin to lift your heels off the floor. As you please, increase your incline, for example placing your feet on a plate or some dumbbells with your heels hanging off to progress as your ankle mobility improves.
- Put your foot against a wall with toes pointing up. While keeping your foot on the wall, move your leg right to left, creating constant movement in your ankle. Try for 2 minutes each leg.
- Perform a deep squat and hold yourself against a rig or something stable. Hold onto the rig and lean back. As you are in this position, your toes should be able to slightly rock back and forth against the rig causing tension in the ankle. You can perform this same movement with elevated heels, moving into dorsiflexion of the ankle.
The overall use of the ankle can ultimately have a major effect on one's performance. It’s important not to neglect the small areas of the human body as it creates a domino effect and affects movement.
Work on the small areas and the overall results and benefits will be clear through your performance/movement.