You never really hear about people working on the mobility of their ankles.
Heck no one even really seems to talk about their ankles unless their ankles are injured.
But our ankles, and our feet for that matter, play a huge role not only in our ability to move, but also in our ability to move well.
You may not realize it, but some of your injuries may be caused by your lack of ankle mobility. Ankle mobility can restrict movement and lead to compensations. If you have poor ankle mobility, you may not be engaging your posterior chain…aka your glutes and such. So when you do leg movements your quads may have to compensate, which can lead to knee problems, among other issues, AND can hinder your progress during your workouts.
Our feet and ankles are our base, and if something isn’t right at our base, how can we expect everything up the kinetic chain to perform well?
If the foundation of your house wasn’t solid, would you really expect the rest of the building to hold up well?
Of course not!
So how can you expect to perform well if your base isn’t solid?!?
So here are 10 great ways to improve your ankle mobility and foot and ankle strength so that you can squat better, run better, and suffer from fewer pains and injuries!
1. Foot foam rolling – A great way to roll out your foot and increase your foot and ankle mobility is using a tennis ball. Standing, put the tennis ball under the arch of your foot. Press down into the ball and roll up and down and side to side. You can also use a lacrosse ball or golf ball. The smaller and harder the ball, the more you will be able to dig in.
2. Lower Leg foam rolling – There are a number of different ways to roll out your calves and your shins. I show a few on Redefining Strength. You have to make sure to roll out your entire lower leg. Most people will do the calves but forget about the shins and even the side of their lower leg. You must hit your lower leg from every angle if you want great mobility. Using a roller, you can hit every part of your lower leg. To get the calf, sit over the roller with it right above your heel. Rock side to side and up and down as you move the roller toward the back of your knee. To hit your shin, kneel on top of the roller almost as if you were going to hold the pigeon pose. Do not foam roll the bone. By rocking to the side after hitting the front of your shin, you can get the outside of your lower leg.
3. Standing 3-way ankle mobility – One of the ankle mobility drills I use most often is a standing three-way drill. This drills is great and hits the ankle from different angles; HOWEVER, if you have knee problems, this move may not be for you. Number 7 may be a better fit if you are suffering from knee pain. To do this mobility move, standing facing a wall. You can put your hands on the wall for balance or support. Have one foot in front. This foot is the one working. Try to drive the knee straight forward over the toe and into the wall. Do not let the heel of the foot come up. Do that 10 times and then take a step out a bit wider and repeat. Then step across in front and repeat 10 more times. Make sure that your toe is always pointing directly toward the wall and that you are keeping the heel down as you drive your knee forward.
4. Bear Squat – The Bear Squat is one of my favorite ankle mobility moves because it is a great calf stretch and even gets my hamstrings sometimes. To do this move, start on your hands and knees as if you were about to crawl. Then drive up off your knees onto your toes and hands. Drive your heels as close to the ground as possible and then return back to kneeling. You can make this an even better warm up by not returning all the way back to kneeling but instead just to the bulldog position!
5. Single Leg calf and ankle stretch – Very similar to the Bear Squat although this really targets one ankle and calf at a time. Start in a plank like at the top of a push up. Cross one ankle over the other calf. Then pushing your butt up in the air, drive the heel of the foot down into the ground. Then move back toward the plank position and repeat about 10-15 times each side. Do not hold the stretch.
6. Kneeling foot stretch – (can be combined with bear squat) – I like to combine this one with the Bear Squat, but it does take a bit more mobility especially in the quads. To perform this move, kneel on the ground. Flex your feet with your toes tucked under and then sit back on your heels. If you combine this with the Bear Squat, you will sit back on your heels then move into a crawling position before pressing your hips up and your heels into the ground. Then return back to the kneeling position.
7. Elevated Toe Standing Dorsiflexion (foot “flexed”)- This is a great one for anyone with knee issues. Elevate your toes on books or plate weights or anything that is an inch or two higher than the ground. Place your toes up on the book and your heel on the ground. Then “squat” down a bit keeping your heels on the ground. You may sort of go forward instead of truly squatting down when doing this move. Just make sure to keep your heel on the ground. This move creates ankle dorsiflexion without you having to let the knee go over the toe.
8. Toe circles – This is a great move that you can do a variety of ways. You can sit, or even lie, on the ground and make circles with your toes. Make circles both clock-wise and counter clock-wise. You can also do this standing. Point your back foot with your big toe on the ground and the top of your foot facing the ground. Draw circles keeping your big toe in one spot.
9. ABCs – This one is a great rehab/prehab one to do right when you wake up or even right before you go to bend. Straighten one leg toward the ceiling while you are lying down. Draw the letters of the alphabet with your big toe.
10. Single Leg Balance with Swings– Working on your balance is key to having great ankle strength and mobility. You can stand and balance on one leg. You can balance on your toes. You can balance on a foam pad. Or you can even balance on an incline on your toes. Whichever way you choose to do, balancing is beneficial. One of my favorite balance moves because it also really warms up the knees and hips, is a single leg balance with leg swings. Stand on one foot and swing the other leg forward and backward. Make the swings bigger as you go. Then swing the same leg side to side, making the swings bigger as you go. Finally, do a rotational swing. Bend your knee to 90 degrees and rotate the leg open and close as if it were almost a door on a hinge.
All the moves above are great for ankle mobility, but you don’t need to do all of them every day or even every time you do a sprint or leg workout. Choose a couple to use when you warm up. And if you have suffered any ankle injuries, make sure to stay consistent with your prehab/rehab so that you restore your ankle to full mobility!