There it is again.
The strain, click, and pop, every time you flex your ankle, or have to bend down to pick something up.
But you’re not alone.
Reduced ankle mobility is the number 1 cause of injury in the lower body, and one of the main reasons why your stability and range of motion in exercises are lacking.
So, how can we develop this?
How can we identify the root cause of our strains and pains and take steps to enhance mobility in our ankle joints?
In this article, I’m giving you everything you need to know about your ankle strength, from a quick test to see if your ankle mobility is a problem, to the top 4 movements you can use to get your lower body much more flexible.
Let’s get into it.
What Is Ankle Mobility?
During your mundane life, you will probably walk approximately 3000 to 4000 steps a day.
Now each and every one of these steps requires the muscle tissues, ligaments, tendons, and the joint surrounding the ankle in order to move.
However, the flexibility of this area is the main determinant of your ankle mobility, with some of us having stiff muscles and tendons which prevent a large range of motion, and others having the complete opposite.
In other words, the flexibility of the supporting elements is what dictates your ankle mobility.
What Causes Poor Ankle Mobility?
There are a number of reasons that the flexibility within your ankle is not up to standard.
But they all stem from one area – a lack of strength training in the lower body.
Usually, if you lack power in certain muscles, like your calves or hamstrings, then the limberness is going to be underwhelming.
Of course, this results in a lack of support around the ankle joint, making it less mobile.
This isn’t always your fault.
If you are someone who has suffered from long-term ankle issues or have recently come back from an injury affecting that area, then you are going to have weaker ankles.
Someone who wears shoes that flex and elevate your ankle, such as high heels, will also experience a lack of flexibility in the lower leg.
You may be unsure whether your ankle mobility is the cause of a lack of depth in your squats or the reason your stability is lacking in other compound movements.
But luckily, there is a quick test you can do:
- Find a flat surface near a wall and kneel in front of it.
- Place the other foot in front of the wall, about 5-7 inches away.
- Keep your torso upright and hands by your side, and begin trying to touch the wall with your knee without moving your ankle.
- If you manage to complete this movement without your heel lifting off the ground, then you have good ankle mobility.
- If you struggle to do this, then you probably have poor flexibility in your lower leg.
Why Is Ankle Mobility So Important?
Ankle mobility has such a substantial effect in the gym, and the world.
For example, if you lack strength in the tendons and ligaments in your ankle, then you are more likely to injure yourself anywhere in your lower body, including dislocating your hip discs.
I bet you didn’t know the ankle had that much effect so far up your body!
Not only this, but your ankle flexibility is the main contributor to the depth of your squat.
If you have stiff muscles in and around your ankles, they will not be able to bend and help you push your booty to the ground and drive back upwards, without losing balance or succumbing to the pressure of the weight on your back.
Ankle mobility is also important for keeping your body stable.
If it is not able to do so, your upper body will begin to lean to balance itself out, resulting in poor posture.
Last but not least, having good versatility in your ankle will enhance the strength of your lower body.
More specifically the posterior chain of muscles, such as the calves and the hamstrings, will be able to move more freely and have the range of motion to push weight you never could before.
4 Exercises To Improve Your Ankle Mobility
First up on this list is an exercise that can help improve the strength of the calf muscles around the ankle, while using a mix of dorsiflexion and plantarflexion to help improve the mobility of the tendons in the ankle.
You can do this movement in a variety of ways.
Some tend to use the calf extension machine in the gym, however, it is just as effective for the ankle to do them on the stairs, or another elevated surface.
Because the pivot of this exercise is the ankle, you can expect consistent training to aid the ankle’s mobility positively.
By flexing it up and down with a constant load, all of the relevant muscles are strengthened, as well as the joint becomes familiar with the movement and added weight.
Not only is a calf raise good for ankle mobility, but it will also help your explosive power in sports, as well as improve your overall balance and posture.
This makes it an excellent exercise in any lower body workout regime.
How To Do It At Home
- To do this at home, with both dorsiflexion and plantarflexion, we will need a step or elevated surface.
- Stand with the front of your feet on this step, with your legs extended and your body upright.
- Engage your core and drive through the planted part of your foot, extending your heel upwards. This is plantarflexion.
- Hold this position for a second, and then slowly lower it down, past the original position until your heels are as low as they can be. This is dorsiflexion.
- Push your heels back to the original position and repeat.
- Aim for around 20 controlled reps for 4 sets.
Checkout this youtube Video I uploaded showing you the benefits of doing 100 calf raises a day for 30 days!
Banded Ankle Flex
Now, we can introduce the band and a slow, controlled movement to truly start our mission of improving flexibility.
There are two ways we can do this.
First, we can concentrate on flexing our ankle towards us, helping with dorsiflexion, or away from us, for plantar flexion.
I would recommend having a mix of both.
If we do it this way, we can ensure all of the muscles around our ankle are being trained for both movements, helping to maximize the mobility in our ankle.
Also, we can release the ligaments in the ankle we don’t use as often, helping to create flexibility and strength in that area.
Another benefit of using a band in this way is the increase in time under tension.
As we are consistently fighting the resistance with our ankle, we are improving the range of motion in our ligaments, as well as having better control over our ankle joints.
This ultimately improves our ankle mobility and will help us get a deeper squat.
Unfortunately, not everyone has resistance bands lying about their home.
If you want to pick up some cheap, reliable, and high-quality sets of resistance bands, then check out DMoose. With this set, you will pick up free delivery, and a free 30-day warranty.
What’s not to love?
How To Do The Plantarflexion Variation
- First, sit on the ground with your arms on the floor behind you for support, your back straight, and your legs extended in front.
- Then you want to loop the resistance band around the bottom of your feet, while the other end is around your back, putting tension on your calves.
- Keeping your back and legs straight, begin to resist the band by flexing your foot forward.
- Push it as far as you can, and then hold it for a second.
- Slowly control the band back to the original position and repeat.
- Do this for 20 reps and 3 sets.
- Switch to the dorsiflexion variation by attaching the band to the front, and bending your toes towards you.
Walking lunges should be in everybody’s leg routine.
No if’s or but’s about it.
They are incredible for building size, strength, and of course, improving ankle mobility.
By removing the added weight of dumbbells and kettlebells, and purely concentrating on the mind-muscle connection, we can begin to put stress on the muscles around the ankle, helping to improve flexibility.
As well as this, our ankle joint has to use tendons and ligaments to help keep our foot planted, and prevent losing balance.
So this means we are training this area to become more stable and thus have a lot more strength.
This movement isn’t as effective for flexibility as the others, however, it is a compound exercise that can be easily folded into a workout so that you can train your hamstrings and quads efficiently while helping to enhance your ankle’s mobility.
How To Do It
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your torso upright.
- With your right foot planted, step your left foot out about a meter in front.
- Engage your core and begin to bend your left knee, lowering your body to the ground.
- Allow your right heel to begin to raise from the ground.
- To ensure we are training our ankle mobility, control the movement down until your thigh is parallel to the ground. Do not allow your knee to move ahead of your ankle, and try to keep your body as stable as you can.
- Drive through your glutes to extend your legs back to the standing position.
- Step your right foot a meter ahead of your left and repeat.
- Aim for 12 reps on each foot, for 3 sets.
Kettlebell On Knee Dorsiflexion
The next move is a nice comfortable stretch you can do at the end of your workout to slowly ease your ankle into improving its flexibility.
By placing the kettlebell on your knee, and slowly shifting the weight over your ankle, you can determine the exact mobility of the joint, as well as work out the source of pain and discomfort.
A great thing about using a stretch, rather than weight-bearing exercise, is that you can slowly progress over time.
It isn’t just a movement where you have to get to a certain point to complete the range of motion, but is completely up to you and your capabilities.
As well as this, the stretch also provides a little bit of an overload around the calf muscles, helping to improve the explosiveness and strength so your athletic prowess can increase, and the risk of injury decreases.
It’s always important to include stretches and a cool down after your workout to help improve post-workout oxygen consumption and help your muscles recover more efficiently.
How To Do It
- Find a comfortably weighted kettlebell and a flat surface.
- Get down onto one knee, with the working knee just above the ankle, and place the kettlebell with both hands on it.
- Engage your core and keep your back straight.
- Slowly push your knee over your ankle, moving your whole body with it. You should feel the tension in and around your ankles.
- Stop when you begin to feel pain.
- Control your body back to its original position.
- Repeat this movement 8 times, and then switch legs. Do this twice at the end of your leg workout.
So, there we have it.
A comprehensive guide on what exactly is ankle mobility, and how we can determine the flexibility of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in that area.
Everyone needs to improve in this area if they want a deeper, fuller squat, or even if they want to reduce the ankle pain they get in everyday life.
Fortunately, performing these exercises and stretches on your leg day will do just that.
The best part is each and every one of these movements can be done from the comfort of your home. If working out anywhere you like interests you, check out my free Ebook, “Train Wherever The F*ck You Want” to escape the gym membership.