The MOVE by BJC Blog

The Importance of Ankle Mobility

The Importance of Ankle Mobility

Friday, May 31, 2019

Poor ankle mobility can inhibit your ability to properly perform multiple compound movements, from complex Olympic lifts to seemingly basic squat patterns. It can also affect your gait (how you walk), your running economy, and other cardiovascular activities such as rowing. With ankle mobility being involved in so many movements, it is important to consider what your own ankle mobility is like, specifically your ankle dorsiflexion. Poor ankle dorsiflexion is often due to tightness in one or more of the calf muscles. Here is more about a simple ankle mobility assessment you can do at home, and a few tips on how to improve and/or maintain good ankle mobility.

Gray Cook is the physical therapist that co-founded Functional Movement Systems and Michael Boyle is a strength and conditioning coach with over 30 years of experience. Together, they produced the Joint-by-Joint approach to training. This approach is based on the idea that the human body is a stack of joints that alternate between mobility-based or stability-based needs. For example, the ankle’s primary need is mobility, while the knee’s primary need is stability; the hip’s primary need is mobility and the lumbar spine needs stability. If a “mobile” joint loses range of motion, this will lead to a “stable” joint attempting to compensate for this loss of motion. This compensation will affect the whole chain of stacked joints that the body is comprised of. Often when someone is experiencing knee pain (stable joint), the actual cause of this pain originates from issues at either the joint above or below the knee (the hip or ankle, which are mobile joints).

There are multiple assessments available to test your ankle mobility, and one of the easiest tests requires no equipment. Begin in a half kneeling position with your right knee underneath your right hip and your left knee facing a wall. Place your left foot one hand’s-width distance away from the wall. While keeping your left heel on the ground, attempt to touch your left knee to the wall. Ideally, your knee should be able to pass over your toes by 3-5 inches. If you cannot touch the wall with your knee while keeping your heel on the ground, that is a sign that your ankle mobility could use some work! Make sure to test both sides; just because one side has sufficient mobility doesn’t mean the other side will.

Improving your ankle mobility requires some simple stretches, mobility drills, and a decent amount of patience and consistency. I typically recommend performing self-myofascial release (using either a foam roller, a racquetball or a tennis ball) on the muscles above and below the ankle joint at least three times per week, one or two minutes in duration. In terms of static stretching, you can use the position required by the assessment mentioned above for a static stretch. Follow the instructions above and hold your knee over your toe as far as it will go for a total of at least one minute on each side. If you can’t complete the full minute, break it up as needed. Try these exercises for a few weeks, retest, and see how much you have improved. If you would like to learn more ways to improve joint mobility and stability throughout your body, please contact a fitness specialist at Move by BJC.

- Alex Roberts