Quick Fixes for Ankle Mobility

Dr. Lauryn Ginsburg

When people come to see me complaining about not being able to hit full depth (below parallel) in their squat, they usually tell me they don’t have enough hip mobility, but in many cases, they are not able to get low enough because their ankles are not mobile enough. If you are wondering if this might be the case for you, here is a quick test you can do to check.

Get into a half-kneeling position in front of a wall without your shoes on (Figure 1). Bend your knee, leaning over your toes and touch your knee to the wall without letting your heel come off the floor (figure 2). Slowly move your foot further away from the wall until you can no longer touch your knee to the wall with your heel on the ground. Once you’ve found the furthest point at which you can touch with your foot flat, place your hand between your big toe and the wall (Figure 3). If you have at least enough room for the width of you hand (about 5 inches), then you should have enough dorsiflexion (bend) to squat below parallel. If you can’t get at least a hand-width away from the wall, then these next exercises for ankle mobility are for you!

1. Stretch Those Calves!

Your calf is made up of two big muscles, your gastroc and your soleos. Use these stretches to mobilize each of these muscles:

Gastroc Stretch:

Place one foot behind you, toes pointing straight forward, and back leg straight. Lean forward until a medium stretch is felt in the muscle just below your knee. Hold for 30-40 seconds, then repeat on the other leg.

Soleos Stretch:

Place one foot behind you, toes pointing straight forward, but this time bend back leg (knee bending over your toes). Lean forward until a medium stretch is felt in the muscle by your achilles. Hold for 30-40 seconds, then repeat on the other leg.

2. Foam Roll Your Calves!

Grab a foam roller, place one leg on top, and put your other foot on the floor. Lift your bottom off the floor and roll back and forth over your calf from just behind the knee down to your heel. Try about 30 seconds back and forth in the center of your calf, then turn your foot out roll for 30 seconds on the outside of your shin, then turn foot in and roll on the inside of your leg for 30 seconds.

3. Don’t forget about the muscles that cross the bottom of your feet! 

Using a golf ball or lacrosse ball, apply some pressure down on the ball through the arch of your foot and roll it back and forth between your toes and your heel for 2-3 minutes. This will help loosen up the plantar fascia.

Get into a tall kneeling position with your feet flexed underneath you. Slowly sit back, bringing your butt towards your heels. If your flexor hallucis longus muscle or plantar fascia are tight, you should feel a stretch across the bottom/arch of your foot or in your big toe. Sit there, with a medium level stretch, for 2 minutes.

4. Mobilize the ankle joint! Sometimes it’s not your muscles that are tight, it is joint stiffness.

Grab a thicker band and secure it around the bottom of a pull-up rig (or something else stable). Place the band around your ankle, right where it bends, then step away from the rig creating moderate level tension in the band. Step in front with the opposite leg. Bend your knee, driving it over your big toe, as far as your can without your heel lifting off the ground, then straighten your leg back out. Repeat 20-30 times on each leg. 

Get into a half kneeling position. Grab your hands around your shin and rotate it inwards (internal rotation of tibia), then slowly lean forwards driving your knee over your toes, while keeping your leg in that internal rotation position. Stop before your heel lifts off the ground, then return to starting position. Repeat 20 times on each leg. 

In the same half-kneeling position, take your opposite hand and place it over the top of your front foot, just below your ankle joint. Using that hand, rotate your foot outwards (like you are making a bigger arch in your foot), but not so far that your foot lifts off the ground and rolls out. Then lean forwards, driving your knee over your toes. Stop before your heel lifts off the ground, then return to the starting position. Repeat 20 times on each leg.

5. Reinforce that new range of motion! Now that you’ve stretched and mobilized the muscles and the joints in your foot and ankle, time to get it to stick!

Standing on a box or a plate, rise up on both toes, lift one foot up off the plate, then SLOWLY lower down on just one leg, until your heel hits the floor (or as far as you can go). The lower should be a slow 3 seconds. Place the other foot back down, rise up on 2 feet again, and then repeat on the other leg. Try 20-30 reps on each leg!

And don’t forget to do some squats with your new-found ankle mobility to reinforce that new position!