Getting desired results from your workouts isn’t just about the exercises you perform.
The success of the routine depends on the actual performance i.e. how you do it.
For this reason, it is necessary to work on improving your mobility, flexibility, and range of motion. That way you can perform your exercises more effectively and yield better results.
In this post, you’re going to learn more about ankle mobility WOD (workout of the day) and why it’s important to improve ankle mobility in the first place. Read on to learn more.
The Role of Ankle Mobility
The term ankle mobility refers to the flexibility of the ankle joint as well as the surrounding muscles and tendons.
This particular joint allows for two distinct types of a movement:
- Plantar flexion – the top of the foot moves away from the leg
- Dorsiflexion – where the top of the foot moves toward the leg
Bearing in mind the primary function of this joint, it’s easy to conclude ankle mobility is vital for our movement and our day-to-day life.
After all, ankle mobility allows you to maintain proper balance when walking.
To have better ankle mobility means the muscle tissues, fascia, tendons, and ligaments that surround the ankle are not tight. As a result, they can move properly without producing pain and discomfort.
Besides day-to-day life, the role of proper ankle mobility extends to workouts and gym sessions.
To get the most from your workout, your joints need to do their job properly and achieve a full ankle range of motion.
Everything in our body is connected. For that reason, proper mobility of the ankle is beneficial for other parts of the body, especially knee and hip joints.
Impact on Your Daily Life
The ankle joint and the foot are the foundation for the body and we use them to perform almost all activities in our daily life.
Whether we walk, run, jump, or make some other type of movement, we need an ankle that will keep us stabilized, provide support, and establish balance.
Our quality of life often depends on our ability to move freely.
Proper ankle mobility allows you to move with ease and thereby it has a favorable impact on your quality of life.
On the flip side, limited ankle mobility is associated with pain, discomfort, and other symptoms (see below).
Not only does it affect our range of motion, but the motivation to remain active. For that reason, problems affecting ankle mobility have a direct influence on our lives.
When problems occur, we tend to find ways to avoid making those movements or we strive not to make them too often.
Sedentary behavior is often the result, and it has a major impact on our weight and general health and wellbeing.
A study from the March 2021 issue of PLoS One revealed weak ankle mobility is a common problem, especially in the older population.
Lack of ankle mobility has a significant impact on dynamic tasks and the everyday life of the affected persons.
Problems with ankle mobility can impair balance. Of course, this can be particularly dangerous for elderly individuals who are prone to bone fractures.
Ankle Mobility and Strength Training
As mentioned earlier, ankle mobility is important for both daily life and athletic performance.
If you do strength training, you may want to focus on ankle mobility too.
Weak ankle mobility can inhibit the proper performance of the compound movements.
If you can’t perform these exercises properly, you will not be able to get the best results.
So, focusing on ankle mobility can help athletes get more from strength training.
For example, good ankle mobility can help you do deeper squats or create torque. In other words, ankle mobility exercises can take your strength training to a new level and get better positions.
Signs and Symptoms of Poor Ankle Mobility
You have probably experienced signs of poor ankle mobility on more occasions than one.
However, it’s easy to assume these symptoms are normal, especially when they’re moving. Ignoring the symptoms or believing it’s normal to experience them isn’t the wisest thing to do.
One way to improve ankle mobility is to learn how to recognize symptoms that tell you something is not right.
- Pain in the ankle and/or foot when walking or moving
- Pain aggravates during weight-lifting workout sessions
- Sore and tight ankles and/or feet
- Balance problems
- Ankle often twists outward when walking
- Frequent injuries such as ankle sprains
- Difficulty keeping the ankles straight when wearing heels
- Swelling and redness around the ankle, in some people
- Difficulty standing for longer periods
Complications of Poor Ankle Mobility
Poor ankle mobility can cause a chain of reactions because to compensate for the lack of mobility in ankles, you may overuse other joints.
The ankles, like other joints, have tight connective tissue that can pull on the muscles and bones thus irritating nerves.
As a result, you may experience pain.
Complications of poor ankle mobility, in addition to ankle pain, include:
- Pain in heels, shins, knees, hips and lower back area
- Feet move into excessive pronation i.e. flat feet; this can lead to other problems including Achilles strain and plantar fasciitis
- Knee turning inwards on the tibia thus causing exaggerated quadriceps angle or Q angle that increases the risk of knee injuries
- A deficit in glute strength and hip control
Ankle Mobility Workouts
Weak ankle mobility isn’t an uncommon problem, but it’s possible to improve it with proper workouts.
One review of current evidence on this subject showed stretching alone can improve ankle joint range of motion, but it can be even more beneficial to combine it with other therapeutic approaches.
This is where the ankle mobility training steps in.
Below, we are going to focus on exercises that can support ankle mobility and thereby help you reduce the risk of injuries or improve athletic performance.
Myofascial Workout with Lacrosse Ball
Lacrosse balls are hard and dense, which is why they don’t soften under the pressure unlike tennis ball.
Not only can lacrosse balls alleviate pain, but they also improve function in sore muscles.
Myofascial workout with a lacrosse ball can remove trigger points and knots and also help with the accumulation of lactic acid in the body, including the ankle joint capsule.
The lacrosse ball can also alleviate stiffness.
If you don’t have this ball, foam rollers can be helpful.
So, how to perform it? The methods depend on the body part you’re targeting.
For ankle mobility, you should:
- Place the lacrosse ball or foam roll under the calf
- Move the lacrosse ball around until you find the trigger point
- Sit and work on that spot by making several clockwise and counterclockwise motions
Once you target the inside and outside areas of the calves, gently roll the arch of the foot.
Air squat, or bodyweight squat, helps build strength and improve balance in the lower leg area, including your ankles.
Here’s how to perform this exercise:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms by your sides
- Bracing the abs push the hips back while bending the knees into a squat position (try to stay in your heels as you do this and avoid pushing hips forward)
- Pause at the bottom and return into the starting position
Go for five sets and 10 reps.
When descending into the squatting position, you should only do so until you feel the heels are lifting.
Heel raise is an excellent exercise for active calf muscles. You can also perform this move to improve ankle mobility.
Follow these instructions:
- Stand with feet hip-width apart
- Place toes on an inclined position
- Bend the knees forward until you feel a light stretch (this means you’re moving into dorsiflexion)
- Hold the position for 2 seconds
- Return to the starting position
Go for five sets and 10 reps.
Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobilization
Ankle dorsiflexion mobilization is not about stretching the ankle. Instead, this exercise is all about getting motion in the joint.
The instructions are:
- Loop a resistance band about 5 inches above the ground to a stable and sturdy surface that won’t move
- Place one foot through the front of the resistance band and face away from the rack (or whatever you use for this purpose). The band should rest in the front crease of the ankle
- Start walking away as far as possible until you feel the force pulling you backward
- Bend the knee making sure it’s tracking over the toes
- As the heel starts rising, pause, and stay in that position for 10 seconds
Practice doing three reps per side.
Isometric Stretch at the Ankle End-Range
End-range isometric stretch is a type of stretch that results from contracting or squeezing the muscle.
You can take your athletic performance to a new level by activating the muscles at the end ranges of motion.
Why? This is the most active form of stretching. The truth is we are weak in the end ranges of motion, which is why this exercise can improve ankle mobility.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start by placing one knee on the ground and the other knee forward (half-kneeling position where you point straight ahead)
- Let the knee of the forward leg track over the toes until you feel the stretch in the ankle
- Push down with the foot into the floor as hard as possible
- Hold the position for 10 seconds and release
- Keeping the heel planted proceed to lift the foot of the floor
- Hold for 10 seconds and release
Strive to do 3 reps per side.
Standing Calf Stretch
Standing calf stretch is a great exercise to strengthen the ankle and prevent injury.
To perform this exercise, you should:
- Stand near the wall with one foot in front of the other
- Slightly bend the front knee
- Making sure the back knee is straight and heel is on the ground, lean toward the wall until you feel the stretch in the calf of the back leg
- Stay in this position for 20 to 30 seconds
- Switch legs
Aim for three reps.
Achilles Tendon Stretches
Achilles tendon stretches aim to increase the strength of this specific tendon and make sure it is not too tight, which would cause injuries otherwise.
There are several stretches you can do, including toe stretch, calf-plantar fascia stretch, stair stretch.
- Sit in a chair and extend one leg so that the heel is on the ground
- Reach down with your hand and pull the big toe up and back away from the ground and toward the ankle
- Stay in that position for 15 to 30 seconds
- Switch sides
Next step is to strive to do two to four reps per side several times a day.
Calf-plantar fascia stretch:
- Sit on the floor with knees straight and legs extended
- Take a towel and place it around the foot under the toes
- Holding the towel with your hands (hands should be above the knees) start pulling back to make sure the foot is stretching toward you
- Stay in the position for 15 to 30 seconds
- Do the same thing with the other foot
Ideally you should do two to five reps several times a day.
- Stand on the step or curb and move the balls of the feet onto the edge (hold onto something for balance)
- Keeping your leg straight slowly allow the heel hang off the step until you feel a slight stretch
- Stay in the position for 15 to 30 seconds
- Do the same with the other foot
Go for two to four reps per session. Strive to do this exercise about five times a day.
If you need a little bit of inspiration for ankle mobility, you can always look for the best online mobility courses such as those by Kelly Starrett.
Intensity and Frequency of Ankle Mobility Training
As you’re already aware, the best results come when you combine regular workout sessions with proper recovery.
You don’t want to overdo the training and perform these exercises every day. The risk of injury would increase in that case.
Needless to mention is the pain would be even worse.
How to find the ideal frequency and intensity of ankle mobility WOD? The answer is simpler than you think – start small and work your way up.
Don’t push yourself to do overly demanding exercises, sets, and reps if you are not ready to perform them. Try with the basic program first, do a few reps and sets. Once you get used to the current number, increase it to give your ankles more challenge.
The cycle continues. When you find the new number of sets and reps too easy or intensity doesn’t give you a proper workout, then feel free to increase it.
You’ll notice your ankles are becoming stronger and more flexible.
For some people, ankle mobility exercises three to five days a week are enough.
In the beginning, you may want to start with two days per week and gradually proceed to three or four days. Remember, it’s important to have rest days so your ankles can recover.
As far as intensity is concerned, your main focus should be on the adequate performance of the exercises. Focus on performing every exercise properly rather than prioritizing finishing it as quickly as possible.
Besides ankle, you may also want to consider training for shoulder mobility.
Ankle mobility is vital for our quality of life, but also athletic performance.
In this post, you’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the importance of ankle mobility and how to improve it.
Remember, it’s important to start slow and work your way up.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost