Wondering if ankle mobility exercises could help you? Well, ask yourself this – can you get into a fully squatted position with your feet flat on the ground without falling over? If not, then you could use some additional mobility and range of motion in your ankles. Improving both not only increases your overall flexibility, but also allows you to transfer more force to the ground with less likelihood of injury. Read below for five ankle mobility exercises and natural progression you can start using today.
Foam Roll from the Knee Down
Though this isn’t technically an “exercise”, it’s still where you should start. Sometimes a lack of mobility isn’t due to anything in the ankle itself. Instead, it’s because the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the lower leg as a whole are too tight. So before moving onto any ankle mobility exercises, try to break up any scar tissue you might have in the area.
Foam roll the entire calf, around the achilles, and even the shin. You can start with a foam roller, but once you get to smaller areas, a barbell or lacrosse ball might be more appropriate. After that, do the same to the bottom of your foot and heel.
Stretch the Calves
Once the lower leg has been rolled out, perform a simple calf stretch. Find a step or ledge and hang one heel off of it (it’s best to perform this one leg at a time). The ball of your foot should be on the step as if you were were about to do one-legged calf raises.
Lower your heel as far as you can, but don’t force it too hard. You can extend the stretch a little more by increasing how much of your bodyweight you place on that foot and actively trying to push the heel further down. While the heel is down, make the stretch “active” by pushing down with the ball of your foot into the step or ledge. Don’t “bounce” at the bottom and hold each side for up to two minutes.
Stretch the Ankles in the Flexed Position
Now it’s time to begin your actual ankle mobility exercises by stretching the ankles. Do this by walking up to a vertical object such as a wall or a flat post. Place your toes on the vertical surface with your heel driven into the floor such that your foot is roughly at a 45-degree angle. Once your foot is braced and solid, stretch the ankle by leaning/shifting your body weight forward. Hold each side for 30-45 seconds.
Shifting Full Squat
By this point, your lower leg should be fairly warm and ankles loosened up enough to get into a fully squatted position with feet flat. If you can’t get into this position on your own, grab a hanging rope or post on a power rack to hold yourself so you don’t fall over. Once fully squatted, shift your body weight slowly and easily in all directions (focus on side to side) to improve your range of motion. Perform this once or twice for roughly 20-30 seconds each time.
Ankle Mobility Test
Though this is actually a “test” of ankle mobility, you can also use it to improve your range of motion, too. Take your shoes/socks off and place your left foot perpendicular to a wall with your big toe roughly four inches away from it. Your right foot can be off to one side and/or behind you just to keep you stable.
Keeping your foot flat and not letting your heel come up off the floor, lean forward in a slow and controlled manner such that your knee travels forward to touch the wall. If you lack enough flexibility to let your knee actually touch the wall, just go as far forward as you can. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps on each side.
Just because you’re not flexible now doesn’t mean you have to remain that way. Incorporating these ankle mobility exercises into your regimen will improve ankle function, reduce the chance of injury, and can even increase performance. Take your time, be consistent, and you’ll soon have greater range of motion throughout the lower leg.