Hopefully, you have already checked out and are now applying Part One and Part Two of this series on improving your mobility for the squat.
Or maybe you just need help with improving ankle range of motion and have come straight to here which is fine too.
So in this article we are focusing on improving the range within the ankle joint by freeing up the soft tissues above and below so we can gain more range of motion and just a better functioning efficient talocrural region.
Releasing this area will allow your knees to come forward out over the toes when you squat. This makes room for your hips to drop straight down so your squat doesn't end up looking like a good morning with your ass having to go excessively backwards.
Ok, so lets get cracking with some of the best mobs we use on ourselves and with clients to improve plantar and dorsiflexion of the ankle joint.
1. Wearing Flat Shoes
The single best mobility behaviour you can easily start applying is to wear flat shoes with NO heel elevation.
I'm not just talking about when you are training, I am talking about all the time. If you are like most people you either work in an office and wear dress shoes or heels or you work out doors and wear work boots or big built up running shoes to 'protect' your weak and vulnerable feet.
Have a look at the heels on these types of shoes. What do you see?
Now if you wear these shoes for say 12 hours per day, then thats 12 hours that your calfs and achilles are in a shortened position that they will soon adapt to by, you guessed it, becoming shorter.
Time to free your heel cords and let them turn back into the springs they were designed to be. Ditch your old school built up shoes and opt for flat shoes where ever possible.
As for training, unless you are squatting or doing oly lifting wearing lifting shoes, you should be shooting to wear shoes with as minimal heel as possible.
Some shoes that are flat and have no heel elevation from heel to toe include the following:
(and no I don't receive any kick backs from shoe companies, these are just shoes I have found to be good to kick around and train in)
- Inov8 F-Lite 235
- Merrell Bare Access Range
Other shoes with minimal elevation and are great for training in include:
- Nike metcon's
- Reebok Nano's
- Inov8's range
If training in traditional running shoes you will be surprised with how much the heel is elevated with anywhere between 8 and 16mm of elevation.
Not only this but the heel is quite squishy, which may protect your joints if you are a heel striking runner, but this isn't good news for lifting in. Time to ditch the asics and move to a lower heeled shoe if ankle ROM is your goal.
2. Wall Calf and Achilles Stretch
This is a great stretch to start freeing up your calfs and achilles. Aim for 90-120 seconds in each position on each leg.
(p.s I know I have pathetic calf development, I'm working on it!)
Step 1: Set up as seen below, by placing your forefoot as far up the wall as possible.
Step 2: Now try to push your hips towards the wall while keeping your knee straight as seen below.
Step 3: Once you have done the above stretch on each leg, go back to the first leg and hit the soleus and achilles by bending the knee and pushing the knee towards the wall as seen below.
3. Weighted Calf Release
This is a fantastic way to get a loaded stretch of the calfs in. I personally like to use this right before a squat session to help increase range through the ankle. This can be done on a seated and/or standing calf raise machine or a leg press. Use heavier than normal loads for a greater stretch.
Go for 10 seconds on, 5 seconds off and repeat for two minutes. In between each 10 sec stretch, flex the calfs coming up as high as possible.
4. Calf and Tibialis smash
This is like a deep tissue massage for your calfs and tibialis. Make sure you search around for the hop spots, breathe deeply and roll slowly letting the implement really sink in.
Check out the videos below, to get a clear idea of how to set up and complete the exercise.
5. Smashing the plantar fascia
This is a great, easy way to free up the plantar fascia of the feet. You can use a lacrosse ball, tennis ball, spiky ball or cricket ball.
Start by rolling slowly from side to side and up and down the foot, applying a good amount of pressure and actively search for the nitty gritty spots.
Aim for 3-5 minutes on each foot and then go for a short barefoot walk after completion and you will notice the suppleness of your feet immediately.
(The above images are from Kelly Starrett's book 'Ready to Run' which is a fantastic resource on improving mobility throughout the whole body when preparing to run)
6. Split Squats
Here split squats feature again, as they also improve ROM through the ankle. Ensure you keep the heel down on the working leg to get full dorsiflexion through the ankle.
Now, go get cracking on these ankle mobs to improve your squat. Remember you don't have to use all of these exercises at once, simply pick a couple to do per day and work on your lower limbs for 10 minutes every other day.
Enjoy the feeling of being able to squat ass to grass with great technique and function.