How to Improve Ankle Mobility
It’s probably your ankles
For those of you with knee or hip injuries - have you checked your ankle mobility recently? It could be the culprit.
Why is ankle mobility important?
Just like any system, if something isn’t working lower in the chain, it can affect everything above it in the chain. Ankles, knees, hips - they all need to work properly. Ankle issues create a knock on effect all the way up. While you worry about your sore knee or hip, treating just that area may not actually be solving the issue.
My current left hamstring issue has a lot to do with my ankle mobility since I injured that ankle last year. It could also be the reason I struggle to activate my left glute!
Your body is a master at compensating for weak, inactive or injured joints, tendons and muscles but this only exacerbates issues later on.
Who is susceptible to ankle issues?
Most people! If you are inactive; prone to tight calves; a runner; have a previous (even quite old) twisted or sprained ankle injury; you wear shoes all the time and don’t have much barefoot contact with the ground - you may have mobility restrictions in your ankle.
Ankle Mobility Movements
Use these 5 exercises as part of your warm up, particularly if you’re about to hit a leg day, or use them as part of a mobility routine. You can also use it as a standalone when you have a few minutes in the morning or when you come home from work.
As always, if you have an injury or suspect an issue, go see your physio or doctor right away. Don’t let a niggle turn into something bigger.
So, let’s get those ankles moving!
5 Ankle Mobility Movements
1. Foam rolling your calves
What is it
Tight calves can contribute to ankle immobility! Roll em out. This one is amazing for prevention and treatment of plantar fasciitis.
Sit on the floor and rest your calf on the roller. Place your hands behind you for support. Lift your body up (bum off the floor) using your upper body. Your arms will be the ones doing all the work here. Move your body forwards and backwards so that the roller hits you along the full length of your calf and achilles.
Roll back and forth across the whole area, if you find a tight or painful point, get into that one before moving on. Rotate your foot while you’re doing it to get into all the spots.
Do this for 2 to 4 minutes on each side
2. Half Kneel Ankle Rocks
What is it
This one forces you to move your ankle in a wider range. The idea is to close the gap between the shin and the top of your foot by really pushing that knee over the toes. You should feel the stretch in your achilles and calves, depending on how tight you are.
Go onto your left knee, with your left foot laying flat, not up on your toes. Your right knee is up and your right hand onto your right knee. Left hand either goes flat on the floor or pins the right ankle down.
With your right hand, push down on the knee and drive the knee over the toes, keeping your foot flat on the ground. Lean your body weight onto that knee. Keep your core engaged.
12 - 10 reps on each side, at a steady pace with a 2 second hold when you’re fully extended over the knee.
3. Calf Raises, both feet, on a step
What is it
This is a strengthening exercise for your calves and achilles but I love to use it for ankle mobility because it forces the range of the ankle in the drop down phase and then stretches the toes when you’re on the top. This stretches your toes AND contracts the calf muscles which helps strengthen them.
Anyone with previous ankle injuries, is a runner or runs as part of their sport - this one is particularly good for you.
Any step will do! Have something to hold onto, whether it’s a wall or a railing if you’re on actual stairs (or a stick if you don’t have either for some reason). Have the ball of your feet and your toes on the step. Let your heels drop down in a controlled and steady movement then lift up onto your tip toes. Repeat. Hold the movement at the top and the bottom.
Keep tension in your core and glutes, especially at the top.
15 reps, nice and controlled with holds top and bottom
4. Single Leg Calf Raises
What is it
Like any single leg exercise, it will be more challenging. You may notice that one side is easier than the other, which is great for highlighting areas of weakness. This helps you work out where you can change the loading in other exercises to strengthen the weaker areas. Both feet and single leg are equally important and it’s great to do the double before the single to warm your calves up. While it is trickier, it makes you stronger long term.
Same as above in terms of positioning and using a wall or railing as support. Drop your non-working foot off the step, letting it hang loose. Same movement as before, work on getting maximum height onto your tip toes and pause at both top and bottom. You’re only using the wall or railing as support, gently resting your hand, it is not helping you with the movement.
8 to 10 on each side with holds
5. Knee over toes split squat
What is it
This is a modified split squat, really focusing on the knee drive over the toes. It works your range, bringing your shin as close to the top of the foot as possible and more front loaded, making the ankle a focus. This is also great for the lower chain generally - especially hips.
Stand with your legs far apart, like you’re taking a really big step forwards, back foot on the toes. Focus on a purposeful knee drive over your toes. Your body will be slightly prone, so make sure your abs are switched on as well as your glutes and quads. You’ll feel a stretch in the opposite hip - make sure that glute is switched on as you go down. Think about pulling your front heel towards your body (without actually moving the foot) as you lean into the stretch.
6 to 8 on each side, controlled both and down and up