Last week I wrote about the importance of having good ankle mobility and how poor ankle mobility can negatively affect your performance. So, what if you have really poor ankle mobility (like me), what can you do to fix it?
As I alluded to last week, ankle mobility becomes restricted because the surrounding tissue is tight and shortened. It makes sense then to release these areas of tightness and work on lengthening. Foam rollers, lacrosse balls (a golf ball and tennis ball can also work), barbells and stretching are all great ways to do this. It is also important to mobilise the joint in a position specific to the limited movement.
Foam rolling, lacrosse balls and barbell rolling all work on the same principal: myofascial release. It is important to work on both the anterior portion (shins) and posterior portion (calf) of the lower leg as well the arch of the foot.
To use the foam roller for the calf, roll up and down, side to side, along the entire length of the muscle and tendon. Adding some active ankle movements such as pulling the toes up and then pointing them away or circling the foot is going to give additional release. Any tender spots should be given extra attention. To make it more intense substitute the foam roller with a barbell. I believe it’s also important to work along the meaty part of the shins, these can get quite tight and knotted and often get neglected. Probably best to avoid the barbell for that.
Using a lacrosse ball to roll the arch of the foot will help to lengthen the posterior chain tissue even further. If you know a little bit about anatomy you may be aware that the plantar fascia (this is a flat band of tissue that connects your toes to your heel) has an intimate relation to your Achilles tendon.
Stretching the calf is also an excellent way to increase your ankle mobility. There are two muscles that make up the calf, a deep muscle known as the soleus and a superficial muscle known as the gastrocnemius. Different stretches will stretch the different muscles. Performing a calf stretch with a bent knee will allow you to get into the soleus while a straight knee generally focuses on the gastrocnemius.
As I mentioned previously it is also important to mobilise the ankle in movement specific positions, for example holding the bottom of a squat keeping your heels on the ground and knees and toes aligned. Now, if your ankles are restricted this will probably be a difficult position for you to hold free stranding without falling over so I suggest holding onto a pole or solid object of some kind
As with anything in the gym, doing this once is not going to miraculously fix your ankles. You need to be consistent and persistent and over time you will see and feel the results.