The Importance of Ankle Dorsiflexion

Ankle dorsiflexion restriction is an important issue that can be easily missed or ignored in training. If not addressed, it can have a negative impact on sports performance and injury risk.  From a weight room point of view where this can have the biggest impact is with your squat depth and mechanics.  

On the left we see that the knee is able to pass the toe, resulting in a more upright torso and improved squat depth.  While the right side is not wrong, it is more of a “hingey squat” and will lead to greater amounts of low back sheering and possible lower back pain.

Picture credit:https://www.t-nation.com/training/tip-squat-without-hip-pain

A common solution that I see is to raise the heels using plates.  This helps bypass the needs for greater amounts of dorsiflexion at the ankle joint and usually results in instantly improved technique and greater depth.  I love this option but it does not mean we should not work on improving the restriction at the ankle, especially with athletes. It serves as a crutch, and how wants to be on crutches their whole life?

From a sports performance point of view, limited ankle mobility can reduce power production in athletic movements such as sprinting and jumping.  To get into optimal positions for acceleration (first phase in sprinting), an athlete needs to be able to get into greater degrees of positive shin angle. This is very challenging if you don’t have the required ankle mobility. 

The image on the L shows the shin moving forwards the foot. One the R there is less movement of the shin towards the foot.

Picture credit:http://miguelaragoncillo.com/2016/01/20/4-methods-to-improving-speed-qualities/

The ankle joint can also act like a spring, helping the body to be propelled through space, such as a jump. The more you coil spring, the more force it is going to snap back with. So, the more an athlete can coil the foot (top of the foot coming towards the shin) the more force and energy transfer can be put into the floor (to an extent, there is a such thing as too much dorsiflexion).

Do you have an ankle restriction?

Step 1 checks to see how much dorsiflexion you have. For a demonstration visit the video link.

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🚨Do you have an ankle restriction?  Ankle Mobility Part 1 of 3. . 🤔Ankle dorsi flexion mobility restriction is an important attribute that can be easily missed or ignored in training. If not addressed, it can have negative implication to performance and injury risk. Part 1 is going to focus on finding out if you have an ankle restriction. . 🏀From an on court performance point of view, limited ankle mobility can reduce power production in athletic movements such as sprinting and jumping. The ankle joint acts like a spring propelling the body in athletic movements. The more you coil a spring, the more force it is going to snap back with. So, the more an athlete can coil the foot (top of the foot coming towards the shin) the more force and energy transfer can be put into the floor (to an extent). . 🔑To get into optimal positions for acceleration in sprinting, an athlete needs to be able to get into good degrees of positive shin angle. This is very challenging if you don’t have the required ankle mobility. The ankle joint also plays an important role in force absorption, which, if it’s not functioning correctly can have negative implications up the chain into the knees, hips, and lower back. . 👌Step 1 is check to see how much access to dorsiflexion you have. 1️⃣Take a half kneel in front of the wall. Use a ruler or a tape measure and place it against the wall, preferably do this in bare feet. 2️⃣Stack your hands on your front knee and drive your toe towards the wall. Make sure the knee is going over the middle of the foot, the heel stays down and the same side hip does not pop out to the side. Otherwise it is a false positive! 3️⃣You are looking for around 10 cm of the knee passing the toes. If you’re +6 feet, look for 12 cm. Another quick option which isn’t as precise is to use your own fist as I show in the video. . ❗If you are getting less than 10 cm, given that it is not a bony restriction, this can start being addressed in training. The next step is figure out what type of restriction you might have. Tune in next Wednesday for part 2 to see how! . Feel free to DM me if you have questions or come by @okanaganpeakperformance 🙏

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  • Set up in half kneeling in front of the wall. This is with one knee down and one foot on the ground. Use a ruler or a tape measure and place it against the base of the wall. It is preferable to do this in bare feet.
  • Stack your hands on your front knee and drive your toe towards the wall. Make sure the knee is going over the middle of the foot, the heel stays down and the same side hip does not pop out to the side. Otherwise it is a false positive!
  • You are looking for around 10 cm of the knee passing the toes. If you’re +6 feet, look for 12 cm. Another quick option, which isn’t as precise, is to use your own fist as I show in the video.

What type of ankle restriction do you have?

Ok so you have a restriction…..what next?   If you are familiar with the topic or have known for a while that you have an ankle mobility restriction, you have probably been told to foam roll your calf until the cows come home.  While this can be a part of the process, we need to get specific to better understand whether the soft tissue or the joint issue.

It is a busy time we live in and the more dialled in we can get with option selection, the better, no need to throw paint at the wall and hope for the best.  

To do this, here is a simple test you can try!  See the video link for a demonstration.

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🏀Ankle Mobility Pt 2/3 ⤵️ . ✅If you found last week that you do have an ankle mobility restriction, it's time to get a better idea of what type of restriction you may have. . 🔑Let's keep things very simple, we are trying to distinguish if it's more of a soft tissue restriction or joint restriction . 🔑Doing so will help guide you in the options you select to help unlock better ranges of dorsiflexion at the ankle.  This is a better approach than just throwing paint at the wall or endlessly foam rolling your calves, praying that your ankles will start to open up. . 👌Here is a simple test you can try! . 1️⃣If you have access to a platform like the one in the video great, use this.  If not no worries just use a bumper plate, some airxpads, get creative if you have to.  Place the ball of the foot on the platform and have the heel on the floor. 2️⃣Keep you knee straight, step forward and keep doing so just before the point where your heel has to lift.  Now ask yourself "do I feel a pinch/lock in the front of the ankle or a stretch in the back of the calves" 3️⃣ Repeat on the same leg, but now keep a good bend in the knee.  Ask yourself the same question, pinch or stretch? . 🤔If both match up as a stretch in the back of calf or ankle, then you might have more of a soft tissue restriction.  If you match a pinch then you may have more of a joint restriction.  If it was a mix then you may have to work on both . 💪Next Wednesday I will go over some options that may help. . 🚨If you know someone who might want this information please tag a friend in the comments below. . Also feel free to DM or stop by @okanaganpeakperformance if you have any questions! . . ❗This is not medical advice.

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  • If you have access to a platform like the one in the video great, use this.  If not no worries just use a bumper plate, some Airex pads and get creative if you have to.  Place the ball of the foot on the platform and keep the heel on the floor.
  • Keeping your knee straight, step forward and keep doing so just before the point where your heel has to lift.  Now ask yourself, “Do I feel a pinch/lock in the front of the ankle or a stretch in the back of the calves”.
  •  Repeat on the same leg, but now keep a good bend in the knee.  Ask yourself the same question, pinch or stretch?

If both match up as a stretch in the back of the calf or ankle, then you might have more of a soft tissue restriction.  If you match both with a pinch in the front, then you may have more of a joint restriction. If it was a mix then it’s a good idea to work on both.

Addressing ankle restrictions

Now it’s time to start working on the restriction.  Since not every restriction is created equal that means foam rolling  on its own will not solve the problem. We need to match up the approach with the biggest contributor to the restriction.  See the video link for a demonstration.

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👣Ankle Mobility pt. 3/3 . 🎉In part 1 I covered how to check if you have a mobility restriction, in part 2 I covered how to check which type of restriction you have. Today I will provide a quick overview of some ways to improve an ankle mobility restriction and keep it. . ✅Soft Tissue Restriction (Video 1) ▶️1.Foam roller/ Tennis ball work on the calf. Grab a foam roller and a tennis ball, roll all three spots as shown in the video for 30 seconds to a minute per spot. ▶️2.Stretch the calf. Hold for 1-2 minutes with a straight leg, and 1-2 minutes with a slight bend in the knee. ▶️3.Re-test and see if you gained more range of motion (see part 1). . ✅Joint Restriction (Video 2) ▶️1. Grab a band and tie it off on a bench/ rack/ railing, etc. In a half kneel, place the band on the soft part right between your ankle and foot (see the video). ▶️2. Keep the heel down and push your knee over the toe and 'pump the gas' 10-15 times. You can repeat this from 1-3 sets. If you do not have a band you can use your hands (see the video). ▶️3. Retest and see if you gained more range of motion. . ▶️Joint Restriction Combine both Video 1 and 2 . Do joint restriction first then soft tissue restriction 2nd. . 💪Hopefully you will see some change in range of motion on the retest. The problem is, the new mobility will start to go away unless we facilitate motor learning and build strength in that new range of motion. Calf raise variations(video 3) are a key to doing this as well as integrating the new ranges of motion in your lower body days (see video 4). . ❗If you want to go a little bit deeper and want more detail on ankle mobility, I will have a blog up on Saturday and the link will be in my bio. . 🙏If you have any questions feel free to DM me or come by the gym and see if we can help unlock your athletic potential. . . . ❌This is not medical advice

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Soft Tissue Restriction (Video 1)

1.Foam roller/ Tennis ball work on the calf – Grab a foam roller and a tennis ball, roll all three spots as shown in the video for 30 seconds to a minute per spot. 

2. Stretch the calf. Hold for 1-2 minutes with a straight leg, and 1-2 minutes with a slight bend in the knee.

3. Re-test and see if you gained more range of motion.

Joint Restriction 

1. Grab a band and tie it off on a bench/ rack/ railing, etc. In a half kneel, place the band on the soft part right between your ankle and foot (see the video).

2. Keep the heel down and push your knee over the toe and ‘pump the gas’ 10-15 times. You can repeat this from 1-3 sets. If you do not have a band you can use your hands (see the video).

3. Retest and see if you gained more range of motion.

Mixed

Combine both Video 1 and 2 . Use joint restriction first then soft tissue restriction second.

A long term approach

Hopefully, you will see some change in range of motion during the retest. The problem is, the new mobility will start to go away fast, unless we facilitate motor learning and build strength in that new range of motion.

Calf raise variations (video 3) 

Calf raises are good for more than just vanity.  I show one option in the video but there are many options available.  There are some big keys to get the most out of them.  

  1. Full range of motion.  We need to get all the way to the end range of your plantar flexion (pushing the top of the foot away from the shin, think ‘tippy toes’).  A common mistake is a shortened range of motion or the heel go out to the side. To help with this, you can use a ball or block and squeeze in between the heels to ensure the heels do not pop out.  Think about pushing the top of your head straight up to the roof and driving through your big toe.
  2. Slow Tempo.  It is important to not rush this.  Doing so can result in compensatory patterns while also using momentum to get through the range of motion.  To help maintain and build strength in the new ranges of motion we also want to elicit as much blood flow into the area, going slow will help elicit a big pump and help you “feel it” where you are supposed to.

Perform 2-4 sets of 8-15 calf raises with a shorter rest period between sets (30-45 seconds) immediately after the joint restriction protocol matching your joint restriction.  Play around with different variations single leg, bi-lateral, loaded with lower rep ranges, body weight with higher rep ranges, bent knees vs straight knees. A good place to start would be to do one day where you go heavier with lower rep ranges (8-10) and one day with lighter weights and higher reps (12+ to failure).

When to work on ankle restrictions

As a first option, you can do individual ankle mobility sessions on days off from regular training.  This will only take about 10-20 minutes following the guidelines in the above sections.  

The next option is to utilize the protocol as an extended warm up before your lower or full body days.  There are a lot of advantages to doing it this way. Now you can utilize the new range of motion and integrate it into your lower body movements.  Once we have those new ranges of motion it is important to learn how to use it in your movement patterns, remember….. use it or lose it!   

If you are worried about doing this on your own, we can help you at Okanagan Peak Performance Inc.  I know it can be daunting to do this on your own and if you’re looking for help, the coaches at Okanagan Peak Performance Inc are there to help guide you through this.  Come in and say hello or contact us to book your free strategy session today.

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