Often, when someone is experiencing difficulty with a particular exercise — take a squat, for example — they assume that the reason for that difficulty is a lack of mobility in the joints surrounding the prime movers for the specific exercise. If someone notices that their torso is falling forward when they do a squat, they might assume that the issue is a lack of mobility in the erector spinae (part of the back musculature) or the hips. This could certainly be the case. The cause of the issue could also be much farther down on the kinetic chain, though. The true issue could be a lack of ankle mobility.
Poor ankle mobility is the culprit or a contributor to a lot of mobility issues. Heels raise up off the ground when you squat? It’s probably due to a lack of ankle mobility. Lower back arches excessively when you’re doing standing exercises like overhead presses? Could be an ankle mobility problem. All of the muscles and joints of the body work together to form the kinetic chain. When one link in that chain isn’t functioning properly, everything suffers, even areas of the body that are not located anywhere near that link.
I’m not saying that poor ankle mobility is responsible for all your mobility issues. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t neglect the ankles just because you’re having an issue that doesn’t seem connected to the ankle.
Many people struggle with poor ankle mobility, and it’s not surprising considering the lack of movement people do during the day and the excessive amount of cushioning we subject our feet to when we are moving.
If you’ve been working on mobility drills for a while and aren’t seeing progress, you might need to work on mobility for the ankles to see if that helps improve things farther up the chain.
Listed below are four ankle mobility drills that, in my opinion, everyone ought to be doing, especially before doing any kind of lower body exercises.
Ankle Mobility Drills
1. Single-Leg Plank to Downward Facing Dog
The plank to downward facing dog movement is great for opening up the shoulders, but you can also use it to start warming up the ankles.
To get the most of the exercise and make it really ankle-centric, keep a bit of a bend in your knees, even if your hamstring flexibility allows you to straighten them all the way.
Keeping a bend in your knees helps to place more of an emphasis on the ankle joint.
To target the ankle even further, lift the toes off the ground. This engages the tibialis anterior, the muscle on the front of the calf, and lengthens the soleus, tibialis posterior, and other muscles on the back of the calf and ankle.
2. Downward Facing Dog with Toe Lifts
Speaking of lifting the toes, this exercise also helps you to connect to the muscles surrounding the ankle and make sure they’re all pulling their weight.
Simply get into a downward facing dog position and lift the toes while keeping the heels and the rest of the feet flat on the ground. This might seem like nothing, but it’s actually helping to correct muscle imbalances and minimize your ankle injury risk.
You can do this without being in the downward facing dog position, too, but I like it because it stretches the muscles of the calves at the same time.
3. Kneeling Ankle Stretch
To do this exercise, start by getting into a kneeling position with your left leg tucked under you.
Place your hands on either side of your right foot and raise the toes off the ground. Keep them lifted as you lean forward to stretch the ankle. Repeat on the other side.
The effect of this exercise is similar to that of the toe lifts and single-leg plank to downward facing dog, but there are fewer moving parts, so it’s a bit easier to get connected to the muscles surrounding the ankle joint.
4. Knee-to-Toe Rocks
This is definitely more of an advanced exercise, but I love it for stretching the ankles and warming up the feet. It challenges your balance, too!
Start in a kneeling position with your feet flexed so you’re stretching the toes and the soles of your feet. If this is difficult for you, stay here. Don’t add the rocking motion yet.
If you can sit relatively comfortably like this, the next step is to extend your arms in front of you and slowly rock backward until you’re in a deep squat.
Be sure to keep your spine in a neutral position when you do this (don’t let your lower back round to create a posterior pelvic tilt) — this will help you stretch your ankles and calves better. Hold this position for a second, then rock forward to the kneeling position.
Try to keep your hands extended in front of you, but you also hold on to the wall or a chair if you need some extra support.
Ankle Mobility Video Breakdown
Confused about any of these ankle mobility exercises? Here’s a video showing you exactly what to do:
Whether you’re someone who struggles with their ankle mobility or you just want to keep your ankles mobile for as long as possible, these drills are for you. Give them a try and let me know down below how it goes!