‘Getting off on the right foot’
How ankle mobility may be setting you back.
The time has come! The peak of the pandemic is over and the gyms are re-opening their doors. Eager as a beaver, people are lining up for the squat rack to build up those chicken legs. Unfortunately, the binge watching of ‘Tiger King’ and the, ‘walking to the fridge counts as cardio’ mindset has left many in a vulnerable position for injury. In this blog, we’re gonna talk about ankle mobility and why it is important for functional exercises, such as your beloved squats.
Ankle mobility is an essential part of everyday functional activities, including squatting, running, stair climbing and lunging. When you lack ankle mobility, the body figures out other ways to compensate inorder to get the job done, often leading to dynamic alignment issues in the lower body. You may develop pain in your hips and knees, glutes become disengaged and your torso will tend to lean forwards, putting additional pressure on your lower back.
A study by Lima et al. 2018, found an association between ankle mobility and knee position, concluding that reduced ankle dorsiflexion was correlated to dynamic knee valgus, which is when the knees tend to collapse inwards. This valgus movement pattern of the knee can increase the risk of developing overuse injuries and/or sustaining a traumatic injury.
Let’s think about weightlifters wearing fancy looking lifting shoes, it’s not to look serious, it’s to help them keep their heels on the ground and align their body upright. Studies have shown that when participants with restricted ankle mobility are given heel lifts, their lower limb mechanics improve along with an increase in force production (Crowe et al. 2020). Not saying you should race out to buy lifting shoes, but instead to work on your ankle mobility and progress yourself slowly.
So, how do I know if my ankle mobility is restricting my squat? I’m glad you asked! A simple test is to perform a traditional squat with your feet shoulder width apart, ensuring your knees track over your toes. You may feel your heels lift off the ground before you reach full depth. If this is you, perhaps ankle mobility is something to work on.
Another way to test is to perform a ‘knee to wall test’. Start by setting yourself up in a lunge position against a wall. In this position, find a happy medium where your knee can just touch the wall without your heel raising off the ground and measure the distance between the wall and your toe.
A quick guide to see where you fall;
< 5 cm – poor ankle mobility
5-10 cm – moderate ankle mobility
10 cm – great ankle mobility
With ankle dorsiflexion, it is important to know whether the primary cause of restriction is at the joint, or in the calf muscle itself. Knowing this will determine the type of mobility work needed, hence why your traditional calf stretches may not be working. Along with ankle mobility, relatively strong glutes, good thoracic spine and hip mobility are also essential in performing a deep squat.
If squatting is one of your post-pandemic goals, then book in to see our team of physios at PhysioWest below or by calling 8352 3582
Crowe M, Bampouras T, Walker-Small K & Howe L 2020, ‘Restricted Unilateral Ankle Dorsiflexion Movement Increases Interlimb Vertical Force Asymmetries in Bilateral Bodyweight Squatting’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 332-336.
Lima Y, Ferreira V, de Paula Lima P, Bezerra M, de Oliveira R & Almeida G 2018, ‘The Association of Ankle Dorsiflexion and Dynamic Knee Valgus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’, vol. 29, pp. 61-69.