One of the most common flexibility problems is limited ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. Decreased ankle mobility is a likely contributor to a number of problems in the knees and hips. I’ve written before about how ankle stiffness contributes to overpronation and flat feet. A lack of motion at the ankle is going to force compensations at other joints.
The goal of the following exercises is to gradually increase ankle motion. The body is highly adaptable, and the more often we ask it to move into a certain range of motion, the more likely we are to gain that range of motion back. Restoring mobility is not an overnight fix. Consistent stretching though usually yields results within 6-12 weeks. And remember, working on flexibility should never be painful.
1. Knee taps at the wall
The wall lunge test is a useful tool to measure ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. The goal of the test is to be able to touch your knee to the wall with the foot 10 cm (4 inches) away without the arch collapsing or the heel lifting off the floor. This exercise uses the same position as the wall lunge test. Place your foot between 5 and 10 cm away from the wall. Bending from the ankle, try to bring your front knee to the wall without moving your foot or having your ankle roll inward.
2. Mobilization using an exercise band from half kneeling
This exercise requires an exercise band or strap secured around a stable object. Place the band as shown in the picture making sure there is some tension on the band. Lunge forward bringing the knee directly over the foot. If you don’t have a band, don’t worry. This drill can be used without the band as well.
3. Mobilization using a dowel from half kneeling
Hold a dowel or broomstick upright at the outside of your front foot. Lunge forward so that the front knee passes to the outside of the dowel.
Here’s a video of the three ankle mobility drills above.
4. Wall Calf Stretch
Standing at a wall, place the leg to be stretching behind you. Keeping the knee of the back leg straight, lean forward until a stretch is felt in the back of the lower leg. Hold 15-30 seconds and repeat.
There are a number of different ways to go about fixing ankle stiffness. Since everyone is different, some people may find they have more success with a certain exercise over another. Here are some exercises from around the web to consider:
Self ankle mobilization with strap (Video): This one uses a band in the opposite direction to the exercise listed above.
Rocking ankle mobilization (Video): People who experience knee pain with squatting might not tolerate some of the exercises that require a lot of knee flexion. This technique keeps the leg straight.
Deep squatting (Video): A great concept from the Mobility Wod site. The deep squat is under utilized in Western societies. Doing it with the feet pointed straight like in this video is a good ankle mobilizer. I still work on getting into that position without my arches collapsing. Not easy.
Downward Facing Dog (Video): This is one of the most commonly known yoga poses. It kind of resembles an upside down V. It’s great for stretching the ankles, but also is really good for overall flexibility and strength.