How Ankle Mobility Problems Can Hold You Back

woman on treadmillYou’ve heard “the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone,” right? In our bodies, the energy directed to the movement of joints is key to our mobility. This is known as the kinetic chain.

You might be surprised at how aspects of strength, speed and pain can be related to ankle joints, but it’s true: improve your ankle mobility and you can improve your fitness, too.

Strength, Speed and Less Pain

It might be hard to imagine that you’ve reached a fitness plateau because of lack of ankle mobility, but your progress and pursuits can truly be hindered by a tight joint. Not only does optimal ankle flexion and extension help with the performance of nearby joints like knees and hips, it also helps you tap into strength. And that strength plus mobility affects your speed, agility and form. Better form equals less chance of injury and pain. See, when you want to be fit, it’s all connected!

Classic Example #1: Running. You are invested in the right footwear, and you take care to nourish yourself with a diet that supports your training goals, but it’s still not enough if you’re not doing all you can to nurture the health and mobility of your ankles. Tight ankles can be a side effect of strong calf and foot muscles, and staying in a foot sport like running requires some extra attention to mobility. Double check yours with a squat test – if you can’t squat down to thighs being parallel to the floor with your heels down and knees in line with your toes, your ankles might be the issue.

Ankle Mobility Fix #1: Sit on the floor with a rolling pin under your calf at the back of your ankle and roll out the muscle tissue and Achilles tendons. Smashing the sole of your foot on a tennis ball and rolling it ball to heel can release tightness in your foot and ankle connections, as well.

Classic Example #2: Squats. Think it’s your bad knees or weak thighs that are preventing you from the deep squats you’re aiming for? Your ankle mobility might be part of the problem, too. You might have the leg strength to squat 150 lbs., but if your ankles won’t dorsiflex (bend) enough, you won’t be able to keep those heels on the ground, and that can make your knees reach forward and put awkward pressure on your low back.

Ankle Mobility Fix #2: Regularly work on your ankles by standing at a slight incline, lifting the toes and performing some gentle heel lowers. You can stretch the front of the ankle too—face away from the wall, take a knee and press the shin and top of your foot against the wall behind you.

Classic Example #3: Hip and Back Pain. When your ankles are immobile, one thing tends to lead to another, causing you to compensate with your movements and overuse other joints. Also, tight connective tissue, like that in your ankles, pulls on your muscles and bones, and can irritate nerves causing pain. Ankle immobility may lead to heel pain, calf, shin and knee pain, but surprisingly, can affect your hips and spark low back pain as well.

Ankle Mobility Fix #3: Don’t forget to move your feet and ankles as part of your warm ups and cool downs. You could start with some elastic band foot circles and cool down by easing into a yoga position like forward bend or downward facing dog.

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