When taking a bottoms up approach to assessing or observing the way people move, the first thing that comes to mind is the ankle. One of the major mobility restrictions is ankle mobility, or lack of ankle dorsiflexion (with the heel in contact with the ground). In order to squat, run, lunge, & jump effectively, an athlete needs a good amount of ankle dorsiflexion and without it, compensation will occur somewhere up the kinetic chain. There are many compensations to look for such as an out-toeing of the feet (which can also be caused from lack of hip internal rotation). Concurrent with the joint-by-joint philosophy, restricted ankle mobility can result in knee pain, hip problems, low back pain, even opposite shoulder dysfunction. Think of the squatting pattern, if you do not have adequate mobility at the ankle (and subsequent lack of hip flexion & internal rotation), you will hit end range at the hips early and round at the lumbar spine. Most people know that squatting with a rounded back is one hell of a way to destroy something. Check out the video below. Notice the lack of dorsiflexion which causes early pronation at the ankle and hip internal rotation.
Lacking adequate mobility in the areas that typically need it more than others (t-spine, hips, ankles) can inhibit the proprioception and stability of certain muscles. Mobility needs to be the first priority followed by stability. Try to think of it like this: if you were to lose mobility somewhere then stabilizing muscles will not know how to work because the body has never been put in that position to try to stabilize. Example..if you cannot internally rotate your hips (think lack of ankle dorsiflexion as well) then muscles which prevent hip IR (think glutes) do not know what it feelsl like to work because it has never been put into IR. If I lost you, in due time I will have to come back to this topic.
These are various ankle mobility drills that we use with our athletes and ones that I really like. Be sure that will all of them to keep the weight on the heel while driving the knee forward and to keep it aligned over the 2nd or 3rd toe.
- Start with your toes touching the wall and work your foot back as long as your heel stays down and your knee can touch the wall. In the video, when I slide my foot back to try to get more ROM my heel comes off the ground slightly. In this case, you get closer to the wall and stay there.
Lateral Rock into Ankle Drill
- Using different planes of motion to achieve greater mobility is something I learned from Gary Gray. In this exercise you can use the frontal plane to get more out of sagittal plane mobility. Another example is using thoracic rotation drills to get more thoracic extension ROM.
1/2 Kneeling Ankle w/ Band Traction
- The use of the band can help with anyone who has a “pinching” feeling with other ankle mobility drills. The pinching they are feeling may be some sort of impingment at that area.
- This is also a great way to work on hip extension on the back leg
When assessing the ankle it also helps to ask what the athlete feels when you press their toes toward their shins (legs straight). If they say they feel it in the back of the leg (calf) then plenty of soft tissue work with the lacrosse ball on the calves and plantar fascia can help. If they feel “stuck,” then it is more of the joint being restricted and not necessarily muscular in nature. Either way using a PVC, lacrosse ball, or barbell should be in order considering most people wear pretty bad sneakers with giant heel lifts. These are few out of many different ankle mobility drills that can be used with people and are easily incorporated into warm-ups or as filler exercises. Try them out and let me know