We often don’t think about it, but limitations in ankle mobility can severely hinder our athletic ability, especially for sports like powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, running, and even cycling.
Ankle immobility can also lead to injuries.
And, given the fact that more and more people suffer from immobile ankles, something needs to be done.
To that end, we’ve put together this guide for you. In it, you’ll learn how to improve ankle mobility for seniors. Let’s go.
The Importance of Ankle Mobility
The ankle is a fairly stable joint, which makes it prone to stiffness and immobility. And while that might seem unimportant to some of you, ankle stiffness affects the entire body.
When the ankle loses its natural range of motion, the foot loses its stability, and its natural arch becomes flattened. This itself is a predisposition for the development of knee valgus (knees caving in), which most commonly occurs in exercises like the squat and vertical jump because of the lateral force that is imposed on the knees and their reduced stability.
Knee valgus, in turn, increases the risk of injury at the knee and negatively impacts the position of the femur (the large thigh bone) and its relation to the pelvis.
So, this seemingly insignificant issue leads to a cascade of adverse effects, which can eventually affect the entire body, and most of the movement patterns we perform will worsen significantly. This, in turn, drastically increases the risk of injury, decreases the effectiveness of our training and hinders our ability to produce force.
So, if you want to maximize your sports performance (particularly in fields like powerlifting, running, and cycling), you need to take care of your ankle mobility – the foundation of your body and movements.
With that said, improving your ankle mobility is easier said than done. Read on to find out how to do it and what exercises you can use.
5 Great Exercises You Can Do To Improve Ankle Mobility
The below exercises are designed to help warm-up the ankle, stretch the muscles, ligaments, and soft tissues in the lower leg, mobilize the joint, and clear up other soft tissue problems.
1. Ankle Circles
Ankle circles do a great job of increasing the range of motion around the joint as they help loosen up the muscles and tendons in the lower leg. What’s great about this exercise is that it improves the overall flexibility of the ankle, not just plantarflexion and dorsiflexion.
As little as three or four sessions per week are enough for most folks to increase their ankle flexibility and prevent aches and injuries from occurring.
To perform these, all you need to do is sit comfortably (or lie on your bed) raise one leg, stack your toes together and begin rotating the foot at the ankle. Do up to twenty circles then reverse the rotation. Do full circles each time and make them as big as your flexibility allows.
2. Shin Push Forward (Dorsiflexion Mobilization)
Dorsiflexion is particularly crucial for activities like squatting. If you lack the proper range of motion, it will be impossible to descend to an adequate depth without feeling unstable or your heels coming off the ground.
Shin pushing forward is incredibly simple to do, and there are quite a few variations. But, the simplest and most convenient is to do it against a wall.
Position one foot approximately five inches from the wall and place both hands flat against the wall for balance. From there, push the knee toward the wall while keeping your heel in full contact with the ground. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat for the other foot.
3. Calf Foam Rolling
Foam rolling your calves is a great way to loosen up the entire lower leg and increase ankle flexibility. What’s more, you can take full control of the myofascial release and work your calves from different angles by changing the position of your body.
To perform this movement, sit on the floor and place a foam roller underneath your calves. Place one leg on top of the other and use it to push down and apply pressure. From there, roll up and down the full length of the calf. Make sure to tilt your body to the left and to the right to work the inner and outer sides of the calf, as well.
Roll each calf for about 30 seconds. If you find a particularly tender spot, work on it for a good ten seconds.
4. Weighted Soft Tissue Stretching
Weighted soft tissue stretching is particularly beneficial to do before working out, especially if you plan on doing exercises that require greater ankle flexibility (think Olympic lifts and squats). This is because the particular stretch has a very specific carryover to movement patterns that resemble or include the squat.
Keep in mind that this stretch is a bit more advanced as it includes external weights. So, if you want to do it, begin with a conservative weight and see how it goes.
To begin, drop into a deep squat (or, as low as you can while keeping your heels planted firmly on the ground) as you’re holding a weight plate, kettlebell, or barbell. As you assume the deep squat position, shift your weight to the right and push that knee as far forward as you can while keeping your foot flat on the floor. Keep the position for at least ten seconds. You should feel a stretch in your lower calf.
Then, shift your weight on the other leg and repeat.
5. Plantar Fascia Rollout
The plantar fascia is a thick ligament that covers the bottom side of the foot and connects the heel to the toes. Due to the heavy stress, the plantar fascia can cause pain and stiffness in the foot and ankle.
Taking a lacrosse or tennis ball and rolling through the plantar fascia is a great way to relieve it, stretch the entire foot, maintain its natural curve, prevent aches, and improve ankle flexibility.
To perform this, start by placing the ball underneath your big toe. Apply enough pressure to feel some discomfort but not too much to the point of pain. Hold this position for a few breaths and slowly start moving the ball back toward your heel without releasing the pressure. You should feel some discomfort at the bottom of your foot and a stretch on top of it.
In general, you should hold the ball for a few breaths every inch or so. If you find a particularly tender spot, apply less pressure, and try moving your foot around a bit.