When I started lifting weights, I entered the gym as a 16-year ballet dancer with plenty of plantar flexion (pointed toes) and zero dorsiflexion (flexing ability). While this was great for executing pirouettes, it was problematic when it came to squatting.
While most people consider hip and hamstring mobility to be paramount for proper squatting and deadlift mechanics, if you lack ankle mobility, it foreshortens your depth potential and causes forward torso lean, which places unnecessary load on the lower back and increases the effort required to lift. Strength becomes stalled and can even decrease over time if ankle mobility is not addressed.
These five exercises are designed to improve overall ankle mobility, and they are broken up into preworkout and postworkout moves: Preworkout, you’re aiming to mobilize the ankles and calves in all directions and improve coordination with ankle ABC’s, as well as a low-lunge stretch to mobilize the calves and Achilles tendons. Postworkout, you’ll do three static stretches for the shins, calves and plantar fascia to improve range of motion, decrease postworkout soreness, and keep your muscles long, mobile and healthy.
Sit in a chair or stand by a sturdy structure or a wall for balance, then lift one foot off the floor. Draw the ABC’s slowly and deliberately with each foot, in uppercase or lowercase, cursive or all of the above.
Get into a wide runner’s lunge with your left foot forward, right leg behind. Drop your right knee to the floor and rest your torso on your left thigh. Place your hands on either side of your left foot, or grip your foot underneath your toes. Keep your left heel flat on the floor as you lean into your left thigh with your torso and gently press your left knee forward. Hold for 30 seconds, rest, then repeat. The second round, try to press your weight into your big toe for 15 seconds, then into your pinkie toe for 15 seconds.
Wall Calf Stretch
Place the ball of one foot against a wall with your heel on the floor, leg straight. Maintain even pressure along all five toes as you press your hips forward to find a deep stretch in your calf. Hold for 30 seconds, then release. Repeat two to three times.
Kneeling Shin Stretch
Get onto all fours with your knees and ankles together and the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Walk back with your hands and sit up until you feel a stretch in your shins, then hold for one minute. If you’re more flexible, place your hands behind you and slowly lean back, allowing your knees to lift off the floor and hold for 20 seconds (shown). Come back to all fours to rest briefly, then repeat twice more.
Kneeling Toe Stretch
Get on all fours and bring your knees and ankles together underneath you. Tuck your toes under, then walk your hands back so you’re sitting on your heels. If you’re flexible or want a deeper stretch, sit up tall and place your hands on your hips or in your lap (shown). Hold for one minute.