Stiff ankles. As a physical therapist, I hear about this problem all the time. Patients come in with complaints like “I can’t squat below parallel because of my ankles” or “If only I had more ankle mobility, I could finally nail that pistol squat!” Decreased ankle mobility is a common theme, especially among
women. Fortunately, understanding the causes and performing mobility drills can help you loosen those joints up.
Common Causes Of Decreased Ankle Mobility
People tend to complain about reduced ankle mobility during one lift in particular: the squat—specifically, the bottom of the squat. In the bottom (or hole), your ankles need to be fully flexed, known as dorsiflexion. If your range of motion is limited, you won’t be able to squat past parallel without being in pain.
So, what causes decreased ankle mobility? The major culprits include stiffness at the joint or joint capsule, muscle tension, muscle imbalances, and chronically tight muscles. Ladies, I’m talking to you. If you frequently wear high heels, your ankle range of motion is going to be affected. Your ankle isn’t able to move through a full range of motion in heels, which creates stiffness, and you’re walking around with shortened calf muscles, which leads to chronically tight calves.
Now, this isn’t to say that only those of you who wear high heels will have tight calves; there are plenty of other reasons, including muscle imbalances in the feet, legs, or hips; altered gait patterns; and specific techniques such as forefoot running. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to address any tightness or imbalance.
This is a fairly simple exercise that achieves improved mobility at the joint itself.
- Grab a dowel, a foam roller, or a broom.
- Get into a half-kneeling position with the dowel placed about an inch in front of your front big toe. Without letting your heel come off the ground, bend forward at the ankle (dorsiflex) toward the dowel. Keeping your foot planted, go to the side of the dowel as far as you can.
- Hold for only a second or two, and then return to the beginning. Repeat for 10 reps.