Improving ankle mobility is commonly associated with a decreased injury risk. However, a number of performance aspects can be heavily influenced by an improvement in ankle motion, and they are not to be taken lightly.
Here are the top 5 reasons for working on motion around the ankle.
1. Decreased Injury Risk
When a person improves his or her ankle mobility, it takes stress off the knees. If you have a low range of motion on each ankle, your knees suffer because they are forced into an uncomfortable range of motion, one in which they are not designed to operate. Knees are purely meant to hinge, not rotate or circulate.
2. Improvement in Squatting Patterns
Squats are a primary movement pattern used daily by all humans, whether just standing up from your couch, or, if you're an athlete, executing various jumping movements. Low ankle mobility destroys the squatting pattern and can lead to poor balance, a tendency to lean forward or lift the heels off the ground.
3. Improvement in Running Gait
During the running cycle, the ankle joints have two key roles—dorsiflexion, which involves activating the anterior tibialis to point the toes up; and plantaflexion, which uses the gastrocnemius to point the toes down. Effective use of these ranges results in better shock absorption. This is only possible with more range and more control of the ankle.
4. Better Lateral Movement
To move sideways quickly, an athlete must be able to use adequate ground reaction force. This is achieved by keeping a solid base between the foot and the ground; but it is very difficult to do if you have low ankle mobility.
5. Better Motor Control
There's a strong correlation between motor control and ankle mobility. The feet and ankles are crucial for effortless movement as they contain a high number of receptors that aid in balance.
Final note: it is crucial to consider ankle movement in the sagittal plane. This is the dorsiflexion, plantarflexion action mentioned in point 3. Remember that mobility is not simply range of motion around the joints but also the ability to exert strength within those end ranges.
With my athletes, I choose two key methods of implementing a wider range of motion around the ankle, both of which are highly practical. Initially, I feel that lunging forward with the heel or rear foot planted on the floor is a great step for beginners.
However, when athletes already have great range of motion, it is essential that they be able to transition the movement into a sports context. To do this, two popular athletic drills can be incorporated into their warm-up prior to sprinting, weight training or any sports-related regimen: the Ankle Hop and the Ankle Skip. Both involve dynamic dorsiflexion and plantarflexion while encouraging the same landing position as the athlete should use when sprinting.
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