Unlocking Ankle Mobility
Ankle mobility is an important key to achieving deeper back squats, stable front squats and a pretty snatch
But what makes up ankle mobility?
Is it just tight calves that are stopping you from getting "ass to the grass"?
yes.. and no...
or should I say... "It depends"
First, let's look at the basic boney structure of the ankle
Essentially, we want to look at the movement available at a joint called the talocrural joint.
The talocrural joint is made up of the Tibia (shin bone) and fibula on top and the talus (a bone in the ankle/foot) on the bottom.
As you squat, it's natural for your shin to travel forwards and your ankle does what we call "dorsiflexion".
the degree of dorsiflexion you can achieve is what determines your ankle mobility/squat depth.
Insufficient dorsiflexion may lead to compensations in other areas, such as the hips or lower back (hello butt wink )
And like I said earlier tight calves may be the culprit....
but that depends...
joint range of movement depends on 3 factors
#1 Muscular tightness #2 Capsular tightness #3 Boney deformities
Let's talk about #1 and #3 first
#1 Muscular tightness Obviously, if a tight muscle is restricting the movement at a particular joint you stretch it out yeh? (for argument's sake, let's say this is the case... this is a whole other can of worms I'm not ready to open right now). In the ankle, you'd be looking to stretch the gastrocnemius (the pretty boy calf muscle on top) and the soleus (the deeper but bigger muscle underneath)
#3 Boney deformities These are rare, however not impossible. This is where you may have a genetic abnormality in the structure of the bone within the talocrural joint, where extra bits of bone act as a barrier that prevents you from achieving dorsiflexion. Another possibility that runs along the same lines here is something like osteoarthritis, where there are similar boney changes due to injury or age-related wear and tear.
Yet, a lot of people who don't have boney deformities within the ankle and stretch the hell out of their calves, still have difficulty nailing a deep squat.
This is where capsular stretching may help.
Yes, joints work and move as a result of muscles pulling on them from various angles, however, every joint is encased in something called a synovial capsule.
Often, what I find, especially as part of a warmup or mobility program, is that by including joint capsule stretches, along with dynamic movement drills that prime the nervous system for the desired activity, you can achieve greater results than just stretching alone.....
In the picture below, I've got a powerband around the patient's ankle, which pulls the lower shin backwards. She's in the lunge position and sits a weight on top of the knee.
from this position, she drives her knee forwards and backwards, while keeping her heel on the ground.
The force of the band helps stretch the talocrural capsule to allow more dorsiflexion and the addition of the dumbbell gives it that extra nudge.
Ideally, I would check the ankle flexibility in a squat, complete 20-30 reps of this mobilisation on each side, then re-check the ankle to measure joint improvements. I might repeat this for 2-3 sets.
Give it a go on your next leg/clean/snatch day and see if you feel the difference