For coaches and physical therapists, range of motion through the ankle is often the last area of the body looked at, when trying to improve a clients movement or to why they have developed hip and knee pain on the same or opposite side. We'll show you why it should be one of this first. For more information like this, coaches can undertake our Online Coaches Course, accredited with the Fitness Board of Australia for 7 CEC points.
Several studies have been published that show, that limited dorsiflexion impacts the squat, pistol, step down activities, and landing from a jump. These are all building blocks to functional movement patterns, so the importance of designing exercises to enhance dorsiflexion is essential.
In the our Sports Physiotherapy clinics in Hawthorn and South Yarra, we are seeing an increased number of Powerlifting, CrossFit and Olympic Weightlifting athletes coming in with knee and hip pain directly linked to a lack of dorsiflexion. As stated earlier, a lack of dorsiflexion leads to an increased load through the quadriceps in double and single leg squats, overload through the hip stabilisers and a reduced activation through the posterior chain of hamstrings and gluts.
In addition to this, we're seeing more and more athletes take up high intensity training and decrease their cardiovascular training. We find athletes, reduce their running loads down to the short amounts found in workouts. This running is often done mid workout and with fatigue leading to a short stride and short time in the mid stance phase as below, where the individual loses the ability to maintain contact with the ground and never gets to the terminal stance phase, essential for maintaining dorsiflexion of the ankle joint.
Self‐myofascial release techniques:
Foam rolling of the calf: This has benefits as you can turn your body side to side and get the medial and lateral heads of the calf muscles along the full length.
You can use a massage stick in a similar fashion to roll the length of the area and pause at tender spots. We often add mobility in the half kneeling position as well, which gives this technique an added bonus.
The addition of rolling the base of the foot (plantar fascia) with a ball further lengthens the posterior chain tissue. There is a direct connection between the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.
Stretching of the calf musculature:
We like to break down our ankle mobility exercises into basic and advanced, depending on the extent of the client’s motion restriction.
Several basic drills that you can incorporate into your movement prep or corrective exercise
Dynamic calf stretch with ankle mobilization (dynamic version of our standardized test)
Tri planar calf stretch and mobilization (toes up on the wall, dynamic movement)
Half kneeling mobilization with a dowel (Knee to the outside of the dowel)
Mobilization with movement (MWM) – Banded dorsiflexion
Half kneeling ankle mobilization with banded tension and dowel
Half kneeling Dorsiflexion test:
Kneel on the ground and assume a position similar to stretching your hip flexors, with your knee on the floor. Your lead foot that you are testing should be lined up 5’’ from the wall. This is important and the key to standardizing the test (As seen in dynamic calf stretch with ankle mobilization above).
From this position you lean in, keeping your heel on the ground. From this position you can measure the actual tibial angle in relationship to the ground or measure the distance of the kneecap from the wall when the heel starts to come up.
The 3‐step process to maximize gains when trying to enhance ankle dorsiflexion.
Self myofascial release for the calf and plantar fascia
Stretching of the calf
Ankle mobility drills
We prefer this three pronged attack in maximising ankle dorsiflexion. Next time your training or coaching, squat, then try these drills, then re asses your squat. Your guaranteed to squat more and without pain!
Alex Drew is a Physiotherapist and Founder of Evolutio which strives to provide 'Innovation in Athlete Treatment and Education'. Evolutio has just opened in Kew and will soon be opening in South Yarra, Melbourne for specialising treatment and advice for sporting athletes, CrossFit athletes, Powerlifters and Olympic Lifters.
Brett Wiener is an Osteopath and has coached at several locations across Melbourne. Much of his work can be found throughout the Level 1 Injury Prevention & Management Coaches Course