According to Eric Cressey, ankle mobility is so important that folks without sufficient range of motion should skip squats altogether. That’s in part because of the risk of injury to the lumbar spine. Like the knee the ankle is a hinge joint. It has two movements, plantarflexion (where the toes point down) and dorsiflexion (where the toes point up toward the knees). If dorsiflexion is poor the squat suffers because of incorrect form and insufficient production of force. Additionally, the longer you continue doing squats with limited dorsiflexion range of motion the more flexibility you will lose. Test your ankle mobility and learn how to make improvements
How is your ankle mobility?
Try this easy exercise from Mike Reinhold to determine your own ankle flexibility:
Half-kneeling dorsiflexion test
In your bare feet kneel on the ground and assume a position similar to stretching your hip flexors, with your knee on the floor. Use your right foot as the test foot. It should be lined up 5″ from the wall.
From this position you lean in, keeping your heel on the ground. You should be able to measure the actual tibial angle in relationship to the ground or measure the distance of the knee cap from the wall when the heel starts to come up. An alternate method would be to vary the distance your foot is from the wall and measure from the great toe to the wall. Reinhold prefers to standardize the distance to 5″. Says Reinhold, if you can touch the wall from 5″, you have pretty good mobility.
Sounds pretty scientific, but a bit complicated – to test your ankle mobility you can also make note of your feet when you squat. If you have trouble keeping your heels rooted on the floor or you lean forward on your toes as you squat, you could probably work on improving ankle mobility.
Foam rolling – stand with a tennis ball under the arch of your foot. Press into the ball and roll it along your foot.
Three-way mobility – Stand facing a wall with your right foot forward and palms against the wall for support. Push the knee of your right foot over your toes and toward the wall. Be sure to keep your heel in constant contact with the floor. Repeat ten times. Move your right foot to create a wider stance and repeat ten times. Finally, place your right foot above the outside edge of your left foot and repeat ten times. This exercise is not recommended if you have knee trouble.
Ankle stretches – sit or recline with legs fully extended. Hinge your foot and ankle forward and back in alternate movements so that the toes are pointed down as far as you can comfortably move them and then pointed up toward the knees. Do 10 to 20 reps per foot.
Good ankle mobility is important for functional movements such as squatting. Poor mobility will lead to injury and limited range of motion. If you notice that you are leaning forward or your heels are lifting up as you squat take a couple of weeks to improve ankle mobility before you continue with the exercise.