By: Jeff Hermann, Lead Strength Coach, CTS Strength & Conditioning
One of the most frustrating things for an athlete or fitness enthusiast to deal with during an exercise, is lack of balance and stability. I mean seriously, how can I expect to get the most out of my squats if I feel like I’m walking a tight rope on the way down!? The answer is: I can’t! So today, we are going to go over some ways to increase your mobility and in turn move better!
Balance starts at the feet, because after all, without them you wouldn’t be able to stand. Above the feet lie the ankles, which move in all directions helping you to maintain that balance. If the ankles are stiff and immobile, they cant be expected to assist as much in simple and complex movements. When one area is not performing properly, another area of the body must pick up the slack. This is how imbalances within the body are created.
Have you ever been performing a squat, and for the life of you, cannot seem to keep your heels on the ground throughout the movement? A lot of people’s first reaction to this is simply saying “I’m just not able to sit all the way down”. Before you write yourself off as someone doomed to half-squat your entire life, lets see how loosening up those ankles can help you. Increasing range of motion in this particular area can dramatically affect your performance in many exercises and help you achieve maximum results quicker.
A lot of times your heels are coming off the ground because the ankle is too stiff to allow the type of range of motion needed as your knees come forward and over your feet. It is much easier to point your toes towards the ground than to pull them up towards your shin right? This is what is happening during that squat. The stiffness causes the weight to get shifted to the ball of the foot in attempts to keep the ankle closer to a neutral position. Though your body means well, this is not desirable in the world of lifting weights and lifting them right!
Ok, we now understand the importance of ankle mobility and how its absence can greatly affect our performance. So now, lets go over the actual stretches you can use to help this issue. One of the simplest ways, is to sit down in a squat as low as you can without your heals coming off the ground. Once your are there, you want to rock side to side putting your weight over each ankle and forcing it to loosen up. You can do this for as long as you like, it is only going to help!
A more advanced version of this stretch is getting in the same position, but this time laying a barbell across your legs just above the knees. You can then physically push the barbell down towards that ankle as you lean into it and get an awesome stretch. It will be somewhat uncomfortable at first, but well worth it when you see how much you have increased your range of motion. Both of these variations can be done daily and right before training sessions.
This last stretch is another one of my favorites: Put the ball of your foot up against a wall or stable object on the floor (toes pointing towards the shin), keep your heal down at all times, and gently push your knee forward. This will force the ankle to go into an exaggerated flexed position and loosen up fairly quickly. Following this stretch, you can set up the same way but this time, you are going to keep your leg straight (still keeping that heal down!) and leaning slowly forward. You will find a nice little surprise waiting in your calf muscle when you do this( which can also affect your ankles ability to flex).
So simply by stretching your calves and ankles, you can dramatically increase your efficiency in your workout.
Give these a shot, you wont regret it!