I’m going to begin this article by asking how many people have watched the film Any Given Sunday?
The answer to this question should be “everyone”, because it’s an awesome film! But for those of you who have missed it, here’s the main speech by the great man himself, Al Pacino:
This, in my opinion, is one of the greatest movie monologues ever, and has stuck with me in everything I do (crazy how a film can do that!) Big Al is absolutely right, life is a game of inches, and nowhere more so than in training.
When performing the big compound exercises such as the squat and deadlift, most people are pretty switched on these days when it comes to foam rolling, mobility work and stretching. However, even when paying attention to all of the aforementioned, if their lifts aren’t quite where they want to be, whether it’s not quite hitting depth, knees caving in, or if they can’t increase the weight shifted, this is where the game of inches comes in.
You can foam roll your quads, do hip mobility and stretching until the cows come home, but if your ankle mobility sucks, you’re always going to be playing catch up.
I’m a big advocate of starting from the ground up, and feet and ankles are the first things that come in contact with the ground. Like with anything, they have to be able to perform the job they’re asked to do or your performance will suffer.
What Do I Mean by Ankle Mobility?
When talking about ankle mobility, I mean dorsiflexion. Dorsiflexion is just the movement of your shin over your toes.
If someone has poor ankle mobility, the body will find a way to work around this. This usually happens with your feet turning outwards and knees cave in due to the ankles’ lack of dorsiflexion.
Now, a point to note, your toes will naturally point out, as that is how most people set up to squat and stand naturally. However, it becomes a problem when they turn out beyond the natural stance and cause the knees to cave in.
To spot this, just look at this example of someone’s squat from the back:
There are two common factors that may cause limited mobility through the ankle:
1. The first is that the joint capsule may be very stiff, whether that be from a previous injury or your ankle being out of action due to wearing a cast.
2. The second thing to consider is that you might just have really tight calves. The focus would then be to start spending some quality time with a foam roller or lacrosse ball and work on some corrections.
The Science of Anatomy
In the past (and right now for that matter), many people just worked on the Glute Medius (that’s your bum muscle) when trying to fix squat issues of feet turning out etc. which I’ve already mentioned.
This isn’t wrong by any stretch of the imagination. However, when looking at a problem within the body, it’s always good to look above and below where the problem occurs.
The glute medius is the above, the muscle on either side of the calf is below. These are the tibialis anterior, tibialis posterior, flexor hallicus group, and peroneal groups.
These muscles are the stabilisers of the ankle. If they are not working properly, or at all, this may be the last piece of the puzzle that is hindering your training progress. Below are a few videos from the guru Mike Reinold demonstrating some soft tissue work and mobility exercises:
Foam rolling is great for releasing muscular tension within the calf. As demonstrated in the video, always assess the improvement of the dorsiflexion of your ankle compared to when you started. This method can also be used using a lacrosse ball, but can cause some good pain faces.
This method is just an alternative way to the foam roller or lacrosse ball.
Following on from your soft tissue work, you would then go into more mobility exercises and stretches.
Highlighted in the video above are just some simple exercises you can do before you train. This is the exercise that I personally use and works for me.
However, these exercises may work some people and not for others. Play around with what may work for you, there’s plenty of content out there to help you. They are not the most glamorous of exercises, but it might just be the final piece of the puzzle that’s missing from progressing your training.
Thanks for reading!
Final point on squat proportions and foldability:
If you have any questions for Steven, you can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org and if you'd like to work one-to-one with him, click here to request a consultation and mention his name in the comments box.