For all athletes, and particularly weightlifters, being able to access full range of motion in the ankles is a movement characteristic that may easily be overlooked. Not being able to access full range in ankle dorsiflexion (having your knees over your toes) can be a limitation that can cause several compensations up through the kinetic chain in lifts, like increased torso angle in squats, or “butt winking” at the bottom on a squat. Aside from weightlifting, proper ankle mobility is an essential aspect of balance, running, and jumping mechanics.
Many individuals who have limited range of motion in the ankles may not be able to displace the load of a back squat properly, leading to more stress on the knees, hips, and low back. Olympic lifting shoes are commonly used to help many athletes achieve this range to optimize their squats. In this article, I am going to share some of my favorite exercises to help you make your ankles more resilient and mobile, so that you don’t need any external tools to optimize your lifts.
Adding some form of ankle and foot mobility is an essential part of my practice. I suggest implementing one of the movements below, or all of them, into your warm-up routine or into your workout as active rest. Remember to take your time, and not to push too deep in a range that you don’t have access to yet. Let’s crush it.
Ankle Mobility Exercises
1. Toes Tucked Under Squats to Seated Ankle Stretch
- 5 to 6 reps each side
- 3 rounds
- Minimal rest between rounds
Starting in a staggered stance with the toes of your back foot tucked under, slowly descend into a squat as you keep 25% of your weight on the back leg. Try to keep a proud chest, long spine, and tight core as you descend all the way down, placing your back knee on the floor, driving your front knee forward over your toes as you keep your heel firmly planted on the floor. Slowly come back up to standing and repeat for 5 repetitions on each side.
Regression: Take out the squats, and just do the seated ankle stretch.
Benefits: This dynamic ankle stretch is going to help you kill two birds with one stone! It will allow you to focus on achieving a greater range of motion in both your dorsiflexion (bringing toes closer to shins) and plantar flexion (pointing the foot). Improving your ability to control these ranges will help maximize your depth in your squats, as well as any movement that requires ankle mobility like running and jumping.
2. Releve Squats with Kettlebell
- 10 to 12 repetitions
- 3 to 4 rounds
- Plenty of rest for quality reps
From a tall neutral stance with your feet at hip stance, hold the kettlebell by the horns at sternum height. Point your toes out to 45 degrees, and come up onto the balls of your feet as you raise your heels off the floor. Squeeze your glutes, keep your core tight, and chest proud as you descend into a squat. Come back up to standing, and try to keep your ankles as stable as you can throughout this movement.
Regression: Perform the releve squats with bodyweight only.
Benefits: These releve squats are great for increasing our ability to stabilize our ankles, as well as the mobility of the toes. Ankle stability is going to give you a stronger foundation when lifting and performing any dynamic movements. Where enhanced toe mobility is going to improve your power output when running and jumping, allowing you to push off the ground with more force.
3. Deep Squat Shifts with Kettlebell
- 45 seconds
- 4 rounds
- Rest as needed between rounds
From a tall neutral stance with your feet at hip stance, hold the kettlebell by the horns at sternum height. Try to keep your feet pointed forward if you can. As you descend into a squat, press your knees forward over your toes, keeping your heels firmly planted on the ground. Then lower your hips towards your heels, as you maintain a tight core, proud chest, and long neutral spine. Slowly shift from side to side, displacing more of your weight onto one ankle, pressing deeper into dorsiflexion, while still firmly pressing your heels into the ground.
Regression: Remove the kettlebell and work on shifting side to side with bodyweight only, or holding onto a fixed structure like a squat rack.
Benefits: This exercise is going to help lengthen the muscles of the calves to allow you to access a greater range of dorsiflexion in your training. Being able to access this range is going to help you optimize your squat by displacing the load more evenly throughout your legs through more posterior chain engagement, and allowing you to maintain a more vertical spine.
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Feature image from @francheskafit Instagram page.