Just like your poor little forgotten wrists, you probably also pay very little attention to your ankles and feet, unless you have experienced a major foot injury. Yet, ankle mobility could be the number one reason your squat, well, kind of still sucks.
All this time, you thought it was your hamstring flexibility or tight hip flexors that were preventing you from squatting well, but if your ankles are tight, you’re going to have a really hard time squatting to depth, and an even harder time getting your torso into a good position, especially on a front squat.
As someone who tore their Achilles and had it surgically repaired, and then had the same foot run over by a car a couple of years later, I know firsthand what it’s like to feel tightness in my right ankle and foot. And if I don’t give my feet enough love before (and after) a big squat day, my squat is considerably worse.
Below are three ankle prep exercises to add to your warm-up.
1. Simple Achilles/Ankle Stretch
Set yourself up in a lunge with your back knee on the ground and then lean into your front leg by driving your knee as far forward as you can, all the while keeping your front foot flat on the ground.
You should feel a good, deep stretch in your Achilles. Then oscillate back and forth, pushing your knee further forward each time if you can. To get an even deeper stretch, place a plate on your front knee and do the same thing by leaning your body weight into the plate.
Spend one to two minutes per foot in the warm-up.
2. Ankle Rotations
Ankle rotations or CARS (controlled articular rotations) are a great way to access your usable range of motion.
Simply place your foot on the opposite knee, or hold it out in front of you and off the ground, and then rotate your ankle in a circle slowly, thinking about hitting all the edges like you’re scraping a bowl with a spatula. Take 5-10 seconds for one full rotation, trying to gain access to your greatest range of motion as possible. Add 5-10 ankle rotations in each direction on each foot to your warm-up.
3. Banded Ankle Flexion and Extension Stretch
Place a band on the bottom of your foot and hold the other end with your hands. Straighten your knee so there’s tension on the band and then go back and forth between dorsiflexion and plantar-flexion, again trying to gain as much range of motion as possible.
You can also do to work your ankle laterally in a similar way, but by placing the band around a post and then driving your foot back and forth from left to right, again trying to access as much range of motions as you can. Spend on minute working dorsiflexion and plantar-flexion, and one minute working your lateral ankle range of motion in your warm-up.
And don’t forget about your cooldown—below are three exercises to do post-workout for your feet, ankles, and Achilles.
4. Bottom of Foot Care
The bottom of our feet get a lot of abuse—especially if you’re getting those 10,000 steps a day—so it’s important to give them some love. A simple soft tissue massage with a lacrosse ball is a great place to start.
Stand up and place a lacrosse ball under one foot. Then just shop around for any particularly tight spots and massage your foot into the ball. This should feel good, as opposed to painful, just like a comfortable massage. Spend 1 minute on each foot after your training session.
5. Dowel Sit
Sit on your knees and place a dowel right behind your knees. Then slowly start to move the dowel down your leg until it gets all the way to your Achilles. Put as much weight on your calf as you can without it being excruciating. This should feel like “good pain.”
This is especially good to do after a workout with a lot of jumping, to keep your calves from getting super tight the next day. Tight calves only make the ankles and Achilles feel even tighter, in my experience. Spend 2 minutes working the dowel from behind your knee all the way down to your Achilles.
6. Plantar Flexion Sit
Sit on your knees—the same way you started the dowel sit—but without a dowel. Then sit back until you feel a deep plantar flexion stretch.
Keep your heels as close together as you can (ideally your heels are touching each other, however, that’s difficult for most people to achieve). Only lower your body weight onto your feet as much as you can without pain, and with your heels as close together as possible.
Spend one to two minutes stretching your feet into plantarflexion after a training session.