Ankle mobility is important for squatting because it allows the knee to track over the toe through a movement called dorsiflexion. This forward knee tracking allows you to squat deeper and remain more upright, which is important for exercises such as front squats and overhead squats.
Ankle Mobility Screening
The first step to see if ankle mobility is limiting your squat range is to complete a knee to wall assessment. Place a ruler on the floor next to a wall and complete a mini-lunge, where you’re allowing your knee to track over your toe. Gradually move your foot backwards further from the wall until you are unable to go any further. View the video at the end for more detail. This test is positive if:
you have pain
you have significant differences between sides (~2cm+)
you measure less than 10-15cm (the taller you are, the more you need)
you are unable to keep your heel flat on the floor (even 1-2cm from the wall)
you are unable to keep your hips level/square and the knee twists/collapses inwards to create more range.
If any of these things happen to you, this test is positive. Here’s how to improve your mobility.
Why Restrictions Occur
Improving mobility depends on the cause. Ankle mobility can either be limited by stiffness in the joint, or tightness in the calf muscles (soleus or gastrocnemius). Thus, when completing the above test, it is important to differentiate what you feel is stopping you from going further.
Stiffness in the joint is usually felt as a pinching/blocking sensation at the front of the ankle. Joint stiffness sometimes occurs due to a past history of trauma to the ankle, either through frequent sprained ankles or a fracture. Sometimes, it’s just unlucky genetics.
Calf tightness is usually felt as a stretching feeling at the back of the ankle or higher up in the calf muscle. Muscle tightness can be due to frequent use of the calf muscles, such as lots of running or jumping. It can also be due to weakness in other muscles, such as the small muscles that control the foot, where the calf is overcompensating.
How to fix it
If the restriction is felt at the front of the ankle, then banded ankle mobilisations can be useful to reduce the joint stiffness. To do these, grab a moderate thickness resistance band and place it at the bottom of the ankle joint. Bend your ankle to find where the joint is, and place the band slightly below this point. If the band is too high then this exercise is unproductive so do your best to make sure it’s in the right spot. Step up onto a small box so the band is on a slight incline, then lunge forward. Use a wall next to you for balance if needed. Watch the video below for more detail.
Repeat for three sets of 10 reps. Discontinue this exercise if pain/pinching is felt at the front of the ankle.
If the restriction is felt at the back of the ankle, then the range is likely more limited by tightness in a muscle in the calf called the soleus. Calf stretching with a bent knee can improve range, particularly using a kettlebell to increase pressure. Sitting in the bottom of a squat with a kettlebell can also improve squat depth. Watch the video below for a further demonstration.
Aim to hold the stretches for two lots of one minute. Calf stretching with a straight knee can also improve the length of another calf muscle, the gastrocnemius, however this is less relevant for squat depth.
After completing the above exercises for one week (four to seven times per week), reassess the knee to wall test to see if there has been any improvement. Continue to complete these exercises until the test is not positive, or until progress has plateaued.
The information above is provided as general information only, and is not intended to be specific advice about your condition and body. For specific advice about your condition, we do recommend that you see your physiotherapist for a full assessment and management!