Six Drills I Used To Improve My Ankle Mobility

Six Drills I Used To Improve My Ankle Mobility

I’ve had poor dorsiflexion in my ankles for a long time. My left side was especially bad due to a tibia break I experienced at 11 years old. I’ve seen it improve slowly over the last few years but was still lacking the end range required to do a decent pistol squat and sprint without Achilles aggravation.

Once I began prioritizing the daily mobility work I knew that I needed I saw a world of difference (sometimes coaches can’t follow their own advice). I’ve been practicing the following drills daily along with getting some manual work through my lower leg and I feel like my ankles are brand new again. 

1 + 2). Foam Roll Lower Leg + Active Dorsiflexion with Foam Roll: Prior to active mobility work it feels good to use the roller on my gastroc aponeurosis, soleus and posterior tibialis. Although this won’t change the physical structure of the tissue it will improve resting neural tone, proprioception and local tissue hydration. I like to start by slowly rolling through the tissue followed by actively working through dorsiflexion and plantar flexion with the roller under the aponeurosis.

3). Dorsiflexion PAILS/RAILS: Developed by @drandreospina this drill has undoubtedly been the most beneficial for my ankle mobility. Position yourself over a box and use your hands and body weight to pull yourself into dorsiflexion. Once at end range focus on actively plantar-flexing into the box for at least a minute, next sink further into end range and focus on aggressively contracting into dorsiflexion using your anterior tibialis. I typically repeat this for 3-4 rounds. This should be uncomfortable if you’re doing it right and your anterior tib will be sore the next day but trust me it’s all worth it. 😉

4). Dorsiflexion/Plantarflexion CARS: After isometrically developing new range of motion it’s important to work on some isolated control in that new range. Also from @drandreospina‘s FRC certification, Controlled Articular Rotations are one of my favorite drills. While going through this drill I try to imagine that the air is thicker and I have to actively push through it slowly in and out of dorsi/plantar flexion. I typically do about 20 repetitions.

5). Goblet Squat with Active Dorsiflexion: After CARS I’ve found that its useful to start integrating dorsiflexion into loaded exercises that demand more stability. I especially enjoy getting into the bottom of a goblet squat and alternating in and out of each ankle with isometric contractions of the anterior tibialis. I really try to focus on maintaining a good foot position throughout the drill not letting the toes rotate outwards or the arch collapse inward. I like to accumulate a few minutes in the bottom of this squat position.

6). Narrow Foot Squat: In hopes of improving my pistol squat on the left side I’ve been working on narrow foot squatting with my feet positioned close together. The narrow stance places a much greater demand for dorsiflexion than a normal squat. I focus on actively pulling myself into the squat at the ankle and hanging out at the bottom for a few seconds on each repetition. In this drill I’m solely focusing on driving dorsiflexion through the ankle and am not worried about torso alignment. I typically do 10-20 repetitions.