How To Know If You Have Tight Ankles & 5 Exercises To Increase Ankle Range Of Motion

Trainer Confession:

I have extremely tight ankles. So tight that within the first few steps of running, my ankles always let’s out an angry pop. It’s almost as if I roll it, but after a step or two, the pain quickly disappears and I’m fine to continue on.

It happens without fail.

But that’s not the only time I am able to recognize my extreme tightness… other times when I do moves such as donkey kicks or squat jumps, my ankle tightness can prevent a soft landing and instead I feel as if I crash down which sends a shock up my feet. Luckily, like my running this only happens for the first rep or two and them I’m a-okay to continue on.

donkey-kicks

And finally, my squats. While Dan is able to keep a very upright position for squats, pushing his hips back, feet facing straight ahead and knees pushing out, for me it’s a challenge.

He is consistently telling me to turn my feet forward, as I naturally try to compensate my tightness and lack of motion by rotating my feet out. My back has a tendency to bend forward, while my husband is able to maintain an almost completely upright position.

squat-upclose

Then there is my knee pain.

Though some of my pain is from a previous injury some of it is from joint mechanics. It’s amazing how joints work together, and one weak or stiff joint will affect another..

In this case the knees and hips are the most commonly affected joints from immobile ankles.

Limited ROM In the Ankles

The ankle joint has two jobs, to point the toe (plantarflexion) and to lift the toes towards you, pushing the heel toward the ground (dorsiflexion). It’s the a poor ability to perform the dorsiflexion motion that causes issues as this is what allows the tibia (shin) to move forward and allows complete torque with the ankle and knee to do moves like squats safely and effectively.

Does that all make sense? Basically, it’s important to have full range of motion in the ankles, end of story.

What causes poor flexing issues?

Causes Of Tight Ankles

What in the world can limit the range of motion in your ankles?

  • Tightness and limited flexibility in the calves. <— I have suffered from tight calves for years, it seems that no amount of rolling and stretching keeps those babies loose.
  • Joint restrictions from previous injuries or surgeries. <— Dan broke his ankle a few years back and had definitely had to work to fight scar tissue build up and ROM issues.
  • Bad posture. Do you slouch at a desk or roll your shoulders forward when you’re standing? This changes the body’s center of mass by moving it forward and causes the ankle to plantar flex (point) in an attempt to fix the imbalance.
  • Wear high heels? I used to wear high heels every chance I got. Those days are long gone since I wear athletic shoes at least 6 days a week. The problem being that shoes with a heel pushes the foot forward and can result in loss of flexibility over time. Even wearing running shoes with a high lift can cause long time issues if mobility isn’t focused.

Why am I sharing this?

Because lots and lots of people have crazy tight ankles and don’t even realize it. And if they do, they likely aren’t taking measures to correct the issue to add mobility.

How Do You Know If You Have Tight Ankles?

ankle squat mobility test

The best test is to perform a standard body weight squat. Are you able to squat down to parallel with the feet facing forward, knees pushing outward while keeping your heels planted on the ground?

If the answer is no, or if you find you have to turn your toes out in order to make the move happen, then there is a good chance that your mobility is limited.

What’s a gal to do?

Ankle Mobility Exercises

Exercises To Help Ankle Mobility

The following are the moves that I’ve been doing on a regular basis to help increase my ankle range of motion and that of my clients.

What you won’t see? Me sitting on the ground rolling my ankles and writing out the alphabet with my toes. Why? Because the ankles are weight bearing, so the best way to stretch them out is to actually put weight on them!

Low Squat Hold

ankle-squat

This is my favorite, and it’s been a challenge! While cooking, I’ll get into a squat position and simply try to hold it for as long as I can (and bring my back up straighter). My legs don’t give out, my balance does after time because of my ankles! It’s fun and helps pass the time between stirring dinner!

Add a bit more ROM by adding a rock…

Low Squat Rocks

ankle-squat-rock

Forward Lunge Rock

ankle-lunges

This forward lunge rock is great, but if you want you can also lift the front foot up on to a box for added support. Even better yet, you can also use a rubber band!

Ballerina Presses

ankle-lifts

Like a ballerina, lift up on the toes and lower down in a controlled manner. Push up as high as possible! Alternate feet for 10 reps each and then do both simultaneously for 10 reps.

Deep Stretch

ankle-stretch

I don’t recommend this for everyone as it is a very weight bearing move, but it feels oh so good! Hold for 10-20 seconds, rest and repeat. Do one ankle at a time if needed!

Try them out and see how you feel! Do the squat test, do these exercises and repeat the squat test… see if you can notice a difference!

Oh, I also have a new secret, I’ve made the transition to a minimal shoe that does not have a heel lift. To be honest, it was an accident. I ordered a pair of Mizunos from LeftLane after my road shoes were ruined during the 5K Ultra and for some reason, I didn’t realize they were minimal shoes.

Blonde moment.

Either way, I did some research, and slowly progressed out of my heel lifted running shoes and into zero drop shoes. I won’t lie, it was tough. Those first few training weekends, my calves were extremely tight and I would have to stop during runs to stretch out. But within the past week, I’ve noticed the calve tightness is gone AND my ankles are getting better and stronger! <— Important to note that a SLOW progression into minimal shoes is required for safe transitioning!

Do you have any tight areas that you’re able to pick up on? Ever focus on mobility?

Comments:

  • Jr

    So….my co-worker just spotted me trying out some low squat rocks! Those felt like they were stretching a ton of stuff and felt verrrrry nice. Another excellent post, per usual. My shoulders are chronically tight, but not to the point where it affects (in a way I can detect, anyway….so it probably does) my mobility. On the other hand, my hamstrings get tight and pulled frequently. Seems like they take forever to heal, too, whenever they do get overstretched.

    • Haha, my friends are used to seeing me try strange moves around them. Its become expected! Thank you lady! Stretch those hammies out and glutes to help!

  • Misszippy

    Did you write this with me in mind? Hello extremely limited ankles! It’s something I do work on, but not as much as I should. My right ankle in particular has been sprained numerous times and has accumulated scar tissue/tightness. Great info to have!

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  • Christine Rosko

    I feel like this post was written for me. Just yesterday, I dealt with this issue. I know I’ve always had awful ankle issues but I thought it was just a lost cause. That pop during running keeps me from running, ever. And that sharp pain keeps me from wanting to jump and freaks me out when I have to come down from tall places. Just walking for more than five minutes causes my ankle to burn to the point it’s almost too uncomfortable to walk. I need to try these moves and I need to keep working on my flexibility. I’ve never been the most bendable person.

  • Helen Hawkins

    As a trainer its never been a good look in front of my clients struggling with flexibility in my ankles so a big thank you for these exercises and will definitely be doing them ☺

  • Ali S.

    Just curious… for those of us that cannot get into that low squat without lifting our heels… how do we progressively get into that position?

    • If you can’t get that low, no worries. Use a door frame or a rig at the gym to help lower down as far as you can before the heels come up. Hold it here and of course incorporate the other moves as well.

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