Ankle mobility

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Ankle mobility test for proper squatting (and proper jumping and landing mechanics)

Test:

Kick off your shoes and stand with your feet together (heels touching and big toes touching).  Now drop into a full deep squat while keeping your knees together and keeping your heels on the ground.

A) No problem.

Congratulations!  You have excellent ankle dorsiflexion.

This enables you to jump and land with good form, power, and control; and squat with optimal form.  (this doesn’t mean you HAVE good form, it just means you are flexible enough that it is POSSIBLE for you to have good form.)  You are at considerably lower risk for calf/achilles injuries and plantar fasciitis.

B) Almost there… the heels come up a little, or you can hold it for a second with your arms way out front just before falling back onto your butt.  With running shoes or with the knees apart, it’s doable.

You’re doing okay.  Jumping and landing mechanics can be done properly although maybe not with optimal power.  Good squatting form can be achieved, but it’s a little difficult and it takes more effort to hold those positions.  Your feet might turn out a little too much when doing overhead squats and snatches, or when doing lots of reps of any other squats.

Stretching and foam rolling can improve performance and further reduce risk of injury.  Just to be safe, you may want to further improve range of motion before working on movements that require dynamic loading at the end range of motion like “bouncing” from one box jump to the next.

C) Nope.  Not even close.  Halfway down into the squat your heels come up.  Try going any lower and you end up on tip toes, unable to balance.  Falling over is inevitable.

Danger!  High risk for calf/achilles problems and injuries.  You may have already had plantar fasciitis and/or may develop it easily when increasing the amount of running or jumping in your workouts.  Doing box jumps is more about pulling the knees up high, since there isn’t a whole lot of springiness in the ankle.  Squats can only be deep, if the feet are set super wide with the toes turned way out.  (But try not to squat that way!)  This means the knees and ankles tend to collapse in, and it is hard to generate external torque to fire up the glutes to get out of the bottom of the squat.

Stretch and foam roll!  Make it a priority now before you get injured and have to do it anyway in a physical therapists office.  Stretch the calf with the knee straight first, to get the muscles stretched out, then stretch with a little bend in the knee.  You should feel the stretch lower down the calf and into the achilles.  Chances are good that you also have feet that tend to turn out, if so, also work on ankle rotation (turning the knee out) while in the achilles stretch.  Obsessively foam roll the achilles and calf before, after, and during workouts.

During squats, you may need to set your feet wider than is optimal for now, in order to get some reasonable amount of depth, but keep it narrow enough to work on improving the position on every rep regardless of whether it is an air squat or a heavy back squat.  That may mean you have to readjust your feet every few reps if they tend to turn out too much.

Mobility test for optimal squatting

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Test: try watching your favorite 30 minute TV show sitting on the floor.  Spend ten minutes kneeling, ten minutes cross legged (criss cross apple sauce), and ten minutes in a squat.  How many of the three positions are comfortable for you?

3 out of 3: I bet your squats rock.

2 out of 3: Not bad but your hips, knees, or ankles need some work.

1 out of 3: Ruh roh, you’re asking for trouble.

0 out of 3: Danger!  Fix this before you hurt yourself!

 

Real live human beings use “rest positions” that don’t involve furniture: sit, squat, kneel.

Fact: men in North Korea squat on street corners while smoking cigarettes and reading the newspaper.

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Fact: traditional restaurants in Japan don’t have chairs in their fancy reserved rooms.

Fact: yoga was originally developed to allow yogis to sit comfortably without moving for hours during meditation.