In the CrossFit and weightlifting communities, we often talk about dorsiflexion of the ankle to improve our position in the squat and other movements. Improving plantar flexion is important, too. Having mobile ankles will help you avoid injury and will enhance your performance in sport and every day life, as well.
About Ankle Plantar Flexion
If you listen or watch any of the conversations about improving squat form and function, ankle dorsiflexion is commonly discussed. What’s often neglected, though, is plantar flexion. For a refresher, here’s what dorsiflexion and plantar flexion look like:
Improving plantar flexion helps improve running motion and jumping, allows for a greater expression of your body’s power (think triple extension in an Olympic lifting movement), and generally speaking helps reduce your risk of injuries.
Tips on Improving Plantar Flexion
Here are a couple simple ways to help open that range of motion to keep your ankles healthy, happy, mobile, and injury free. Do this 2-3 times a week, especially before and after running, jumping, or weightlifting.
Before or After Exercise
- Full Kneeling Position: Kneel with your knees directly below your hips and your feet parallel to one another. Sit back into your ankles, trying to get the front of the ankles to touch the ground while keeping your feet from splaying. If you have trouble with this, slide an abmat or a rolled up towel beneath the ankles while you do this. Hold for 2 minutes if possible. **To add some intensity, put your toes on something 2-3 inches high, like a 25 lb weight plate. On either level, contract the muscles in front of the shin by gently pushing your toes against the ground for 5 seconds, then relaxing for 5 seconds. Repeat this contract/relax for the duration of the 2nd minute.
- Full Kneeling Marching: Once your body feels comfortable in that position, gently pull one knee up and set it down, and repeating on the other side as if marching. This adds a bit of additional flexion in the ankle, pushing it past its normal range of motion. Do this for 10-12 reps each side.
- Anterior Tib Smash: Get a padded foam roller and place the soft part of your upper mid shin on roller, perpendicular to the roller. Lower your weight onto the roller at a pressure you can manage. Spend 1-2 minutes rocking side to side on the roller while slowly moving your shin up and down so you get pressure on all the soft parts. Then spend 1-2 minutes flexing and relaxing the foot while applying pressure to the roller at various points on the shin.
Why Improving Plantar Flexion is Important
It’s important to understand why you’re doing these exercises. Improving ankle plantar flexion takes time, as these tissues are typically quite stiff on most people. Generally speaking, it takes 7 months of continuous work for tissues to change permanently. That may seem long at first, but when you consider your plantar flexion is subpar because of all the time you spend sitting or because of imbalances in your leg that have taken years to develop, it’s a small price to pay for a healthy lower body.
A healthy lower body is vitally important for our overall musculoskeletal health. The body is a chain of moving parts, where an imbalance in one area causes modifications in other areas. Since we are ambulatory creatures, what goes on in our lower body is often a culprit in a lot of hip, back, neck, and shoulder issues.
Think about running or walking. Our bodies are resilient, but taking 10,000 steps in a day, every day, on an imbalanced base will eventually strain some part of you. Take care of your plantar flexion.
Experts in Improving Plantar Flexion
At Movement Rx we are movement experts. Our team of Doctors of Physical Therapy and strength and conditioning experts are focused on getting to the root cause of issues quickly. If you have any kind of stiffness or pain in the knees, hips, back, shoulders, or neck, come see us to rule out lower body and ankle issues if you’re in the San Diego area. You can schedule an appointment HERE.
If you’re not in San Diego, you can take advantage of our online rehab programs. Go to The Low Back Fix to learn more.