And What To Do If They Are NOt!
Lunges are necessary—The split stance should never be ignored. And I don't care what anybody says on that particular subject. Front squats are a great introduction to the world of barbell lifts—the one true 8-minute ab workout among the gimmicks. Sprints are theoretically the best choice for cardio—and can turn you into a fat-burning machine.
All three of these exercises have two things in common. The first is that they are all simple but excellent staples, that merit a place in any good training program. From fat-loss to core strength, they all hit the marks with multiple shots.
The second, is that they require a certain amount of mobility to be completed successfully. Lunges, front squats, and sprints all require you to have ankles that move pretty damn well.
And bad ankles affect more of the population than you might think. It’s kind of a hidden problem because tight, locked up ankles typically don’t result in pain at the site. It’s a rare occasion that any client ever comes to me actually complaining of ankle pain.
Limited ankle mobility affects other joints, and shows itself as seemingly unrelated issues. So it can be really difficult to realize unless you actually measure it.
Clients DO often complain of knee pain during lunging.They experience back pain after goblet or front squats. And I’ve seen a slew of runners with frequent ankle sprains. These are merely possible clues. But, any one of these issues could prompt an ankle investigation.
The simplest way to know? You don’t need a kinesiology degree to dig a little deeper. You just need a dowel(could be the swiffer mop in the closet) and a ruler(your phone works fine. An iPhone6 is about 5 and a half inches long for reference).
How To Know If Your Ankles Need Work
Now, should you find that your ankle mobility is less than stellar—as you learned from the video, a distance from the wall of less than four inches, you need to work on your ankles before you jump into any of the aforementioned exercises.
In the meantime, you can swing and snatch yourself silly. Do all of the deadlifts. And any upper body stuff is of course fair game. Simultaneously, you’ll be working towards earning your sprints and front squats back.
Here is a quick routine to run through, with a bonus exercise at the end after you’ve been working for about two weeks(every day 2x a day or 4weeks 1x a day).
**Should you find that one ankle is tighter than the other, you'll complete 50-100% more work on the challenging side.
***THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT! If you experience closing joint PAIN-- and that means that as you push the knee further in that ankle mobility assessment and the front side of your ankle hurts--DO NOT try this routine. DO NOT even bother reading the rest of this blog. Proceed to your nearest body work professional. This is not going to work for you and might make the situation worse.
If everything feels good, let's get going!
(1) Foam Roll Calves
As we covered in the last blog, we don't necessarily know why it works, but foam-rolling the calves can get you a little more range of motion in a snap.
(2) Stretch Calves
Push into the wall as you drive the heel back into the floor. Make sure that foot is straight and hold for thirty seconds.
(3) Mobilize Ankle
This is my go to mobilization if I know my client is going to be working out alone. All you need is a sturdy band and an anchor to tie it to.
Post stretching and foam rolling, you should have gained more flexibility. Now move through it! 8-10 strides is perfect.
(4) Core-Activated Hurdle Hold
This one can seem kind of silly. You might even get into the hold and think, What's happening here? Where's the work?
The feedback from the cables(or a band works here too!) teaches you to push into the ground with the standing leg and elongate your body, creating space in the joints. In yoga, we call this rooting to rise.
All of our joints work better when there is adequate space to move properly. Including those pesky ankles that can get otherwise squashed in single-leg balances. LENGTHEN.
If you pay attention to this subtle activation, you'll learn to apply the concept to the next two exercises...
And maybe EVERYTHING you ever do. And then maybe EVERYTHING you do gets better as you set yourself up for increased core stability with this one simple cue. BOOM. Automatic sophistication. You can stop reading now. Ok, just kidding.
(5) Assisted Split Hold
OK, Ok I know we said lunges will cause you problems if you have tight ankles.
But! If we dial it back down and regress our split stance to an isometric hold, and we take off some of the load by adding assistance, you should be able to find the perfect first challenge.
Progressively load the ankle by using the straps less and less as the exercise becomes easier. Thirty seconds on a hold is great.
(6) Squat Toe-Touch*
*To be completed only after progress has been made and confirmed by reassessment.
Not to be confused with a typical bend-patterned toe-touch. Don't worry about hinging back. I want you to drop that booty for 8 reps on this one.
I also want you to look for a lot of ankle dorsiflexion i.e. push that knee forward to challenge your new range of motion.
And move slow! Speed makes everything harder. A four count down and a four count back up, minimizing any shift on the foot as much as possible to be successful. A loss of balance is an indicator to you that your learning speed may be slower than you think.
And finally, remember that space concept from the hurdle holds? Root to rise!
(1) Foam Roll Calves (60sec)
(2) Stretch Calves (30sec)
(3) Band Ankle Mobilizations (x8-10 strides)
(4) Core-Activated Hurdle Hold (30-60sec)
(5) Assisted Split Hold (30sec)
*(6) Squat Toe-Touch (8 reps) After clear progress has been measured
Now, once you get to that magic 4-inch mark, don't just jump right back into long sprints and heavy front squats and loaded bulgarian split-squats.
Adding load and jumping ahead too quickly is a sure-fire way to negate your progress.
Start with short sprints. Begin with unloaded split-squats and lunges. Stick to easy reps on the front squats.
The benefits don't just stop here. Your single-leg lifts should all benefit from the ankle work. And you may even find your glutes engage a little bit better as well. As your newly named glute goddess, I know a thing .