Improving dorsiflexion – what a lot of people do wrong

Man the ankle is a cool joint – well a cool set of joints. The foot/ankle has a lot going on and a lot of people experience some sort of an issue with it.

When we look at the ankle, typically people are talking about the “talocrural joint” where the tibia, fibula, and talus meet. In traditional terms that is where we get dorsiflexion and plantarflexion (pulling your foot to your shin and pointing it away respectively).

People will try to do a squat, pistol, snatch, etc. and point to their limited ankle motion as the issue and then hammer away at stretching out their calve in an attempt to loosen it up. In some cases people will do “mobility” drills to work on actively lengthening out the calve. Quite often these people do this over and over again with minimal improvement and are usually stuck experiencing a pinch in the front of their ankle.

However, the ankle is not just one joint and the problem I’ve seen is that a lot of people focus on the talocrural while their subtalar joint is the problem. The talus is the bone that is a part of both the talocrural and subtalar joints.

When the tibia moves forward to perform dorsiflexion (with the foot on the ground, such as a squat), the talus in theory is in a neutral position and stays in place as the tibia rolls forward. If this were to happen, we’d get some rocking dorsiflexion and have a sweet knees forward squat. Unfortunately for a lot of people (such as myself) that damn talus doesn’t want to stay in place. Instead, the talus moves forward, or started forward, and this restricts the amount of motion we can get and results in a pinching feeling. If this is happening, hammering away at stretching, mobility, etc. is really not going to work to well.

Well shit, now what?

Here comes the well intended posterior traction ankle mob. This is where people will place the band around their ankle and have it pull backwards while going through the motion. You’ll also see people have a partner push the bottom of their tibia backwards while going into dorsiflexion – both trying to achieve the same thing. Unluckily a lot of people will not find this as helpful as desired and still get a pinch. You see the talus is positioned under the tibia and people often place the band too high. The tibia is meant to go forward and so pulling it backwards doesn’t do much other than offer resistance and the talus still moves forward (although sometimes the band force is strong enough to still get an effect to help some people).

The solution?

Elevating the front foot and placing the band low, below the joint line. By placing the band lower, we are able to target the talus better. Additionally, placing the foot elevated allows us to get a downward force which will assist in encouraging better motion of the talus.

If you are dealing with this issue, give it a shot and sprinkle it in between sets of warm up squats to see how it helps. A good little sequence to get maximum benefit might be – soft tissue work on the calve x 20seconds, posterior traction w/ foot elevated x 8 reps, set of warm up squats for 3-10 reps (pause in the bottom and focus on the knee forward for even more effect). Doing this over and over again, for many training sessions, will pay huge dividends. Over time you’ll be able to ditch the soft tissue work and the band and just do squats!

Give it a try and let us know how it helps!

Move well, lift heavy, stay healthy,

The Strength Therapist





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