Your ankles are our connection with our foundation, which is our feet.
The feet are our connection to the ground and responsible for every athletic movement we perform. All of the transfer of forces happens through the feet. Bullet Proof Ankles are essential to be able to run, jump, cut, kick, punch, squat, lunge.... you name it. The mobility-stability balance is the name of the game, and with a little bit of work and a lot of consistency you can increase your deadlift weight, decrease your 100m time and maximize your vertical all by taking care of your ankles.
1. Optimal Position
If we are going to talk about the ankle we need to talk about the foot. Let's start by identifying the ideal ankle position when standing, squatting or jumping.
Ideal: feet face forward, arches are engaged, ankle is neutral.
You ankle has 3 arches: 2 longitudinal and 1 transverse arch. All 3 of them work together to act as a spring. They preserve energy during walking, and act as shock absorbers when we land. When someone has a 'collapsed arch' they are referring to a reduced medial-longitudinal arch (the inside of the foot). Without is, the foot isn't able to absorb the shock or preserve nearly enough energy. Instead, the foot comes to a hard stop, slamming into the ground, the inside of your shoe or the orthotic.
The arch is not a weight bearing surface. There are times where using a corrective insole can be beneficial, but trying to take away the function of the arch by doing their job for them results in weak feet.
The take home message: your feet should be straight forward and your arch should be off the ground.
The invention of footwear was extremely beneficial. It allowed early humans to travel across rough terrain and brave weather that we otherwise couldn't. Modern footwear has shifted from functional to fashionable, and the result has been detrimental for our feet.
Other footwear, in an attempt to improve function and provide protection have, inadvertently, caused as many problems as they have avoided. For example, below is a picture of high quality boots that most of the local Law Enforcement Officers are wearing. They are invaluable because they protect the officers from the elements and terrain. They also keep the foot isolated in a single position for hours on end, reducing mobility over time. You can see in the picture below how much my ankle mobility is reduced while wearing the boot.
If you need to wear them for work, then it is probably worth the sacrifice. It isn't worth taking a nail through the foot or getting frostbite. The boots in the picture are spectacular, They are comfortable, sturdy and protective. But they are not designed to let your foot move the way it is naturally meant to. It is extremely important to do the work to undo what your shoes have done. The rest of the time, choose to wear flexible and minimal footwear. Being barefoot often is best because it give your feet and toes the chance to splay. The transverse arch which runs the width of your knuckles (see the pictures above) is meant to spread and retract as you walk. While barefoot you are without restriction and your feet are free to move and bend and twist with the terrain.
There are many exercises and tools you can use to bulletproof your ankles. Below are my favorites, the ones I use the most, and the ones I think have the most value. Taking even 5 minutes after kicking off your boots or spending 2-3 minutes throughout the day to work on your feet and shins will significantly improve your ankle mobility and stability.
LAX BALL STACKING
Use the LAX Ball Peanut on the bottom and a single trigger release ball on top. Apply pressure with the top ball and move the ankle into plantar/dorsiflexion. You can also use the top ball to wind up the tissue before you move your ankle through your range of motion. Move up and down the shin as you see fit.
Use the top ball to find trigger points along the inside of the calf (top side).
Avoid areas that cause tingling/numbing.
Perform for 2 mins/side
Use a lacrosse ball, foam roller or lacrosse ball peanut. Roll up and down your calf until you find a trigger point. Proceed to point your toes up and down, working through the trigger point. It is often useful to rotate your leg to get the sides of the calf.
If the weight of your leg alone is not enough pressure, cross your feet to add some weight and increase the intensity.
Perform for 2 mins/side
Place the LAX or tennis ball under your foot. Roll from heel to toes, along the center and outside our your sole. You can also twist from side to side (think "putting out a cigarette" ...not that any of you would ever smoke, of course...).
Continue for 2 mins/side
Use your fingers to separate each of your toes. 'Wring' out your foot as if you are wringing out a towel. Twists from one direction to another. Flex and extend your toes as you move through range.
Continue for 2 mins/side
Regardless of where you are at it is worth taking the time to work on your ankles.
Here are the key notes:
- maintain your arch
- walk and stand with your feet straight
- choose minimal footwear when you can. When you can't, take off the restrictive footwear periodically and stretch/mobilize
- Mobilize and work on your ankles/shins daily
If you follow those steps I guarantee that you will increase your ankle mobility, decrease foot pain, and your improve your injury resilience. You will feel better, move better, and perform better.