Ankle flexibility for better balance and sports


The feet and ankles support and cushion the entire weight of the body and are crucial to keep your body balanced. Anyone that has to be on his or her feet all day knows that they bear a lot of pressure while standing. The foot includes 26 bones and 33 joints, all helping you simply stay upright. Added to that are 12 muscles involved in movement of the foot, plus to 19 intrinsic muscles, which support the arches and toes. One of the most important functions of your feet is that stress is distributed correctly though these structures and upwards throughout the entire body.

When it comes to better sports performance—and all weight-bearing activities such as walking and running—you can’t talk about the feet without including the ankles and lower legs. Two big muscles on the back of the leg, the gastrocnemius and soleus, provide movement, and are often tight or stiff. Both of these muscles attach to the heel via the Achilles tendon. These muscles play a big role when you flex your ankles. A limited range of motion in your ankles can affect your sports performance, balance and good squatting and lunge form.

The ankles have to bend. Dorsiflexion involves being able to bring the lower leg over the foot. It occurs anytime your foot hits the ground. If you were lucky enough to watch the Beijing Winter Olympics, consider a figure skater performing loops and axels or an alpine skier’s competing in the slalom or giant slalom events—all demonstrated stunning foot and ankle mobility and function.

Touch the wall test

Touch the wall test

A simple and objective way to see if you ankles aren’t tight is to do the “touch the wall” test.

Find a wall and place a ruler or measuring tape out from the baseboard. Place your foot at approximately 5 or 5.5 inches away from the wall. Be sure to have your foot straight. Keep your heel down as you try to touch the wall with your knee. If you can easily tap the wall, you have good ankle mobility. If you cannot, repeat this movement slowly for 15-20 times. Check your range after you include the following two stretches.

High-step ankle stretch

Place your foot on a high chair or gym box. Be sure to have the foot in neutral alignment. Slowly flex the knee forward to increase the stretch. You should feel it in your ankles and calf. (This is a more advanced stretch.) Repeat 10-12 reps.

BOSU Calf Stretch

This is an incredibly effective gastrocnemius and soleus stretch taught by Justin Price, one of the top musculoskeletal assessment and corrective exercise experts in the world. Stand on the round side on a BOSU ball with one leg in front of the other. (Place the BOSU against a wall for safety.) Push the heel of the back foot down into the BOSU, as you stand erect. Keep the heel down and rotate the back leg outward. Hold for a few seconds. Next, bend the knee of the back leg and rotate the leg inward (heel is still down). Perform 6–10 repetitions on both sides.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express

Strong legs : learning the basic squat

Strong legs & learning how to do a  squatNothing beats a great pair of legs. We need the strength of them to walk us through our lives. If you’re a skier, you can appreciate how hard your legs have to work on a powder day, as your hips and knees continually flex and extend. The lower body provides support and mobility for movement. The strongest muscles, for instance, the quadriceps, the front thighs, and your gluteals( posterior),  are powerful movers in  most every sport. No matter what your activity of choice may be, it is a good idea to keep them strong with a simple traditional exercise: the squat.

The movement seems simple enough: you “sit back “, as if you were to sit down a chair. Yet our bodies are a little more integrated than we think, as muscle is intertwined and inseparable from fascia. Rodney Corn, a biomechanics professor at the California University of Pennsylvania builds on the concept of how muscles are not islands by themselves. From the bottom of your foot, all the way up through your calf muscles, legs, hips, up to the top of your head is one continuous band of myofascia, transferring force from tendon to bone, all affecting each other. For example, the deep squat with the arms held overhead  is used as a movement assessment tool, as every joint in your body has to work. Here is where muscle imbalances show up. For example, if your knees track inward or outward, it probably indicates that your gluts are weak, or the inner thighs are weak and tight, or maybe your heels come up off the ground, indicating very tight calf muscles. Overtime, these kinds of compensations can lead to injury. Be aware of alignment, even though the squat seems simple enough, before you start adding either heavy weights or variations of a squat, such as a walking lunge exercise.


Stand with your feet hip width apart, with your toes pointing forward. Bend your ankles, knees and hips as if you were sitting back in a chair. The authors of Strength and Conditioning Journal December 2009 use the cue to “sit back into the squat.” Shifting your weight backwards not only reduces the torque on your knees by decreasing the angle, but also distributes the forces throughout the whole lower body, not just the front thighs. Pause for 1-2 seconds, tighten your gluts, and extend your legs fully back up to standing.

Sitting back in the squat can also prevent you from arching your back. By engaging the glutes, it becomes easier not to arch the low back. Keep your spine in a neutral position. The authors suggest that repetitive extension of the lumbar spine beyond the anatomical limit (arching) places stress in the small bones that join the facet joints in the back of your spine, called pars interarticularis. Keeping  a neutral spine throughout the move increases stability through the spine and allows it to handle greater compressive loads. Once your movement patterns are ingrained, you can progress the difficulty of a body weight squat to ones that include free weights, weighted bars, kettleballs or medicine balls. The variations  are numerous.

A shallow squat might be better for you if you have knee pain or patellar tendinous, because more than anything, strong quads will help in your rehabilitation.

Knee flexion and extension strength was recently measured in competitors in the National Senior Games. They had an average of 66% greater isometric knee flexion strength and 38% greater extension strength than control groups because of the demands of 20 or more years of competing, and loading the skeletal muscle. Other research, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning  Research  Journal 2009 shows a 53% increase in leg strength after 6 months of resistance training in older men. The point is the basic squat is a good exercise to do. Stronger legs make for better days on or off the hill, or on the tracks this winter.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Fitness Specialist located in Ketchum, Idaho

Printed in Idaho Mountain Express January 31, 2010