The squat is the absolute godfather of lower body strength and conditioning. It is widely recognised as a movement critical for improving ones performance and growing as an athlete or optimising biomechanics when done correctly.
However the squat is a very complex movement requiring multiple joints to control all phases and it can lead to injury if done incorrectly from poor technique, lack of mobility or lack of correct motor control.
The ankle is often the weak link in the chain causing injury in the knee, hip or low back. The most common dysfunction seen here is a lack of dorsiflexion (ankle bending up). When this is limited as you lower your body through the squat the ankles will generally turn out to try and create some extra motion however this is through a plane which will load the knees as they will drop inward losing control through the glute muscles. Another poor movement pattern masking poor ankle mobility will be having the feet set in a wide stance instead of close to shoulder width as again this allows the knee to travel in instead of over the foot. With the feet turning out the stabilisation the feet have on the ground is decreased and your low back will become more susceptible to injury as your body searches for balance risking flexion through the spine while loaded with weight.
Notice a subtle turn out of both feet If you have identified with this fault it is a good idea to gather how limited the range of motion is so you can track your progress as you work on your mobility. It is also beneficial to look at this test as other squat faults as feet being to wide apart may also mask limited mobility.
- The test is performed kneeling as demonstrated.
- place your hand against the wall and have your big toe touch the other side of your hand.
- Ideally you should be able to lean in some your knee touches the wall without your foot turning out, your knee deviating to the side, your heel lifting or your foot arch collapsing.
- If you have any of these then ankle mobility must be addressed.
Ankle mobility will generally be limited by tension and adhesions through the calf muscles compiling of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, the achilles tendon and the plantar fascia.
Begin by foam rolling the calf for three sets of 30 seconds.
Next roll out the plantar fascia over the bottom of the foot using a hard ball such as a cricket, lacrosse or ideally a hard rubber ball. You may feel thickened bands here which can be quite tender. Gently work into these areas.
Stretch the calf out in both knee locked position and knee bent position to effectively address both muscle bulks as shown. Hold for 30 seconds each three times.
The next target is generally required for chronic restrictions. Due to long term limitation the capsule surrounding the ankle joint can thicken due to lack of motion and correct use. This can be worked on by adding a resistance band to the stretch. The tension from the band will distract the joint and pull on the capsule stimulating change in the tissues. After holding for 30 seconds try mobilising further in and out of dorsiflexion while the joint is still distracted to add further stretch.
As with most mobility routines prescribed if this is to be done around the time of your workout foam rolling and mobilisations are fine however wait until after your training to do stretches requiring a hold as this will inhibit power generated during training.