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Are stiff ankles slowing you down?

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

If you wear high heels on a daily basis then the answer is probably YES.

Stiff ankles can limit your performance and enable you to properly recover injury. If speed is your concern and your Ankle ROM (range of motion) isn’t so hot you could be shooting yourself in the foot and preventing your true speed from being unleashed. Most athletes get caught up in training their bigger muscles like the quadriceps, and gluteus maximus. These are great areas to to focus on for lower body strength and power but they can only be as strong as their weakest link. If you’re looking to get faster or jump higher I’d start from the ground up looking at the ability to move your ankle through full range of motion along with ample stability in multiple directions.

Training for your ankle can look a hundred different ways from standing on one leg to jumping across the gym.  It’s easy to come across great exercises online about “HARDCORE EXPLOSIVE POWER” but its not enough to know what to do, but when and how to do it.

Hopping, jumping, skipping and most importantly sprint training should be done with a specific intent, this intent will change as you develop as an athlete and as you perform at higher and higher levels but first and for most you must focus on increasing the dynamic stiffness of the ankle.  The athlete must be aware of which part of their foot is contacting the ground first if they are to truly transform their ankle into a spring. With a target for foot contact you allow the athletes the chance to manipulate the foot so that co-contractors in the lower leg and foot will fire providing stability and elasticity increasing the power output of each stride.

When sprinting in a straight line you want the athlete to contact the ground with a neutral ankle, this requires the athlete to lift the toes some towards their knee “dorsiflexion”.

Here’s a great drill I use to warm up my athletes learning how to drive down into the ground with a stiff ankle.

Here’s another warm up I use when the my athletes are ready to ramp up the speed and take their balance to the next level.

When your ankle is too stiff to dorsiflex it will limit the tendons and and muscles ability to lengthen resulting in less capacity for stored energy to be obtained and subsequently released. Think about a shooting a rubber band, you stretch it a little and it flings a few feet. This is what we call elastic energy. Now to shoot the band even farther you have to place an even greater stretch on it then it can fly across the room. The same can be done with our connective tissues that contain elastic properties such as the Achilles tendon. When running the goal is to have our ankle stretch once it hits the ground and immediately spring off using this “free energy” provided by the stretch reflex. This isn’t something that happens overnight, you must train your body progressively to coordinate the timing and speed of these mechanism and the strength to endure the pounding of such forces.

Stay tuned for how to train your ankle for agility and change of direction.

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