When a joint lacks range of motion, whether due to injury or inflexibility, another joint above or below it will attempt to make up for the range of motion deficit. In referring to the ankle we see this commonly in all the squat variants, and particularly in the Front Squat and Overhead Squat, whether as their own movements or as the receiving position for the Clean and the Snatch. Most of you should know that limited hip flexion ROM (tight hamstrings and adductors, perhaps) would cause undesirable movement in another joint(s), your lumbar spine. As you move deeper into the squat and hit the end of your hip flexion ROM, your back begins to flex in an attempt to get lower. This isn’t good, right? Right! Let’s take a look at limited dorsi-flexion (toes toward the shin) ROM at the ankle. It could start to be made up for at the knee, but then the bar starts to travel back too far. Think squatting with perfectly vertical shins and an upright torso. You’d fall backwards, right?. So what happens next is the hip starts to flex (fold forward) in an attempt to keep the bar balanced over mid-foot. What happens here? In a Front Squat you probably lose the bar forward. In an Overhead Squat you’d probably lose the bar forward or compensate even further up at the shoulder and have the bar way back behind you, over the mid to low back instead of over the scapulae. To pull off this circus stunt of a squat would require sick shoulder strength, stability, and ROM at the shoulder. More than likely it’d be a missed lift.
Of course in both of these situations, when you run out of hip flexion ROM due to the increased demand caused by limited ankle ROM, you could still make up for it at the lumbar spine…Still not good.
So, how can you get more ROM at the ankle? Glad you asked. Here’s one way. Get in front of a wall (a wall with a ledge like at SBK or a doorway works well), place your heel close to the edge and the ball of your foot on the wall. You may need to lean back significantly to achieve this position. Use your arms to pull you in, leading your hips into the wall. Attempt to be as tall as possible and not bend over at the hip. Use leverage to create an acute angle at the ankle. You can use PNF for this stretch (contract 5 seconds, relax and pull into stretch 15 seconds) and you can rotate your shin over the ankle to hit different areas. Try this stretch both with a straight knee and with a slightly bent knee. Spend 2-4 minutes each leg. Your squat is worth it. Cheers to good squatting!
Some of you are in various stages of a "Mobility Challenge". How's it going so far? Why does good mobility seem to be the last thing on so many athletes's lists?