Shin splints, heel pain, bad back, tight hips, knee weakness — these common complaints may share a similar but underappreciated source: immobile ankles.
When the ankle joint can flex and extend optimally, you can tap into the power of your entire lower body — legs, hips, and glutes — says Kelly Starrett, DPT, author of Ready to Run and cofounder of the popular website MobilityWOD.com.
Conversely, when your ankles are tight, it can feel as though your entire lower body is locked up. Your legs may have the strength to squat 200 pounds, the power to sprint up a flight of stairs, or the ability to enjoy a brisk walk or easy jog. But without adequate ankle health, you may find these activities nearly impossible because of pain in the heels, Achilles tendons, calves, shins, knees, hips, or lower back.
Starrett recommends these drills, which focus on the connective tissues of the lower body. Try them after your walking workout (see “How to Do a 30-Minute Walking Workout”) or any time your lower limbs feel tight.
Stretches the front of the feet and ankles, as well as the hip flexors.
- Kneel down, with hands on the floor, to position your left knee on the floor and your shin against a wall.
- Step your right foot on the floor about 2½ feet in front of you.
- Squeeze your glutes and press your hips forward until your right hip is fully extended.
- Leave your hands on the floor, or rise up to increase the stretch.
- Spend two to three minutes here, then switch sides.
Lubricates dry connective tissues in the bottoms of the feet to release tightness in the ankles and hamstrings.
- Standing straight, place one bare foot on top of a tennis ball or other small, firm, round implement.
- Gently lean your weight into the ball, and roll the sole of your foot across the surface.
- Roll forward and back, from ball to arch to heel, and side to side, making sure not to neglect the outermost and innermost areas of the foot.
Loosens tight ankles and calves for relief in the feet, shins, and knees.
- Sit on the floor with one leg extended in front of you and one leg bent.
- Place a tennis ball or barbell — something narrower and harder than a standard foam roller — under one leg (if using a barbell, keep it perpendicular to your calf).
- Starting just above the ankle, roll your leg side to side. Repeat this motion as you work up to the top of the calf. Switch legs.
This originally appeared as “Build Ankle Mobility” in the September 2019 print issue of Experience Life.