Ankle mobility is important for athletic performance.
It is required in almost every sport and most athletes lack it.
An ankle that does not have great mobility is subject to rolling, twisting, spraining, and whatever else it can do.
What is our solution for this problem? Braces and tape which lock the ankle into place and make sure it isn’t going anywhere.
This just sends the stress to another joint in the body and the results are issues in the knee, hip, or foot. Plantar fasciitis is often caused by a foot that has become too mobile in place of an ankle.
Hockey also fits the category of athletes needing ankle mobility. This is in spite of the fact that the foot and ankle are locked in a hockey boot and cannot move anywhere.
Not so fast.
The ankle actually moves forward and back when skating. The action that we are most concerned with is dorsiflexion, when the angle between the foot and the shin becomes smaller. Too often, dorsiflexion is limited or nonexistent.
The boot of a hockey skate does not allow for much side to side movement. This is necessary because athletes need a solid platform to push off of. If the boot allowed too much motion side to side then skating speeds would decrease.
The skate also does not allow plantarflexion of the ankle. You can mimic plantarflexion by standing up on your toes, making the ankle between the shin and the foot bigger.
The inability of the ankle to move in these directions is important for hockey players. They do not need these actions to be successful on the ice and they are limited.
They must, however, be able to get into that 4th position of dorsiflexion in order to get into a good skating position.
A good skating position starts with the hips back, chest up, and knees bent. If the athlete is to get low to the ice, the knee must come forward over the toes. This only happens if the ankle will let it.
I like the above picture because it draws a line from the knee to the ice, showing how much mobility the ankle must have.
Those that have limited ankle mobility will suffer in their skating stride. They will not be able to sink their hips back or bend the knee as much, forcing them to stand more upright when they skate.
Skating taller means that the stride will become shorter and less powerful. The athlete will limited movement will not be able to get a lot behind their push.
Ankle mobility can be improved very simply.
First and foremost, never tie your skates with the laces going around the ankle. This is a trend that is on its way out in recent years but can be an issue.
Tying the skates in this fashion will lock the ankle into place and never allow it to move into a good position. No amount of mobility work will help if you cannot reinforce it on the ice.
- Roll out the calves
You will need a lacrosse ball for this. Put it on the ground and put your calf on top of it. Put pressure into the ball and roll around on it. The sides of the lower legs are usually super tight and tender. You might have to spend close to 5 minutes per side the first time and decrease as it gets better.
Rolling out the tissue will release tension and rehydrate the muscles of the calf. Trying to work on mobility of the ankle with muscles that are holding tension is a lost cause. We must first do some soft tissue work before moving into moving.
- Ankle mobility drill
The ankle mobility drill can be done standing or kneeling. Keep the foot flat on the ground and drive the knee over the small toes of the foot. Do not drive the knee over the big toe because the knee is more likely to collapse to get there. This will look like ankle mobility but it is really just a compensation pattern.
Try 8 on each side, multiple times a day to start improving.
- Put it together
To reinforce the pattern at home or in the gym, we have to take the new ankle mobility and use it.
I suggest the lateral lunge for this since it will encourage use of ankle range of motion and it is transferable to the hockey stride.
Try to get as low as possible on the lunge and do not be afraid to let the knee travel forward, while the hips stay back. A good hinge at the hips ensures that the weight is not going to creep forward.
Finish this little series off with 2 sets of 8 each leg on the lateral lunge.
Putting all three of these techniques together is important for improving mobility. We have to release the muscles, improve range of motion in the muscles, and then use that new mobility.
Improving ankle mobility will result in faster skating and, no, it did not take any power skating camps or fancy equipment.