Are you still squatting on plates?

In the very first CrossFit Love Mobility blog, I showed you how lack of shoulder mobility can cause knee pain.  Well, it can start from the bottom up too.  Are you squatting with plates under your heels?  Do you have to excessively turn your feet out to achieve a full squat?  Ankle mobility is probably your issue. You stretch your calves, right?  So why are you still so tight?  Stretching clearly doesn’t work, right?  Actually, you are sort of right.

Joint capsule of the ankle

When you move a joint through a motion, muscles pull on bones to create movement.  So, to get more movement, make the muscles longer by stretching.  Not quite.  Your joints are also surrounded by ligaments, a joint capsule, and other fascial structures.  Any of these structures can become “tight” and restrict movement.  Why is this important?  How long have you been told to stretch your muscles and this can only be accomplished by holding them in lengthened positions for 30 seconds?  What if there are fascial adhesions on the outside of your calf, or your joint capsule is tight from wearing stiff shoes?  Stretching for 30 seconds is not going to cut it.

Compensating for crappy ankle mobility with plates


Awesome shoulder flexion; crappy ankle mobility

Back to the ankle.  Check out the pictures of our awesome CF Love coach. Shoulder mobility is clearly not his issue, but look how far forward his knees come over his toes.  Transmitting force though his toes to stand up, rather than through his base of support (ball of foot and heel) loses a TON of power, and burns out his kneecaps.  Placing plates underneath his heels (picture on the right) corrects this, but who wants to squat in heels?

The ball of your foot, not just your toes., should come off the wall. And SIT UP STRAIGHT.

Look at your feet the next time you stand up.  Do your toes point straight ahead, or do they turn in or out?  This may indicate some restrictions on either side of your calf.  Now it’s time for our experiment.  Sit on the floor with your feet against the wall.  Make sure you are sitting up straight, slouching is cheating!  Does this feel like a stretch?  Now try and lift your forefoot keeping your heel in contact with the wall.  Can you do it?  You should be able to lift the ball of your foot (not just your toes) an inch or so off the wall. This is how much motion is required to squat and walk “normally”.  Any less than that and you will compensate (turning your toes out or in, walking on your toes, etc).  How do we gain more motion?

Will has some outstanding ankle mobility


We like to use hockey sticks instead of PVC pipes

First, lets do another test (Sorry, I know it’s Monday). Kneel in front of a wall with your toes touching it.  Place a PVC pipe on the outside of your foot.  Lean forward and try to touch the wall while keeping your heel in contact with the ground. Easy? Move your foot away from the wall.  Can you still do it?  How far can you get from the wall?  Remember how far you got.  Now mobilize!

  • Plantar Fascia and Calf Release:  Adhesions that restrict dorsiflexion (toes coming off wall) can occur anywhere along the posterior chain of your lower leg.  Many people develop tightness in their plantar fascia from wearing stiff, motion controlling shoes or high heels.  Take your trusty lacrosse ball and starting at your heel, work side to side (not front to back) searching for any tight spots.  Contract/relax by curling and extending your toes when you find the areas of restriction. Work all the way to the ball of your foot.  Now move on to your calf with the foam roller. Starting just above your Achilles tendon, work side to side (not up and down) finding areas of tightness.  They feel almost “rope-like” when you apply pressure. Cross your other leg over your shin or have a super-friend apply additional pressure for you.  Then work though a range of motion, moving your foot like you are applying pressure to a gas pedal.  You can also make ankle circles, move side to side, etc.  Find where your restrictions are and handle them. Work all the way up to just behind the knee.

    Band placement for ankle mobilization

  • Banded Calf Mobilization: This is a great one to mobilize your posterior joint capsule (allowing for more motion when you try to lift your foot off the wall).  Wrap a smaller jump band low around a stable object.  Place one foot into the band just above your ankle bones.  Facing away from the support object, step into a lunge.  Try and relax the banded leg and try and push your knee forward over your toes.  Hunt around for any tightness or restrictions by bending your knee to the inside and outside of your foot.  It should feel like an intense stretch low behind your ankle joint.  Hunt around for two minutes.
  • Calf Stretch on Steroids:  Find a wall or slanted calf stretcher.  Get your foot as high as you can up the wall/stretcher.  Push your hips forward over your ankle.  Find areas of restriction by bending or straightening your knee and rotating it to the inside and outside of your foot.  There is no right or wrong way to do this.  If you feel a stretch, it’s working.  But, do this for TWO MINUTES on each leg.
  • Knee-Out Drill for Ankle Mobility:  After all of that mobilizing, see if there is any improvement with the PVC pipe drill.  Try and get your toes further from the wall.  Use this as a mobilization for two minutes on each ankle.  This is a great test to see how much “knee out” motion you will be able to get at the bottom of your squat.  Remember to keep your heel in contact with the ground!

Test/re-test your squat.  With all of the power you gained from fixing your ankles you can take those plates you were standing on and throw them on your barbell!  Get Some!

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