Over the years, I have had so many runners ask me for the best stretches to increase range of motion at the quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back, etc. What I try to make them realize is that running is a very mid-range activity. That means it does not require a whole lot of motion at the knees, hips, and spine. Unless we uncover something significant that is limiting their running or affecting their daily life, we usually stay away from a lot of flexibility work in these areas.
With that being said, there are two areas which absolutely need adequate range of motion. Those areas include the great toe and ankle. Once you get into late midstance, the body travels over the foot (ankle dorsiflexion) and is followed by loading into the great toe for push-off (great toe extension). Lacking dorsiflexion and great toe extension can really impede a fluid running cycle and cause early push-off that lacks power and authority.
In today’s article, let’s look more deeply at how to self-assess ankle dorsiflexion. In terms of dorsiflexion, we need to take into consideration the ankle joint capsule, and calf complex (gastrocnemius and soleus). Luckily, this can be done with a simple self-assessment in the comfort of your home. The goal of the self-assessment is to be able to keep the heel on the ground and touch the knee to the wall from the 4-inch mark.
Here’s how to self-assess your ankle dorsiflexion range of motion:
- Get a ruler, piece of white tape, and pen.
- Place the tape against the wall, running in a perpendicular direction.
- Use the ruler and place markings at the following increments from the wall: 1-inch, 2-inch, 3-inch, and 4-inch.
- Assume a lunge position with your back knee down on the ground.
- Place the toes of your front foot on the 4-inch line and square your body with the wall.
- Lunge the knee forward in an attempt to touch the wall, while keeping the heel flat on the floor.
- Does the knee touch the wall without the heel lifting up? IF SO, you have adequate ankle dorsiflexion. IF NOT, move closer to the wall inch-by-inch and re-test to determine your ankle range of motion.
- Record this measurement.
- Complete on the other side.
- Record this measurement.
For a more detailed explanation on the importance of ankle dorsiflexion for runners and how to self-assess range of motion, take a second to watch this video…
By now I hope you have taken the time to self-assess your ankle dorsiflexion. Lack of motion here due to stiffness in the calf complex or a restricted ankle joint can be detrimental to your running performance.
In order to improve the limitation which was uncovered by completing the self-assessment, I highly recommend consistent calf stretching exercises and the wall ankle mobility drill. Doing these a minimum of 2-3 times per day is what’s needed for reliable results. After 4-6 weeks of consistent attention, complete the self-assessment again to gauge progress.
Do you suffer from limited ankle mobility that’s negatively impacting your performance? Or, a chronic foot, ankle, or knee injury that may be a result of poor mobility? Please click here to reach out directly so we can troubleshoot and get you on track for success.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART