How To Improve Ankle Mobility In A Squat

Difficulty sitting in the bottom of a squat? The problem could be a number of joints, but today let’s talk about the ankle!

Photo by Benjamin Sow on Unsplash

Squatting is a compound exercise. That means there are multiple joints have to move at the same time to complete a ‘squat’. If any singular joint can’t move in the way the exercise requires, our body will find a way to compensate during movement.


→ If you ask someone lacking shoulder flexion to lift their arms overhead, they’ll likely compensate by doing some combination of elbow bending, flex their neck forward, etc.

→ If you ask someone to squat who is lacking ankle inversion, they’ll likely compensate by using more knee or hip rotation.

So where do we start?

We start with the fundamentals. What if I told you at the joint level there was a movement where if improved, would also improve other movements. Similarly if this movement got worse, other movements would also get worse.

For the ankle, this movement is inversion & eversion. Why? The health/range of motion of a joint is largely influenced by the deepest structure (the joint capsule). To communicate with the joint capsule you need rotation based movements. Inversion & Eversion are the only rotational movements at the ankle joint.

Here’s an even shorter explanation:

↑ Ankle Inversion & Eversion = ↑ Joint Capsule Health

↑ Joint Capsule Health = ↑ Quality/Health Of Ankle Joint

↑ Ankle Health = ↑ Squat Performance

… therefore

↑ Ankle Inversion & Eversion = ↑ Squat Performance

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

Enough explanation, what do I ACTUALLY DO?

If you’re dealing with an injury, or sharp pain in your ankle — seek a doctor. If you’re pain free and just feel like your ankles are ‘stiff’ or ‘tight’ then this might help. Here is what the sequences of exercises look like.

  1. Ankle Inversion PAILs/RAILs
  2. Ankle Eversion PAILs/RAILs
  3. Ankle CARs
  4. Breathing In Bottom Squat

What are these exercises actually accomplishing?

  1. Expanding passive range of motion in end range inversion & eversion
  2. Start gaining strength & control in those end ranges
  3. Communicate to our CNS that we are safe these ranges
  4. Use the newly acquired ROM to start owning the base position of a squat

How do you do PAILs/RAILs?

  1. Hold a 2 min static stretch in a pain free end range (inversion for example)
  2. Slowly ramping up, try to push your ankle the opposite direction of the stretch while blocking your ankle with your hand, causing an isometric contraction. Ramp up the contraction for 5–15 seconds at an effort of 30–70% max effort (start low to start).
  3. Repeat step #2 in opposite direction. Preform 2–3 sets.
  4. End in passive stretch for 1–3 breaths to teach our body to feel comfortable in end ranges

How do you do CARs?

  1. Move your ankle joint through a full pain free range of motion. Consiously think about avoiding compensating at other joints. Movements inc; dorsiflexion, inversion, eversion, plantarflexion.

How do you breath in the bottom of a squat?

  1. Sit as deep into a squat as you can. If this is uncomfortable, grab a block, prop, bench, etc. and sit on that. Overtime try and sit lower and lower, and just hang out in that position for a little while. Slow breaths, shift in all direction — teach your body to feel comfortable in the position!
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Now stop reading and go try these out! Let me know how it went.

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