Loosen Up! Say No to Tight Ankles

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by MISSY ALBRECHT|DPT, CSCS, FMS

Did you know? Tight ankles change the mechanics of your squat position, which can make you weaker and more injury-prone.
Back in December I wrote a post about the magic of the heel lift, discussing the benefits of having the extra heel lift (either with Olympic lifting shoes or by using plates). The truth is this: everyone doing CrossFit should probably have Olympic lifting shoes. Especially during heavy lifts. It not only makes your form that much better, but it also increases ankle mobility and gives your heels a stable surface. I was going to wait to address this issue because I am still guilty of not owning a pair (I have been using 5-lb plates under my heels for as long as I’ve been CrossFitting); however, I have been shopping around and will be purchasing Oly shoes within the next month or so — definitely a worthy investment!

“Really? I Need Oly Shoes?”

Yes. Here’s an additonal excerpt on the importance of lifting shoes from Greg Everett (found in Robb Wolff’s podcasts):

Weightlifting shoes exist for a reason. It’s not an accident. You have a raised heel ‘cause that increases the range of motion of the ankle. And the ankle has to flex — dorsiflex — a great deal to hit those bottom positions with an upright torso, which is just unavoidable unless your femur is only four inches long. So in one regard, it’s a safety issue: If you bottom out that ankle, you’re going to be in big trouble. It’s not going to feel good, it’s going to take a long time to recover from, and it’s going to be a huge limiting factor forever, essentially.

[Finally, weightlifting shoes are beneficial because] you also have an extremely rigid, stable platform to stand on. The response to that is usually like, “Oh, well I wear Chuck Taylors” or “I wear old school Vans — that’s a flat sole.” Yeah, it’s flat, but it’s still squishy. I promise you: No matter how hard you think it is, it’s a lot squishier than a weightlifting shoe.

Your Ankles Are Tight!

Sound familiar? Tight calves and old ankle injuries contribute to ankle tightness.
After performing the functional movement screen on a multitude of clients, I have recommended lifting shoes or plates for nearly all of them, because almost everyone has tight ankles. The calves are the muscles that work the hardest while we are walking to keep our bodies upright. Then add in physical activity, and you can only imagine how much harder they work. Because we don’t exactly give them the TLC that they need (massage, stretch, foam rolling, etc.), they get tight. Maybe if we spent the day using our full ankle mobility (i.e. squatting to eat) they wouldn’t be so tight. But most of the time, our calves are working hard in a very limited range of motion.

What else adds to tight ankles? Have you ever sprained your ankle(s)? Did you sprain it (or them) multiple times? And you didn’t do anything to treat it? Yes. Yes. Yes. It seems that most people have sprained/rolled their ankle at some point. So add in some inflammation, scar tissue and messed up ankle mechanics after injury and you will have an even tighter ankle. Sweet. And these tight ankles can cause some problems — that is, they can limit your performance by changing the mechanics of your squat (Tight ankles = bad squat), forcing you to use more quads and less glutes. This consequence of tight ankles only makes you weaker and more prone to injury. Nobody wants that.

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