How To Increase Ankle Mobility For Squats (15 Exercises)

Are you struggling to get into a deep squat? You may think this is because of tight hips or specific weaknesses, but the limiting factor could be your ankles.

Stiff ankles can hold back great squatting technique. More ankle dorsiflexion will improve your squat depth and technique.

Not sure how to go about it? We have put together 15 ankle mobility exercises for squats to get you squats better and deeper than ever before.

1. Calf Foam Rolling

Before squatting, try foam rolling on the calf muscle. The surrounding muscles and facia can have a big effect on your ankle dorsiflexion mobility.

Break up the tissue by using a foam roller around the heels and further up the calf muscles.

Place a foam roller underneath your calf and roll starting from your heel up to the top of the calf muscle.

When you find a tight spot, work into that area, trying to place more pressure to release the tightness. Flex and point your toe to work into the site.

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Calf Foam Rolling

2. Shin Foam Rolling

Don't neglect your shin when using a foam roller to increase ankle mobility. Working on the anterior tibialis muscle can be just as beneficial for tight ankles.

Face towards the floor, place the roller at the bottom of the shin, and roll upwards.

The same goes here with rolling the calf; you want to spend time applying pressure in areas that are tender or tight and flex and point the toe. 

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Shin Foam Rolling

3. Resisted Dorsiflexion with Band

This is a great exercise to improve dorsiflexion and build stronger ankles that are less susceptible to injury.

Looping the band around a surface, place the other end over your midfoot and sit on the floor.

Move back to bring tension into the band, keeping your leg out straight. Flex your foot and hold for 10-15s. Repeat 2-3 more times and switch sides.

Resisted Dorsiflexion With Band

4. Slow-Eccentric Calf Raises

Slow eccentric calf raise reps are a great dynamic warm-up exercise to do before squatting. This exercise will warm up the ankles for squats and stretch out the calves to release any tightness.

This is also an effective exercise to build after an ankle injury.

Position the balls of your feet on an elevated surface and let one heel slowly sink towards the floor with the other leg hanging down, don't use it for support on the surface.

Stop when you feel the stretch, then position the other foot on the platform to return to the start position and repeat.

Slow-Eccentric Calf Raises

5. Toe Raises And Heel Drops

Ankle mobility exercises such as the toe raise and heel drop, essentially a calf raise exercise, will improve overall mobility as it moves the ankles through both plantar flexion and dorsiflexion.

Standing on a raised surface, with your heels hanging over the edge, press into the balls of your feet as far as you can go and hold.

Then lower your heels down as far as they will go and hold in this position. Repeat for 10-12 reps.

This exercise will also strengthen and stretch the calf muscles and is great after a long cycling session.

Toe Raises And Heel Drops

6. Banded Ankle Distraction

Banded joint mobilizations place a band below the crease of the ankle and are a very effective and popular technique used to improve joint restriction in the ankle.

Make sure you don't place the band too high on the ankle, as the goal here is to pull the talus down and back while the tibia glides over the top of it.

The reason using a band is effective is because it locks the talus bone in place. This is an excellent exercise if you experience a pinching sensation in the front of your ankle.

Secure a resistance band around a pole or squat rack and loop the other end around the top of your foot; it should be sitting on the talus bone (the bone that makes up the lower part of your ankle).

Bring tension into the band and hold it tight at your heel. Move your knee over your big toe as far as possible and hold, then return to the start position.

This can be done on the floor or on a raised surface like a small box.

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Banded Ankle Distraction

7. Ankle PAILs and RAILs

These stretches are a form of isometric loading that requires no equipment and is a great addition to warming up for squats.  

In a lunge position, bend your front ankle as far as you can while keeping your heel flat, and lean forward.

Press your foot into the ground and hold. Then pull your toe upwards and hold in this stretched position. Try going into the stretch deeper between each hold by rocking back and forth.

Ankle PAILs And RAILs

8. Bench Stretch

The bench stretch is a great and simple way to improve dorsiflexion as it targets stretching the calf’s soleus muscles more than the gastrocnemius (the large calf muscle).

The soleus muscle can limit dorsiflexion when squatting. This stretch will improve both ankle mobility and tight calves.

Place one foot on a bench and extend the back leg out behind you. Use your body weight to shift forwards so that your knee travels over the toe, keeping the heel down.

Use your hands on either side of the bench to increase the stretch.

Bench Stretch

9. Squat Hold With Barbell On Knees

A great exercise to prime a deep squat position and one to do right before you squat.

Get into a deep squat position and place the barbell just above your knees, holding an active squat and allowing the knees to move forwards.

If you have trouble getting into a deep squat, then this may be something you need to work towards. If you need a lighter weight than a barbell, try the kneeling kettlebell stretch.

Squat Hold With Barbell On Knees

10. Knee Extension With Dorsiflexion

This is a challenging yet effective exercise that will help improve dorsiflexion through increased resistance to the joint.

Sit on a chair and place a kettlebell around the top of one foot. Sit up straight and keep your ankle in a flexed position.

Straighten out the leg, ensuring the kettlebell doesn't move, and lower back to the start position. Repeat for 10 reps, then switch to the other leg. 

Knee Extension With Dorsiflexion

11. Soft Tissue Stretching

After completing foam rolling, move on to addressing soft tissue restrictions with a stretch into the calf. This can also be used as a foam rolling substitute if you don't have one at home.

A simple way to do this is the heel drop stretch by standing on a raised surface and dropping the heel down to the floor. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and switch sides.

Before training, do some foam rolling and this stretch to give you relief from tightness and to improve your ankle mobility.

Soft Tissue Stretching

12. Duck Walks

Duck walks are a great dynamic exercise to help move the ankle joint through range.

Get down onto the floor, kneeling on one knee and placing the other foot out in front with your foot flat on the floor.

You're going to start moving forwards by pushing your body weight into the front foot and driving the knee forward, and using that momentum to switch sides.

Make sure you have enough space to take 10 steps forwards and repeat this 3-4 times.

People Doing Duck Walks In Park

13. Goblet Squats

The goblet squat is a very underrated exercise.

Excellent at improving hip mobility and ankles, this squat variation allows people with restrictions in the ankles to get their hips lower into a deeper squat.

Hold either a kettlebell or a dumbbell in front of your chest and close to your body and stand with your feet around shoulder width.

Squat as far as you're able, keeping your hips and torso stable. You will find it easier to get lower than a barbell squat due to the position of the weight.

Use a pause in the bottom position to improve the movement.

Goblet Squats

14. Kneeling Kettlebell Stretch

This exercise will help you achieve a deep squat as it will improve your ankle dorsiflexion and give your calf a good stretch all in one movement.

Kneel on one knee on the floor and bring one leg forwards, keeping the foot flat on the floor.

Shift your weight forward and use a moderately heavy kettlebell to place on your knee and push the knee forward as far as possible while keeping the heel flat.

Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs. Make sure to keep your heels planted on the side you are stretching.

Kneeling Kettlebell Stretch

15. Hold A Deep Squat

If hip and ankle mobility are holding you back from squatting the weight you want, then simply sitting into deeper squats will help improve mobility in both areas.

You can also use the goblet squat stretch to feel more of a stretch in the ankles by holding a weight plate and using the weight to drive the knee over the toes.

If you struggle to hold this position, then you can hold on to a surface to enable correct weight distribution, keeping your weight forwards, and as your mobility improves, you do this without assistance.

Try holding a deep squat every day for 1-2 minutes.

Deep Squat Holds

Why Is Ankle Mobility So Important When Doing Squats?

Limited ankle mobility is one of the most limiting factors of good squatting technique, whether you're a Crossfit athlete or a complete newbie.

The ankle is one of several joints involved in squatting, and its ability to flex properly will dictate how low you can squat and how stable you are.

If your ankles are stiff and lack the range of motion, you are likely to feel like you are going to rock back or even fall backward as you do a good deep squat.

Imagine somebody squatting while wearing ski boots; this image should give you an idea of what someone with tight ankles looks like when they squat.

Good ankle mobility will improve your squat technique and how much weight you can lift.

If your tight ankles limit your squat technique, it could cause a failed lift attempt or even open yourself up to injury.

Ankle dorsiflexion has been associated with a whole host of lower body injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendon injury, calf strains, shin splints, patellofemoral pain, IT band syndrome, and even ACL injuries.[1]


Testing Your Ankles Range Of Mobility

Good ankle mobility is the ability to move the joint through complete range of motion.

Research shows that a normal range of motion for ankle dorsiflexion is somewhere between 10 and 20 degrees. The average plantar flexion is 40 to 55 degrees.[2]

If someone shows less than these averages, then they need to do mobility exercises to improve their ankle mobility. Pain is also an indication of issues with ankle mobility.

Assess Your Squat

It can be as simple as having your body weight squat pattern assessed by physical therapists or a personal trainer and allowing them to see where you have restrictions.

For example, they will be looking for the degree to which you can get your knee over your toe when your feet are flat on the floor.

Knee To Wall Test

The knee-to-wall test is an excellent marker of ankle range because it removes the weight-bearing component through the half-kneeling position.

You are testing how far you can get the knee over the toe while keeping the heel on the floor.

Position yourself close to a wall in a half-kneeling position. Place four fingers against the wall, then place your big toe in contact with your fingers and touch your knee against the wall.

If this is too far and you cannot touch your knee, then you need to decrease the distance. If you can touch easily, then you need to move further back.

You need something to measure the distance, like a ruler. Measure the point you can touch your knee without your heel coming up.

Do this on both sides; you may find that one side has less range than the other.

Woman Wearing Orange Shoes Massaging Her Ankle

Common Questions About Ankle Mobility For Squats

How long does it take to improve squat mobility?

Because the ankle joint is a stubborn area to increase joint mobility, you will see the most improvement if you do mobility work every day, and if you stick to it, you will see improvements to your squat in one to two months. 

What is considered good ankle mobility?

The angle of your shins when you are in a squat dictates how good ankle mobility is. The degree to which your knee travels forward over your toes, such as the knee-to-wall test, also gives you a good indication of how mobile your ankles are.

Do deep squats improve ankle mobility?

Yes, absolutely. Your ankle dorsiflexion will improve over time as your squat deeper and allow the knees to move forwards. Still, the more you can sit into a deep squat, this alone is going to improve your range of motion.

What are the long-term consequences of poor ankle flexibility?

If the ankle joint does not move through a good range of motion, then you are likely to develop weak ankles, and this provides negative effects in and outside of the gym. Poor ankle mobility will not only affect squatting technique and performance, but it can also lead to a host of lower body injuries and not to mention can affect everyday movement such as walking.

Is foam rolling beneficial for improving ankle flexibility?

Foam rolling is very effective at releasing tight tissues. Your ankle mobility is affected by the surrounding muscles, so if they are tight, your ankles will suffer. Make sure you foam roll before lifting to provide relief and increase joint mobility before you train.


Conclusion

You can do plenty of drills and exercises at home and in the gym to help improve stiff ankles.

Please don't neglect your ankles when it comes to improving your squat technique.

Better technique means you can lift more weight. Better ankle dorsiflexion will not only improve performance in the gym but having strong and mobile ankles is going to decrease the chance of injuries.

References: 

1. https://theprehabguys.com/unlock-ankle-mobility/
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4994968/

Jo Taylor

Last Updated on January 17, 2023