How to Improve Ankle Mobility

Welcome back to Squat University! During these past few weeks we have covered the ankle joint. Two weeks ago we discussed how the role of the mobile ankle contributes to our movement pattern in the squat. The deeper we squat, the more mobility we require at the ankle.

Previously, we introduced a screen to test our ankle mobility. We also discussed two common reasons for the development of ankle stiffness. Most restrictions are due to either joint immobility (such as a bony block) or soft tissue tightness (stiff muscles and/or fascia). The goal of this weeks lecture is to introduce a few simple tools to address these restrictions.

Today I wanted to share a few of my favorite tools. I also want to share with you my 3-step process in dealing with ankle stiffness.

  1. Mobilize
  2. Foam Roll
  3. Stretch

Ankle Mobilizations

A restriction in joint mobility should be the first area to address. During the ankle mobility screen, a “pinching” sensation felt in the front of the ankle indicates a bony block. These types of restrictions will not resolve with conventional stretching and foam rolling. Therefore, any pinching sensation or bony bock must be addressed first before moving onto possible soft tissue stiffness

One of the easiest ways to improve joint restrictions on your own is to use a band mobilization. The rubber material of the band is elastic and strong enough to affect the tough joint-capsules.If you don’t have access to one, the Superband from Perform Better is a great product.

Band distraction joint mobilizations assist with the way our bones glide over each other. A joint glide is sustained while the athlete actively moves into the specific range-of-motion we are trying to change. If we look at the ankle, the talus bone of the foot moves backwards as the shin moves forward into dorsiflexion as we squat. In order to help improve this movement to increase mobility, the band must help push the talus bone backwards (1,2). Often athletes will have the band placed too high on the ankle. This backwards pull on the tibia will actually do the opposite of what we want to achieve. Ankle Mob 1.jpg Ankle Mob 2.jpg

These types of mobilizations (simply termed mobilizations with movement) have been used for years by physical therapists. The goal is to alleviate any painful or pinching feelings deep in the joint.

Physical Therapist Manu Kalia gives an easy explanation for this banded mobilizations.


Foam Rolling

Once joint restrictions have been addressed the next step is to clear up any soft tissue stiffness. This starts with using a foam roller. I usually recommended athletes spend at least 2 minutes on each area they are trying to address with a foam roller. Every athlete should foam roll on a daily basis!

Physical Therapist Dr. Mike Reinold has an excellent video demonstrating this technique. Start by moving slowly up and down the lower leg muscles until you find a tender area. Pause on this area and ‘tack it down’ with your opposite leg for ~10 seconds before moving to find another spot. You can also add in some ankle pumps during this pause to increase the effectiveness.


Soft Tissue Stretching

Once foam rolling is complete, stretching the muscles is the next step to addressing soft tissue restrictions. The heel drop stretch is a good go-to in order to make some quick improvements. Before starting your workout, using this stretch after foam rolling is a great way to decrease any amount of stiffness in the lower leg.

Dr. Kevin Sonthana demonstrating the heel drop stretch. We recommend holding this stretch for 10 seconds for 5-10 repetitions.

Another version of this stretch is one I like to use prior to training sessions that include any form of barbell squatting. It is very position-specific and therefore has good carry over to the exact movements we are going to perform. To start, drop into a deep squat. This can be performed with either a kettle bell, a weighted plate, or a barbell. From this position, shift your weight onto one foot. Push you knee as far forward over your toe until you feel a stretch in the lower calf. After holding for ~10 seconds, shift to the other leg.




After you have addressed your stiff ankles, its time to check and see the progress you have made. Always employ a test-retest strategy when performing mobility exercises. This allows you to see if the tools you are using are effective in addressing the change you desire.

Performing the ankle mobility screen is a great way to measure and see if you have made any change. However, our goal is to make a lasting change in our overall movement pattern of the squat. After you have been working on improving your ankle mobility using these tools, perform a deep squat. Also attempt a deep pistol squat. Do you notice anything different?

My hope for this lecture is to give you the tools necessary to address any ankle stiffness problems. If you want to remain competitive or move around pain free, it is vital that you improve and maintain good ankle mobility. Band mobilization, foam rolling and/or classic stretching is the way to go.

Until next time,

Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW


Dr. Kevin Sonthana, PT, DPT, CSCS


  1. Vicenzino B, Branjerdporn M, Teys P & Jordan K. Initial changes in posterior talar gide and dorsiflexion of the ankle after mobilization with movement in individuals with recurrent ankle sprain. Manual Therapy. 2004 May; 9(2):77-82
  2. Reid A, Birmingham TB, & Alcock G. Efficacy of mobilization with movement for patients with limited dorsiflexion after ankle sprain: a crossover trial. Physiother Can. 2007; 59:166-172

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44 thoughts on “How to Improve Ankle Mobility

  1. Great blog series on all aspects related to ankle mobility. Few questions I have are:

    1. Considering some athletes have been moving a certain way for years, how quickly can you expect to change things?

    2. If an athletes passes through all this with flying colors but once they start moving with some velocity they collapse, where do you go from there?


    1. Rich, thanks for the questions! For athlete’s who have been moving certain ways for a long time, I would expect to see significant changes within a few weeks of using these treatments. For this reason I always employ a test-retest method to see if the exercise I’m doing with my athlete is effective in eliciting the progress we need. To answer your second question I would say it then means it’s a stability/coordination issue. If an athlete is able to show good ankle mobility with the test we showed in pt 1 of this series, however shows issues when they start moving, it shows usually that they have a lack of coordination to control their available motion. This is especially prevalent when athletes often start moving quickly. When this happens I would work on slowing the motion down until it can be performed with good technique or scaling the motion all together to a more simple movement pattern that can be controlled before then returning to the difficult movement. Hope that helps!

  2. […] However if you had any checks in the ‘fail’ column for this screen, you have a dorsiflexion mobility restriction. This restriction could be either a soft tissue restriction or a joint mobility problem, or both! We will discuss in our next lecture how to decipher between a soft tissue issue or a joint mobility issue. In addition, we can talk about a few ways to improve ankle mobility. […]

  3. Hey great Post!
    What about having bow legs and the effects on ankle dorsiflexion?

    And do I have to do joint Mobilisation / foam rolling and stretching daily?

    ThanK you in advance!

    1. Thank you!! And yes different changes in anatomy can limit ankle mobility for sure. I would recommend always doing ankle mobility daily if you find a limitation with the 5 inch wall test.

  4. Hello, nice job with these articles!
    One question: when I use banded mobilization technique to clear joint restriction…should I push my knee forward but also put my weight on it and push down (I saw some people have also 20kg KB on knee for extra weight?!) or should I just focus on knee forward but without any pressure in a downward direction (to try not to compress joint for better mobilization)?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Good question – I usually just push forward and use my hand for the force. I don’t think you really need to use a big weight on the knee as well to perform the mobilization.

  5. Love this article! I’ve realized when doing some banded mobilization that my left ankle literally comes to a stop at a certain point and I cant make it go any further. Would this be defined as a “bony block”? If so, what would you suggest I do to improve my mobility as I feel that the band mobilization isn’t getting the job done in regard to my left ankle. Thanks!

    1. You bet it would Jonah! I would work on all three things outlined here in the blog and do them EVERYDAY. Make sure to re-test using the 5 inch screen to see if you are making any changes after sessions and week-to-week.

  6. Question about this three step process: I don’t have much flexibility on my calves so I’ve found it’s easier for me to do the band mobilization at the end of this three step process. Could this be preventing me for getting better results? Also, is it a must to raise my foot in that mobilization exercise? Thank you!

  7. Great article, great job, i love ypur work! I am trying to do some of the exercises you show because my right ankle did not pass in the 5 inch ankle test. My problem is in my ankle inner bone and not in the front of my ankle. I even started to feel some pain in that bone or in near tendon the moment i started with the exercises. Is it normal? Which are the best exercises for me? Thanks in advance!

  8. First of all, thanks alot for giving out such valuable information.
    I have been going through some knee pain and after some diagnostics from your site, I think I have Patellofemoral compression syndrome (in my right leg).
    Having low ankle mobility in my right ankle and coordination problem(activation of more hamstrings).
    But after looking at the Ankle mobility blog I just got to know I have pinching sensation or bony block.
    I think it came from practicing some combat sports.
    Please help me. Thanks

  9. Dr. Horschig,

    I have extreme ankle mobility issues in my right ankle. (Less than 4 cm on the knee to wall rest.) Will these exercises even help those of us with extreme ankle immobility? Over time, can I expect to get anywhere near normal range of motion? It’s such an impediment that it prevents me from even doing a proper air squat.

  10. Cool! In fact, I had a similar experience with vegetarians in vacancies. I have been looking for a dream job for myself for a long time and I realized that it is very necessary to “present” myself correctly, which I did together with In one design agency, an important condition was to be vegan) Therefore, at best, it is better to immediately indicate this in your resume.

  11. Just found this blog, lots of great information thank you! I’m currently dealing with a bilateral insertional Achilles tendonopathy. I failed the wall test for ankle mobility, it feels like a soft tissue problem as I felt a lot of resistance in the lower part of my calf muscle. I have started foam rolling, however how can I fix the ankle mobility problem as I know I’m not supposed to stretch with my insertional tendinopathy? It’s so frustrating.

  12. […] And if your hips and ankles are not doing their job efficiently-joints that meant to be stable (like the knees and lumbar spine) will forced to do it for them. However, they’re not meant to be mobile. And that’s, my friend, one of the most common cause of pain in the knees and lower back. So if your knees and/or lower back are bothering you-you shouldn’t look directly at them as a cause of your pain. it’s probably either your hips or ankles that are not mobile enough (or both of them). Here’re my 2 favourite articles I suggest you to read, in order to increase mobility in the hips and ankles (Hip Mobility, Ankle Mobility). […]

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