Ankle & Calf Mobility and Stability || Coach Walker Palecek

When many of you read Coach Leigh’s Achilles article you might have been wondering what the best way to “prep” the Achilles might be, or how to increase ankle/calf mobility in general. Well, here are some answers!

I love a good foam rolling session, but I always think of the roller as a toothbrush; the lacrosse ball is like dental floss and can be used for more detailed mobility. That said, one of the first – and easiest – things you can do to work out tension in the calf is to sit down, extend the leg, and set the muscles right on top of the ball. If it’s uncomfortable, you know you need some work in that area. Maintain pressure – or slow movement of either the position of the ball, or the foot/ankle itself – until the sensation of pain subsides. You can also add pressure to either side of the Achilles itself (two lacrosse balls taped together, AKA a “peanut” is perfect for this). Stack the other leg on top if you need more pressure. Two to three minutes is all you need.
Next up you’ll want to stretch. (**It’s best to do any release work prior to stretching. Picture a rope with a knot in the middle; if you just pull on either sides of the rope, it’s certainly not going to get rid of the knot!)
The easiest stretch for the calf is a two part one: In a slight lunge, place one foot behind you, keeping the back leg straight. You want to feel a stretch high up on the calf. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Next, bend the back leg and you’ll feel the stretch move down the calf. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
A favorite ankle mobility exercise of mine is the “11-12-1.” (Great for squats too!) Stand in a shallow lunge with the front foot about 2-4 inches from the wall. Slowly bend the knee straight ahead (12 o’clock) until it touches the wall. (If your heel comes up, move closer to the wall; you want it to be a challenge.) Repeat this movement towards the 11 o’clock angle, and again at the 1 o’clock angle, for a total of three reps. Repeat 5 times. Get competitive, the more you do this, the further you can place the foot from the wall as your mobility increases.
Three-way calf raises are quick and effective. Though you could do these on the floor, ideally you should do these over an edge of some sort (a stair or step, a box, a bumper plate, a hardcover book, whatever!). Place the feet under the hips and facing straight ahead, with the ball of foot securely on the surface and your heel hanging off. Slowly sink deeply into your heels, then slowly raise as high onto your toes as you can go. For the next set, bring your heels together, and toes facing out; repeat the movement. For the final set, bring the toes together, and have the heels facing out. Start with sets of 8, work up to 12 or 15.
The above takes all of 5 minutes and can have a big impact. Git after it!
-Coach Walker
Images courtesy of Top End Sports, PopSugar, and Marshall Total Fitness.