When it comes to your ability to move, nearly everything you do hinges
on the ankle’s flexibility. Hinge is an appropriate term as well—as
a hinge joint, the ankle only moves on the sagittal (forward and backward)
plane. The movement is split into two directions:
plantarflexion (pointing your toes like a ballerina) and
dorsiflexion (pointing your toes up toward your knees).
For many athletes or frequent gym visitors, dorsiflexion is particularly
important. For anyone with an active job, actually, it’s quite important—that’s
because good dorsiflexion allows the shin to move forward slightly, allowing
force to travel efficiently (and correctly) through the whole body into
the ground. Since your ankles are solely responsible for carrying all
of your weight, allowing force to travel through your feet efficiently
can save you from accidental overexertion or injury.
Unfortunately, dorsiflexion is often ignored. In fact, most of our ankles
are naturally stretched to have excellent plantarflexion—consider
how often you stand on your toes!—but few of us have effective dorsiflexion.
Read below for some simple stretches you can do to improve your dorsiflexion
and keep your ankle from injury or uneven weight distribution.
These are arranged by their level of difficulty—but even if you can
do an advanced stretch, be sure to warm up into it. It’s never a
bad idea to do all of these in order after a strenuous day on your feet.
#1: (Beginner) The Floor Stretch
This is a simple stretch to get you started, especially if your ankles
are fairly tight or you’re entering a new gym routine.
- Lie flat on the floor with your feet against a wall.
- Keep your legs and back flat on the floor, palms up and at your sides.
- Stretch your toes and the ball of your foot away from the wall.
Maintain contact between the wall and your heels at
- Try to get at least an inch of distance from the wall.
#2: (Intermediate) The Wall Stretch
When you’ve conquered the first stretch, move onto this one. Because
this one involves putting weight on your ankle to stretch it, make sure
your ankle is both warmed up and moderately flexible.
- Stand against a wall with your toes touching it.
- Slowly place your toes up on the wall (stretching your ankle).
- Continue increasing the angle until you feel the stretch.
- Hold for 10 seconds and lower your toes.
- Repeat 3 or 4 times.
#3: (Advanced) The Squat Stretch
This one requires a bit of complexity and form, but if your ankles are
up to it, give it a try!
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder length apart.
- Slowly enter as deep a squat as you can manage.
- Keep your feet flat on the ground! Your shins and knees should be forward.
- Keep your back straight and your chest out.
- If your feet are flat on the ground, lean slightly to stretch each ankle further.
Bonus: The Dowel Stretch
This stretch isn’t about dorsiflexion per se, but it helps the ankle
maintain a little lateral flexibility. Lateral flexibility will help you
avoid spraining or rolling your ankle.
- Kneel with one leg, with the other leg’s foot placed flat on the floor.
- Hold a dowel (or any pole, really) vertically, placing one end on the outside
of your knee and pinky toe.
- While keeping your foot flat, move your knee forward and to the other side
of the dowel.
- This should result in your ankle slightly stretching to the side and forward,
with the dowel in contact with the inside of your knee and the outside
of your foot.
- Repeat on the other leg.
By doing these stretches regularly, you can make sure that your ankle is
protected from sprains or strains. At the same time, you’ll be keeping
your flexibility balanced and ensuring that your body bears weight evenly
and from a stable position.
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