Why Your Squat Might Suck: Poor Ankle Dorsiflexion

Recently, we kicked off our mini-series on the squat and why yours might suck. In part one, we started from the ground up, looking at the feet and how flat feet impact squat mechanics. This week, we’re heading a little further up the chain, but not by much. This week, we’re looking at the ankle mortise joint and poor ankle dorsiflexion.

The ankle mortise joint is comprised of the tibia, fibula, and talus bones. This is where plantarflexion and dorsiflexion occur, allowing us to point and lift our toes respectively. It is a crucial movement pattern in terms of walking gait as well as the squat. The squat requires good dorsiflexion. It is necessary in order to maintain a nice neutral center of gravity as well as neutral spine. It helps limit excessive hip flexion when descending in the squat, which may place too much strain on the lumbar paraspinal muscles and intervertebral discs. Too little dorsiflexion may cause you to “bottom” out early in the squat, pushing your hips backwards too far. With too much hip flexion, your squat will look more like a good morning exercise and without adequate core strength, you may start rounding the low back. This can often lead to injury of the lumbar paraspinal musculature, intervertebral discs, sacroiliac joints, or lumbosacral junction.

So what exactly is “GOOD” ankle dorsiflexion? That’s a good question. It varies from person to person, but there is a very simple test to find out what your dorsiflexion is and if it’s “good”. Standing facing a wall with your toes on one foot against the wall. Now lean forward on that foot so that your knee touches the wall. Your knee should be able to reach the wall with no problems. Now, move the foot back a half inch and repeat. Continue this process until one of two things happen: your heel starts to rise off the ground or you have a significant stretch in the calf that is limiting you from going further. Ideally, you should be able to touch your knee to the wall with your foot somewhere in the ballpark of 4-5 inches away from the wall. But there are some rules to follow here. Rule #1: again, reiterating the first

stopping point - the heel must maintain contact with the ground throughout the entire movement. Rule #2: The knee must track over the midline of the foot, roughly over the 2 nd toe. If you notice your knee is touching the wall, but your foot rotated outwards, you’ve gone too far. Start over and watch that knee. If you notice your foot stays perpendicular to the wall, but your knee travels inward, stop and start over again.

Again, this is a very simple test to determine your current dorsiflexion. An added bonus of this test is that it doubles as a drill you can use in order to attempt to improve your dorsiflexion, should you fall short of that 4-5 inches. Once you hit your stopping point where either your heel lifts off the ground, or your have a massive stretch in your calf, move your foot ever so slightly closer to the wall so that you maintain contact with your heel. Now simply, move the knee in, touch the wall, hold for a quick 2-3 count and move out. Repeat for a few reps and sets. Consistency is key, but generally speaking, you should notice an improvement with time and practice.

Now some of you may never see any improvement when doing this drill. You may just have bad ankle dorsiflexion anatomically. Sadly, those people may never be good squatters. Still, it is important to maintain whatever dorsiflexion you do have throughout life.

In the next part, we are going to continue to look at why your squat might suck due to other parts of your anatomy: Your Ratios are All Off.

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