Think you can’t squat because of a bad back? Tight hips? Weak knees? You may want to look lower down in the kinetic chain — the problem may just be tight ankles.
The role mobile ankles play in many fitness pursuits is under-appreciated, says Kelly Starrett, DPT, author of Ready to Run, who runs the popular website MobilityWOD.com. When the ankle joint can flex and extend optimally, he notes, it allows you to tap into the strength of your legs, hips, and glutes.
Conversely, when your ankles are tight, it’s as though your strength is locked up. Your legs may have the strength to squat 200 pounds, but without adequate dorsiflexion, you may find it impossible to squat to parallel without your heels coming off the floor and knees lurching dangerously forward.
Immobile ankles not only inhibit fitness, but may also cause pain in the heels, Achilles tendons, calves, shins, knees,hips, and lower back, inhibiting proper gait.
Want to assess your ankle mobility? Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width and, maintaining a neutral spine, squat down. If you can’t squat to parallel while keeping your heels down and knees in line with your toes, tight ankles may be the culprit. Starrett recommends these drills, which focus on the connective tissues of the lower body.