Ankle Mobility Struggles

…..some thoughts, questions, confusion from a gentleman seeming to struggle with ankle mobility

……looking for the answer to “what is adequate ankle dorsiflexion”? I have just found your response to that very question on the StrengthCoach Forum.  I have to say that I was “gutted” to read your response of 4 inches in a half kneeling…I have only 2 inches and have been working on my ankle mobility daily for over a year now and I cannot seem to improve on that range. I do however, suffer what seems to be some sort of impingement on the anterior right ankle when I push my limits of dorsiflexion (around 3 1/2 inches when standing-I cannot get the knee far enough forward in a kneeling position to experience this discomfort).  I do not suffer from this discomfort at any other time and certainly in none of the screens.

I scored pretty much the same on each of 3 FMS. 2’s on everything except SLR where I scored a 1 and push up I scored a 3. No real asymmetries. My confusion surrounding adequate dorsiflexion comes from the use of the heel do I know if the heel wedge is supporting my lack of ankle mobility or lack of stability? One of the specialists adressed ankle mobility and the other hardly mentioned it and gave no ankle mobility exercises but instead focused on hamstrings, hips.and thoracic spine.

I only have to squat a few degrees and I feel a lot of tension in the anterior compartment of the lower leg as if trying to pull the leg forward and the forward lean kicks in very early too.

Does this mean that it would be difficult to score 3 on the Deep Squat if you had less than the 4″ you mentioned? I suffer from the classic lower crossed posture and I was wondering if any of the assocssiated dysfunctions can inhibit dorsiflexion. For example, can tight hips affect dorsiflexion of would it always be the other way? In watching people O/H squat, the knee doesn’t appear to travel as much as 4″ past the toes althought this could be poor visual judgement on my part. Could I be missing a vital piece of this puzzle?

4"....Get there.

Considering ankle ROM in general, it is not contemporary that the norms are typically reported only in the open-chain.
Certainly ROM into DF is important during the open-chain swing phase of stepping patterns, but these ranges are not nearly the same in terms of mobility and stability required for closed-chain actions.

Something to consider as to why the closed-chain measurements are not widely reported on is because the 4″ that we have talked about probably doesn’t meet the validity and reliability to stand up to the rigors of publishings of the scientific world.
I’m not sure if this is 100% true or not, but I will openly admit that reliability can be in question in terms of how much mid-foot valgus collapse is allowed to score a measurement. I’m sure someone can maintain the knee tracking over the 2nd toe, and still drop into pronation.
When there is such a variability in allowance for reliability, validity of “are we measuring what we think we’re measuring” is probably also in question.
This is why I think the 4″ in front of the toe that we have been introduced to by Dr. Greg Rose in Level 1 of TPI’s program may not be widely reported on outside of certain circles.

Also keep in mind that mobility that we are testing with the half kneeling CCDF is a qualitative and relative measure.
Things qualitative and relative do not lend to scientific measures beyond case or outcome studies.
But please do not discout these measures. The movement-based approach gets pissed on by allegedly smart rehab folks because it’s not “evidence-based,” or they ask, “Where’s the data?”
This closed-chain DF issue really segues into the global issue where my opinion is that there are just too many smart people that need a 4′ long Santa’s list of literature to support what they do.
The problems are that like I already said, quality is very hard (not impossible) to research, and even the greatest studies may be as old as 2 years.
I’m okay following trends and being “science-based,” or “evidence-led,” which is a term I believe is from Dr. Kevin Jardine, founder of Spidertech.

You decide your evidence, not the APTA.

Back to the 4″ pattern………….
Please consider that this measurement is specifically tied to the Deep Squat and Inline Lunge patterns of the FMS. Assuming that those screens are of value, if you can perform those patterns, and you don’t have 4″ of CCDF, you are probably okay.
You can still work on it, and I am enormously in favor of the tri-planar steps and swings that I have learned from T4TG to continue to improve ankle mobility.

I also think the 4″ holds a buffer to allow for a posterior weight shift action for stability.
In the half-kneeling position, the knee’s bony approximation is the stability to gain the ankle mobility. When you squat, for instance, there will be a hip hinge for stability, and the knee will not be 4″ in front of the toe.
We’re interested in a buffer zone to allow that slinky motion of the squat and front side of the lunge, so we do not have to fight with the wall that a DF limitiation may provide. With 4″, you have more than enough room to play with your pendulum and find the right amount of DF for a safe knee AND a stable mid-foot and keeps the hip ready and willing to explode out of the deep positions of mobility into triple extension.

The key to the 4″ is to limit the work required by global mobilizers to contribute to stability of the chain.
It definitely starts with the foot.

Now, ankle mobility aside, when you have a 1 on ASLR, that is where your energies should be devoted.
And the release in the hips and pelvis can absolutely be the difference maker in what you need for the ankles. Looking at the Spiral Line should be the “Ah-Hah” to this seemingly abstract suggestion.
Maybe, and I can not tell you for sure, your more severe limitations through the hips cause an exhaustion of the ankles very quickly and give you that tension that you are describing.

  • February 10, 2011

Leave a Reply 10 comments

Aj oliva Reply

Was having the same issue as far as gaining ankle mob then having to maintain it everyday. What really got me mobilized was working with clubs in half kneeling and realizing my left hip extension was non existent. After rolling on the foam roll on that side hip and quad I noticed a huge improvement in being able to drop into the bucket during a ds. That being said I still work ankle mob every day because I feel it takes little time and can be of great importance in terms of having that extra room to play with. Great post Charlie

Charlie Reply

Indian Clubs to fix ankle mobility. Well done, AJ.

Tim Vagen Reply

In the case above, he stated that he feels the anterior compartment tension. When we are looking at ankle mobility are we just looking at the talocrural and the relationship to the mid foot or are we considing the fibula as well? When I see someone with anterior compartmental tension, many times a release of the superior tib-fib articulation can provide relief to allow the natural external rotation of the fibula. How does this play into ankle dorsiflexion.

Charlie Reply

Indeed often feeling “something” in the front is typically a joint issue that would require some type of mobilization that you describe.
I didn’t get that out of this description, but it is very common and reasonable.

If a superior tib-fib mobilization improves DF, it is likely that the lateral malleolus was subluxated. The positional fault was likely forward as a result on an ankle stability, but it can be in either of the A-P directions.

What I don’t know is if there reliability of a direction of mobilization @ the superior tib-fib to get a response at the inferior joint.

Cody Reply

I did a quick search and found the article linked below. Its not quite the same measurement as the lunge technique, but its reasonably close and it looks like its more reliable than expected. Also, subjects were able to make ~11cm, which is about 4″, which provides the 4″ target with some validity as well. Looks like closed chain is a pretty good way to look at DF mobility.

I don’t think that evidence-based vs movement based are competing approaches. One is background knowledge and one is clinical application. Good clinicians possess both, and leaning too far in either direction can lead to poor decision-making.

Charlie Reply

Brilliant find, Cody.

Sean Reply


I realize this is an on old post. I have heard this 4 inch goal recommended many times, from you and from other sources. Could you clarify this for me – is this tested with shoes on or off?

I tend to do a lot of exercises with my clients barefoot, and myself I train in vibrams or barefoot. I also think that it would be easier to see pronation during this test while barefoot. Does a person who plans to train barefoot need more dorsiflexion than someone who plans to train with shoes on?

I can go easily up to 4 inches past with shoes on and I think that most people will demonstrate more knee motion with shoes on because most shoes elevate the heel. This becomes more difficult with shoes off.

I appreciate any reccomendation

Charlie Reply

I’d say if there is a big difference between shoes and barefoot, then the barefoot is the more authentic representation of what you are working with.

It’s not a matter of needing more one way or another. It should be the same. Different environments will allow for compensation and appearance of depth or integrity, but the performance of the ankle will likely be the same.

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