Ankles, not just for show

 

Around five hundred years ago our shoes began to change. There were many reasons – cobbled streets, changes to production and of course new and evolving styles, but one of the biggest innovations was the adoption of heels. This had profound implications, and not only in fashion. The shoes of the middle-ages made us walk on the balls of our feet, much like a ballet dancer. With the arrival of heels, we started to walk heel first. An altogether easier and ‘lazier’ form of walking from the perspective of our muscles, it also contributed to neglect of our ankles.

Yet maintaining healthy ankles and feet remains equally important for both men and women. These are parts of the body that are often overlooked, with men’s ankles probably most neglected, but this can be a major mistake. Our feet and ankles are our principal points of contact with the ground, so if the proper flexibility and mobility is not maintained, this can lead to other problems.

The link to knee and hip pain

Curtailed ranges of movement in the hips and knees is a common syndrome affecting runners; in many cases it can be linked to a mechanical fault with the ankles and feet. Women can be particularly susceptible, as heel cords may become shortened over time through wearing higher heeled shoes, with the feet becoming accustomed to this angle. Most likely there will also be a fault with the arch in the foot and, due to this, the landing pattern of the individual’s foot whilst running.

Not just an issue for joggers

Weightlifters also depend upon ankle mobility. The lack of it through the heel cord may be one of the reasons why reaching depth in your squat is proving difficult, or why getting into the most optimal position for your deadlift is so hard. In the case of a tight heel cord, you will lack a big enough range of movement for optimal dorsi-flexion of the ankle, limiting your strength potential and performance.

3 steps to help foot and ankle problems:
  1. Place the palm of your foot on a small step, with your heel resting on the ground. Keeping your knee locked and leg straight, bring your body weight over your toe, feeling the stretch in your calf.
  2. To stretch the heel cord, repeat as above, but bend the knee and try to bring it over your toe.
  3. Either using a lacrosse ball or wind ball, place it under the sole of your foot and roll around the whole foot. As you do this press your foot onto the ball, focusing on the arch in your foot.

It’s essential to take good care of your ankles to help maximise your physical performance.

NOTE: If you have any serious ankle or foot mechanical faults, seek professional help.

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           About the author

Alex is a registered Master Trainer and Nutritional Advisor with Level 4 qualifications in obesity and diabetes. He is also a strength specialist and a Ni Dan in Shotokan Karate.

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