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The 5 Ways I’ve Improved My Ankle Mobility for Deep Squats

There are a ton of ways to approach the topic of improving ankle mobility for squats. From a coaching perspective, I’ve found that it’s always most productive to take an individual approach for every lifter.

That said, when assessing how to improve ankle mobility for squats with different lifters, I like to implement a few strategies. These ankle mobility strategies are designed to be simple and keep your workouts moving efficiently.

To improve ankle mobility in your squats don’t forget about the most straightforward way to accomplish this which is to simply squat more. A lot of times lifters add extra work when in reality, simply squatting more can improve mobility.

Ankle Mobility for Squats Takeaways

Takeaway 1

Mobility is multifactorial and how you approach improving your ankle mobility for squats specifically should reflect what you need and where your limitations lie. No two lifters are exactly the same.

Takeaway 2

One of the most powerful ankle mobility strategies that I use with clients with success is blending strategic accessories with mobility-focused work. Access the range, then train through it.

Takeaway 3

Make sure you give your body time to acclimate when playing with and adding new ankle mobility strategies to your training. Think of mobility work like you would strength work and track progress over weeks.

How Much Ankle Mobility Do You Need for Squats?

When discussing the topic of ankle mobility in squats and how much you need, I think it’s normal to feel overwhelmed when it comes to “what” you should be doing to improve this area for your performance.

We need to remember that when discussing squats and ankle mobility specifically, the mobility being discussed is task-specific and individual. This is key to remember as you build out your ankle mobility strategies.

Improving Ankle Mobility for Squats

I think at times lifters see their peers who might be super mobile and think they need “that much” ankle mobility to be proficient in the squat. However, this is rarely the case, and in reality, you likely need less than you think.

When we account for our anatomical individual and squat style it gets a lot easier to conceptualize the goal of improving ankle mobility. In layman’s terms, you might only need a little more to be incredibly proficient with your squats.

Whereas if you look at a peer who has super mobile ankles but is built differently than you then it may seem like you need a lot more in order to perform and this can not only seem like a daunting task but it could be an arbitrary barrier to entry.

How Much Ankle Mobility Do You Need for Squats

The takeaway here is that as you dive into the rabbit hole of improving your ankle mobility remember that the amount of ankle mobility that you need for squats is multifactorial and based on things like your squat style, anatomy, and overall training goals.

It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees with this topic and spend way too much time on arbitrary goals that might not even be relevant to your squat-focused goals.

Ankle Mobility Warm-Ups and Cooldown Accessories

One of the first that I’ll implement for myself and for my clients when trying to improve squat ankle mobility is to add warm-ups and accessories that specifically focus on this goal into workouts.

When integrating more ankle mobility prep work into training, I like to start with the lowest-hanging fruit work first, then build up to movements that are a little more specific.

Coach’s Note: You DO NOT need to implement all of the warm-up strategies below into one workout. I’m providing a few to play with so that as you grow as a lifter to can see how your ankle mobility responds to each.

Warm-Up 1: Foam Roll the Tibialis Anterior and Calves

Some light fascia work with a foam roller can do wonders for those who have fairly “tight” calves (I’m included in this camp, by the way). It’s important, though, that we also hit the front of the lower leg and give some attention to those muscles, too.

Remember when we foam roll, we’re not changing anything with the structure of the body or “breaking up tissue”. What we’re doing is providing our body with a proprioceptive cue that can create acute changes in how we move and our ranges of motion.

Tibialis Anterior Foam Rolling For Ankle Mobility

This is why for me and clients who feel like they have “tight” calves foam rolling can be great. We can get these muscles to somewhat change the range of motion we can comfortably work them through, and then we can train to create more lasting changes.

How To Implement This

  • 2x Supersets
  • Total Time: ~5-minutes
  • Tibialis Anterior Foam Roll: Spend 5-10 seconds on 3 “sticky” points on the front of the leg. Once you find these sticky spots, you’re going to flex and extend the ankle for the 5-10 second duration.
  • Calves Foam Roll: Spend 10-15 seconds on 3 “sticky” points and flex the ankle up and down (dorsiflex and plantarflex) for the duration of the 10-15 second intervals.

Calves Foam Rolling For Ankle Mobility

I would suggest doing this before your next squat session to see if your body responds in a positive way to some light fascia work. I’ve also found that doing a light warm-up like walking for 5 minutes can be useful for assisting with the outcome here.

Warm-Up/Accessory 2: Front Loaded Bilateral Squats

Front-loaded or anteriorly loaded squats can also be a powerful warm-up tool for working your ankle mobility pre-squat workout. I love front-loaded squats for ankle prep work because when you load the body anteriorly you can usually maintain a more upright torso.

So as you get warmed up and ready to squat, you can strategically progress your lower body, especially the ankles, through comfortable ranges of motion which can then lead to positive carryover for your main squat sets.

Front Loaded Squat Warm-Up For Ankle Mobility

You can also try implementing more front-loaded squats as your primary squat movement to potentially improve ankle mobility. For example, if you only back squat, then it might be time to implement a block or two with front squats.

How To Implement This

  • Warm-Up Purposes: 3 sets of 10 with a sandbag, kettlebell, or dumbbell
  • Time Duration: 3-5 minutes
  • What To Think About: I’d suggest trying to go with a flatter foot position for your front-loaded warm-up squat sets even if you squat with weightlifting shoes. It can be useful to expose your ankles to different ranges of motion with lower thresholds pre-squats.

Reebok Legacy Lifter 3 Performance Review

If you’re traditionally back squatting every workout, then I’d challenge you to perform a block or two of front squats. This can be an awesome way to expose your ankles, muscles, and nervous system to a different stressor.

  • For 4-8 Weeks: 5 sets of 6 with a 3110 tempo.
  • Loading Style: Use an ascending load that takes you from 3-4 RIR to 1-2 RIR for your top set. This will give you a nice exposure across different intensities.

Outside of ankle mobility benefits, front-loaded squats can also be great for working your hips through different ranges of motion and giving additional loading and love to your quads if you’re traditionally a hip-dominant squatter.

Accessory 3: Ankle-Specific Exercises

Another tool that I’ll use for improving ankle mobility is adding a few easy ankle-specific accessory exercises at the end of workouts. When we feel like can’t access certain ranges of motion oftentimes that is related to our ability to feel stable in certain positions.

If we’re never moving through deep degrees of dorsiflexion and plantarflexion then it makes as to why our ankles may not feel the most mobile when accessing deeper ranges, especially when loaded.

Tib Anterior Raises for Ankle Mobility

Two exercises that I love programming in a density or burnout-like style include tibialis anterior raises and calve raises. I’ll also use the superset below for warm-ups on days when I haven’t been the most mobile.

How To Implement This

  • 3x Supersets to Failure With Smooth Tempo
  • Total Time: ~5-7-minutes
  • Tibialis Anterior Raise: You can use either an ankle weight, a plate with a handle that you can stick your toes through, or a tib raise piece of equipment.
  • Calve Raise: Perform these either single-leg or bilaterally and I’d suggest starting with your bodyweight to get the most range of motion possible before working up to performing them loaded.

Calve Raises for Ankle Mobility

Keep in mind that if I use this superset for warm-up purposes I’ll change the set and reps. I won’t take these sets to failure and instead, work through 2 sets of 10-12 reps with a slow tempo to get my ankles moving.

Ankle Mobility-Focused Accessory Exercises

If you really want to attack your ankle mobility for squats and be more aggressive with your approach then you might want to add a few new accessories to your next training block or two.

The above warm-up and accessory exercises are meant to be added but not taken away from your workout flow. Conversely, the accessories below will require a little more strategy with implementation.

Accessory 1: Front-Loaded Split Squats

The front-loaded split squat is fantastic because it’s going to naturally bias working through a deeper ankle range of motion. Since we’re loaded the body anteriorly we’ll naturally “push” more into the knees track over the toes.

Front Loaded Split Squats

For this accessory, I’ll typically have athletes use a sandbag or a heavy dumbbell and I’ll cue them to “stay over” their front leg as this will ensure we’re pushing into those knees naturally tracking more which will result in more ankle range of motion.

How To Implement This

  • 4 sets of 8 reps with a load that brings you to 1-2 RIR (reps in reserve)
  • Cues to Consider: I like to have lifters stay over their front leg and find their big toe. Let the knee track accordingly and move through it’s normal gait patterning for squats AKA a little internal rotation past 90 degrees and so forth.

Accessory 2: Banded Split Squats for Knee Tracking

In some cases, I’ll implement a split squat variation that really doubles down on reworking how we track the knees over the toes. For this variation, you’ll need a light band and something to anchor it to.

In many cases, I’ll use this exercise more as a standalone accessory versus a warm-up because I want lifters to take their time when doing these so we can create a long-lasting cueing change. These can be a warm-up, though, so don’t rule them out there.

Banded Split Squats

When doing these, you do NOT need to go heavy with a band and I often recommend using the skinniest band in your gym. That’s more than enough to cue the desired action we’re after.

How To Implement This

  • 3 sets of 6 reps with a 7/10 intensity and slow tempo.
  • Cues to Consider: Think about finding your big toe and letting your knee naturally track forward. The band will assist with this and you want your knee to move through it’s natural range of motion. Don’t be super rigid with your mindset or “drive the knees out”.

Equipment to Improve Ankle Mobility for Squats

As mentioned above, if you’re lacking ankle range of motion for squats, then you want to ensure you’re setting yourself up for success in the context of promoting stability so your body feels comfortable accessing deeper ranges while loaded.

Heel elevation is a tool that I love to use to help lifters perform their squats with the desired form we’re after. Using heel elevation is NOT a crutch for ankle mobility and it can be actually a useful tool to help us make progress without skipping a beat.

Using the TYR L1-Lifter for Squats

For example, just because I squat high-bar with weightlifting shoes because I feel more comfortable doing so, that doesn’t mean I don’t work my ankle mobility outside of this context.

Why Heel Elevation Can Be Great for Squats

When we elevate the heels when squatting, we change the foot and ankle position before we descend into our squat. This change in position will put our knees into an environment that feeds better into forward knee translation.

In layman’s terms, we can track the knees more thoroughly over the toes when we elevate the heels and feel stable when doing so because this will change our center of mass and balance when moving weight.

Equipment to Improve Ankle Mobility

Heel elevation is NOT magically increasing our ankle range of motion it’s just changing the angle of our foot and shifting the knees more forward when squatting.

If you feel stronger squatting with the heel elevated then I’d suggest using heel elevation for your main squats and then performing warm-up and accessory exercises that are ankle mobility-specific.

flat vs heeled shoes in squats

This will give you a best-of-both-worlds training approach and allow you to continue squatting proficiently while still working to improve your ankle mobility. Once you’ve increased your ankle mobility you can then experiment with squatting with flat shoes, too.

Takeaway Thoughts

If you’re on the quest to improve your ankle mobility for squats then I’d suggest taking a hybrid approach to this topic. Set yourself up for success using the right tools to help you squat proficiently while working your ankles, too.

There is no “perfect” amount of ankle mobility for lifters to squat, and in reality what’s “perfect” should be individual based on factors like your anatomy and squat style.

If you have additional questions about improving your ankle mobility for squats, drop a comment below or reach out to me via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q:
Does ankle mobility help with squats?

A:
Ankle mobility can definitely with squats depending your goals. If you can access deeper ranges of motion while feeling stable then you can progress your squat without your ankle ROM being a performance limiter.

Q:
How long does it take to improve ankle mobility for squats?

A:
Timelines can vary for improving ankle mobility for squats. For examples, factors like current ranges of motion, injury history, programming, and training history can all play a role in how fast you improve ankle mobility for squats.

Q:
How can I improve my ankle mobility?

A:
To efficiently improve your ankle mobility for squats it's a good idea to simply squat more and practice working through the ranges of motion you're after while adding in ankle mobility-specific work.
Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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