The role of ankle dorsiflexion in strength & conditioning

The role of ankle dorsiflexion in strength & conditioning

In this article, we will explore the mechanics of ankle dorsiflexion, its importance, some of the common limitations, and effective ways to improve this essential joint action.


What is ankle dorsiflexion?

Ankle dorsiflexion is the upward movement of the foot toward the shin. It involves the co-ordinated movement of multiple muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the lower leg and foot. Ankle dorsiflexion plays a fundamental role in everyday activities, such as walking and running, squatting and jumping. It is a crucial joint action which can directly affect overall mobility and athletic performance.

Ankle dorsiflexion mechanics

The primary muscles used for ankle dorsiflexion are the tibialis anterior and the extensor digitorum longus, located in the front of the shin. These muscles work together to contract and pull the foot upward, facilitating movements like walking and climbing stairs.


Why is ankle dorsiflexion important?


Even for non-athletes, ankle dorsiflexion is essential for maintaining a balanced and efficient gait pattern. During the stance phase of walking or running, proper ankle dorsiflexion allows the foot to clear the ground without scraping the toes. Insufficient dorsiflexion can lead to compensatory movements, such as a shortened stride length or an outward rotation of the foot, which can increase the risk of tripping, falling, and developing gait abnormalities.

Importantly for athletes on strength and conditioning and recovery programs, ankle dorsiflexion is critical for achieving correct squat form. When performing a squat, limited dorsiflexion can result in the heels lifting off the ground or the knees tracking too far forward, compromising stability and putting excess stress on the knees.


Adequate ankle dorsiflexion has a knock-on impact for the whole body when lifting weights as it also enables a more upright torso position, distributes the load evenly, and enhances the activation of the quadriceps, glutes, and other lower body muscles. Assessing athlete movement and making corrective adjustments in real-time is easy using Precision Sports Technology. Follow the link below to join our beta program.

Common limitations and factors affecting ankle dorsiflexion

Numerous factors can limit ankle dorsiflexion, including structural restrictions, muscle imbalances, and joint mobility issues. One common limitation is tightness in the calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus. These muscles, when overly tight, restrict the range of motion at the ankle joint, inhibiting dorsiflexion. Other contributing factors include limited flexibility in the Achilles tendon, ankle joint stiffness and restrictions in the surrounding soft tissues.

Certain activities or lifestyle factors can also contribute to reduced ankle dorsiflexion. Prolonged periods of sitting down or wearing high heel shoes can lead to adaptive shortening of the calf muscles and a decreased ability to dorsiflex the ankle fully. These are important considerations for athletes - it’s not just what you do when you are training which impacts your overall range of movement.

Whether you're an athlete aiming to enhance your performance or an individual seeking to improve daily movement patterns, understanding and improving ankle dorsiflexion is a key factor in avoiding a range of injuries including ankle sprains, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, plantar fasciitis and anterior impingement syndrome.

Improving ankle dorsiflexion

Fortunately, there are various effective strategies to improve ankle dorsiflexion. Stretching exercises targeting the calf muscles and Achilles tendon are paramount. Simple exercises, such as standing calf stretches against a wall or using a foam roller, can help alleviate tightness and improve ankle mobility.

Weight-bearing lunge test (WBLT) or Dorsiflexion Lunge Test (DFT) is used to assess the dorsiflexion range of movement and continually assess ankle dorsiflexion.

Incorporating dynamic movements and stretches into a warm-up routine can also be beneficial. Ankle circles, toe walks, and heel walks promote joint mobility and enhance ankle dorsiflexion. Additionally, exercises that target the muscles involved in dorsiflexion, such as toe raises or ankle alphabet exercises, can strengthen the muscles and improve their ability to perform the desired movement.

Furthermore, manual therapy techniques, including massage, myofascial release, and joint mobilizations, can be effective in addressing specific restrictions and promoting ankle dorsiflexion.

By understanding the mechanics of ankle dorsiflexion athletes can take pro-active steps to optimise this essential joint action. Incorporating regular stretching exercises, dynamic movements, and targeted strength exercises into fitness routines can help improve ankle dorsiflexion and prevent potential injuries associated with limited mobility.

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