Quick check: Level your toes up towards your shin. How far can your ankle bend?
This motion known as dorsiflexion, and it is a key a part of motion. Having restricted ankle dorsiflexion mobility has been linked to widespread accidents like plantar fasciitis and ankle sprains, and it might additionally put you at elevated damage threat in your knees and hips. It is also proven to result in a discount in efficiency throughout a wide range of sports activities and actions.
For those who’re seeking to enhance ankle dorsiflexion, there’s many sources on the market that vary from muscle stretching to joint mobility to strengthening. Sometimes, these deal with the superficial calf muscle—the gastrocnemius, which is what you possibly can really feel for those who put your fingers on the again of your calf—or the ankle joint.
Every of these definitely has a component to play. However, there’s one key piece that is too usually neglected: the soleus muscle.
“The soleus is the oft forgotten calf muscle,” says physiotherapist Dustin Willis. “It’s a bit out of sight, out of thoughts as a result of it lies deeper to the gastrocnemius, which you’ll see and really feel simply. Like that muscle, it additionally feeds into the Achilles tendon.”
Analysis on the soleus and ankle mobility has proven that gaining extra flexibility on this muscle can result in will increase in dorsiflexion as excessive as practically 4 levels. That’s important as a result of the typical ankle vary of movement in that route is usually round 20 levels, so we’re speaking a change that covers 20 % of the traditional vary of movement!
Moreover, there’s rising analysis displaying the connection between soleus flexibility and ankle mobility doubtlessly performs a task in athletic efficiency. A 2022 examine discovered that soleus stretching amongst soccer gamers resulted in considerably improved ankle mobility, most plantarflexion energy (suppose energy when pushing off with the foot), and sooner operating on each straight line and curved sprints.
“A key distinction between the gastrocnemius and the soleus,” says podiatrist Justin Franson, “is that not like the gastrocnemius muscle, the soleus doesn’t cross over the knee joint. This modifications the perform and position of the 2 muscle tissues, which must be mirrored in how one can mobilize them.” In different phrases, the soleus muscle performs a distinct position than its a lot hyped-up counterpart (notably in knee perform), and so the best option to stretch it will look totally different than your typical calf stretches.
Accordingly, I created this progressive, step-by-step soleus stretching protocol. Give it a attempt to see how your ankle vary of movement will increase!
6-step soleus stretching plan for higher ankle mobility
This can be a six-stage plan with every step being extra aggressive than the earlier. Start with stage one and solely progress to stage two when you possibly can maintain the stretch for 3 units of 1 minute with out feeling any tightness. Repeat for stage two, stage three, and so forth till you hit stage 5. When you’re at stage 5, proceed to make use of that stretch as a part of your day by day routine to maintain the soleus good and versatile.
1. Seated bent-knee soleus stretch
Sit on the bottom with a foam curler (or one thing of comparable dimension) underneath your knee. Take your hand and gently pull again on the entrance of your foot till you are feeling a stretch.
2. Seated bent-knee soleus stretch with strap
Sit on the bottom with a foam curler (or one thing of comparable dimension) underneath your knee. Place one finish of a looped band (or a belt) across the entrance of the foot and pull backwards.
3. Standing bent-knee soleus stretch
Leaning right into a wall or chair with ft in a staggered place (one foot in entrance of the opposite), bend ahead at each knees till you are feeling a stretch.
4. Standing stretch in opposition to wall
With ft in a staggered place, place the the ball of your foot up in opposition to the wall and barely bend the knee till you are feeling a stretch.
5. Standing soleus stretch off step
Whereas standing on a step with a staggered stance (one foot in entrance of the opposite), place the again foot able the place the heel is off the sting of the step. Bend the again knee and decrease the heel till you are feeling a stretch. For those who’re apprehensive about your steadiness, place one hand on a wall or use stairs with a banister.
6. Single leg standing soleus stretch off step
That is similar to stage 5 besides now you’re lifting the entrance foot (the one not being stretched). I extremely advocate doing this with one thing to carry onto—each for security and to get a deeper stretch.