The ankle is connected to the shoulder bone…
by Felipe Polanco

I’m sure we all remember this song as a kid that taught us all of the joints in the body and how they’re all connected.  However, if we taught it as the title reads, it’d be a VERY short lesson on human bones.  

My goal for the next four weeks is to review the four major joints and how mobility, or lack thereof, can impede range of motion, throw our lifts out of whack and affect our overall strength and possiblity for injury.  This week I’ll be talking about the ankle.  

The ankle is usually the last joint anyone talks about.  Its usually the shoulder, hips or knees that first come to mind when discussing mobility.  However, as any good coach will tell you, it all starts with the feet.  Your feet are your foundation.  If your foundation is off, that means the rest of your positioning is off. By having someone do an air squat, I can immediately tell if they have flat feet, tight calves or for the ladies, consistently wear heels.  I’ll start with a VERY brief anatomy lesson.  

Whenever I refer to the ankle, I generally mean the calf muscles, which consist of the gastrocnemius (gastroc) and the soleus, of which the gastrocnemius is the larger of the two and having the larger impact on mobility.  The gastroc is connected to either side of the end of the femur (thigh bone) and connected to the heel via the Achilles Tendon.  Because the calf is connected to the femur, it comes into play whenever the knee is bent or straightened i.e. squatting.  So how do tight calves mess up a squat?  Let’s take the movement step-by-step.

Imagine yourself standing at full extension and about to perform the eccentric (downward) portion of the squat.  The first motion is the unhinging of the hips.  Once you unhinge the hips, the glutes and hamstrings are activated (keep in mind that the hamstring is attached to the tibia or the shin bone).  As you proceed further downward, the knees stay in relatively the same spot assuming proper mobility: right over the mid-foot area.  However, if you have tight calves, they won’t allow the femur to slide back when the hips unhinge.  The tight calf muscles then pull the knees forward over the toes, bringing the heels off the ground and putting your knees in danger of an injury.

If you find yourself with tight calves, make sure to get them nice and warm, especially now during our squat-intensive program.  Some good movements include the inchwork, both pre- and post-wod and the “wall stretch” (place your toes high up on a wall/column and pull your body towards the wall).  During your band stretches post-wod, place the band closer towards your toes while stretching the hamstrings and point our toes towards your shin while pulling on the band.  You’ll feel a great stretch in the calf area.  Bend the knee slightly to stretch the soleus, which sits underneath the gastroc.  You can also attack the calves with a foam roller and a tennis/lacrosse/golf ball.  Do it…your knees will thank you.

If you need any further explanation on these or any other stretches for your calves, please be sure to ask me or any of the coaches.