How to Develop Ankle Mobility
If you're on the sidelines with an injury, there is no chance that you are improving your game. Taking a proactive approach with injury prevention could be the difference in you becoming a good player, or staying an average player. Or maybe a big factor in what allows you to eventually become a GREAT player.
There is nothing more frustrating than seeing your game take off, only to get injured and sidelined for a prolonged period of time. If decreasing your chances of injury sounds like a good idea to you, then follow along...
Over the last few years there have been some great strength coaches talking about the importance of "ankle mobility." Unfortunately, when I take a look around at most gyms and high schools, the message is not getting out there.
As strength coach Mike Boyle brought to the forefront, some joints are made for mobility, while others are designed for stability. You see, if one joint loses mobility, we are going to go to the next joint to find this mobility (a joint that is meant to be stable, NOT mobile). So, if you are asking a joint designed for stability to become more mobile, then you are asking for trouble!
In regards to basketball players, this means that if we lose ankle mobility, the knee will have to "pick up the slack" and move more than it is designed to move. The knee joint is supposed to be a stable joint. And when we ask it to become mobile, guess what happens? Have you heard of the dreaded ACL injury?
Ask your dad about how many of his teammates were sidelined "back in his day," with ACL injuries. Today we are much smarter, doctors have had many years to get more research in, and technology has greatly advanced. In the old days, without all of these benefits, I'm sure your dad will tell you at least half of his team tore an ACL at one point in their career, right? Wrong! Back when Pistol Pete and Oscar Robertson were on top of the basketball world, there wasn't even an ACL problem. And today people seem to be going down with ACL injuries left and right. What's going on here?
I have no doubt this will surprise you, but here is a big problem: high-top shoes, ankles braces, and excessive taping of the ankles. We've gotten to the point that we put so much "gear" on the foot/ankle that I'm surprised our ankle can move at all. As I mentioned above, when we lose this range of motion in our ankle, our knee joint is the joint that is going to become more mobile. And this is a recipe for disaster.
Pistol Pete (and your dad) used to wear All-Star Converse--the good 'ole Chuck Taylors!
These were shoes that did not restrict range of motion at the ankle. They didn't have this fancy "air" cushion at the heel--the more the heel is elevated you end up losing "dorsiflexion" range of motion.
We have basketball players wearing these restricted high-top shoes and ankle braces on the court. And now (again, ever since Air Jordans become popular) we have players wearing Jordans in school all day, going to the movies with their friends, and out on dates with their girlfriends.
And here is another problem: when your foot/ankle are dependent on the support provided by the high tops and ankle braces, the muscles basically stop working as they no longer need to work. The shoe and brace do all the work for you. In college, we had to wear ankle braces to every practice and every game. When I finished my college career, loving the game like I do, I continued to play quite a bit. There were times that I forgot to bring my ankle braces with me for pick-up games. And seriously, I could barely make it up and down the court one time without tweaking my ankle. My ankles had gotten so weak from the braces, that they couldn't support me at all.
What to Do, What to Do?
I'm not going to suggest that you wear low-top shoes every time you play basketball for now on. What I am going to do is suggest that you wear shoes that mimic a barefoot feel as much as possible. And, I always walk around my house barefoot--get your shoes off whenever possible! You should be wearing the "Nike Free" shoe, and/or Chuck Taylor's when you are just walking around school, or hanging out with friends.
Also, when you are in the gym lifting weights, wear these Frees or Chucks every time. Another smart thing is to go barefoot while doing your warm-ups (walking lunges, high knees, leg swings, etc) before lifting. Not only will this help you improve your range of motion of your ankle, it will help strengthen those muscles that were once dependent on your high-top shoes and/or ankles braces.
What Else Can You Do?
Before lifting, I have all of my basketball players performing ankle mobility drills. Below you will see two videos demonstrating how to do them. Depending on how limited your range of motion is, perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. For the single-leg ankle mob, make sure to keep the heel of the forward leg flat throughout the movement. And for the mobilization that involves both legs at the same time, elevate your feet onto two 5-pound plates. Once again, keep your heels flat throughout. With both exercises, make sure you do NOT shift your weight towards the inside of your foot or toes.
Marketing schemes can really trick us. Just remember, we actually want LESS ankle support in our shoes, and shoes that mimic the barefoot feel as much as possible. So, get out of those high-top shoes as much as possible, keep your dorsiflexion range of motion, and strengthen those ankles!
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