I have super-tight Achilles tendons and calf muscles. Basically this means my knees won’t move past my toes if I try to drop into a squat without assistance. (On a Smith machine or with TRX bands I can get into a deep squat, but only if I distribute my weight in an unusual fashion.) In the past, this has never been a big problem for me, because I can run, hike, lift weights, whatever, I just tend to be up on my toes a lot when active. Even in yoga it’s never mattered so very much—in down-dog, my heels are off the ground, but so what. It’s not pretty, but I’ve never been graceful so no surprises there.
Unfortunately for me, my current athletic endeavors focus on the ankle and calf quite a bit. Squatting is important, as is keeping my heels planted on the ground at all times. I figured over time my ankles and calves would loosen naturally through practice, but this hasn’t proven to be the case. Thus: Project Increase Ankle/Calf Flexibility. I know this isn’t the most fascinating blog topic, but it’s taken me a while to assemble a good routine to treat this issue, and only from consulting several sources including physical and massage therapists. So yeah, I figured I’d consolidate what I’ve learned here in case anyone (like me) googles ankle/calf flexibility and finds the same old stuff (stuff that hasn’t been particularly effective for me).
This is now what my daily routine looks like:
In the morning before getting up for the first time, I sit on the edge of the bed and do 20 ankle circles in both directions, then 20 repetitions of pointing my toes and then flexing my feet. Then I trace the alphabet with my toes. This warms up my ankles nicely.
Later in the day, after I’ve walked around/warmed up a bit, I do two calf stretches: this one, and then this bent-knee calf stretch. I hold both for at least a minute. Then I do a few sun salutations, focusing on downward dog. I “walk the dog” and do one-legged down-dog, focusing on stretching my weight-bearing heel downward toward the mat. Then I squeeze one ankle between the big and second toes of the other foot, and try to physically use my non-weight-bearing foot to drag down my weight-bearing ankle. I think that makes sense, how I’ve typed it.
Next I face a wall, placing my toes a few inches from the baseboard. I try to then touch my knee to the wall, slowly pulsing back and forth. I do this 10 times per leg, holding the last one (wherever I’m at that particular day) for a minute.
Because sometimes tightness in the calf can lead to shin pain, I then walk around on my heels with my toes as up in the air as I can manage to balance all the calf stretching. Then I round out the routine with some super-skaters, to strengthen the muscles around the ankle and calf, and work on my balance. (The demo starts at 0:50, there’s an annoying long intro.)
At night, I repeat the circles, flexing/pointing, and alphabet routine. Then I ice my ankles.
That’s it. It doesn’t take too long, and my ankles definitely feel stretched at the end of the day, but not overly so. I feel like I’ve made some slight gains already, and hope to make more steady progress. I’ve also followed up on the recommendation of sleeping in a night splint (yesterday I finally ordered one). It’s super-sexy bedwear, as you can see. The purpose of this is to keep my foot in a neutral position for the time I’m sleeping. (My ankles/calves are so tight that when sleeping my toes point forward like a ballerina’s.) Given the price I just got one, and am going to alternate feet every night. Typically these are used to treat plantar fasciitis but now a physical and massage therapist have independently told me they’ll help my ankles, so here’s hoping.
Anyways, if you’ve had this problem, and feel like sharing stuff that’s worked for you, that would be awesome! I’m amenable to adding in more stuff.