Blocked Ankles vs Squat Ankles

Coach Chris has been suffering with a bit of knee and ankle pain with his squats the past few months and an obvious weight shift to one side at the bottom of his squat. He’s tried a couple of things like not using olympic weightlifting shoes to squat, which takes the heel out and increases the ankle range needed and mobilising his talus using banded dorsiflexion but not a lot was changing much of anything. So he got a second set of eyes on it (cue Deb’s analysis eyes) and did some experimenting / process of elimination to find the cause rather then just a bandaid solution.

TalusA number of people find that they feel ‘blocked’ at the bottom of their squat in the front of the ankle and the usual solution is move the talus – the talus has to glide back for you to move forward but Chris is an unusual creature and we had to delve further. He’s also tried mobilising the head of his fibula because that will in turn move the lateral malleolus or bottom of his fibula / outside ankle which can also create some room in the front of the ankle. But this only gave temporary relief.

Then I thought a little outside the box and started applying some of my dance knowledge. What’s weak vs what’s strong and what is over-actively compensating for something that’s under-active and is it coming from the hip or is it coming from the foot.

Step 1: Observe Chris’s foot posture. He has naturally has a very high arch which most people think is great. None of this flat foot pronation business. Having a high arch has it’s own problems though. When he ‘rotates his thighs outwards’ to start his squat it actually means his mid foot supinates on his sore side while his other foot remains neutral. Then as more weight is distributed through his foot with his squat his ‘sore side’ stays in a super high arch, while his not sore side pronates or flattens out a bit. The lack of movement in the mid foot is actually what is creating the ‘blocked’ feeling.

Muscles-of-the-Anterior-Leg-925x1024Step 2: Find the weakness. Chris is clearly no ballerina, but there are some interesting foot and toe movements that create flexibility and stability in the foot. Chris couldn’t toe swap or use his anterior compartment (muscles next to your shin that lift your toes) or dome which activates the deep intrinsic muscles of the arch.

Step 3: Find the tightness. So was it weak because it’s too tight or is something else tight? Bit of golf ball massage in the foot and calf unlocked this secret.

Step 4: Apply the different foot postures to his squat and see whether it changes the weight shift or the pain. Check out the video and see if you can spot the difference.

So what’s next? Coach Chris continues to work on his foot posture and strength and as this improves this should improve his pain and allow him to carry more weight which means bigger gains! Check out his video here and see if you can see what I see.