The Importance of Ankle Strength and Mobility In Your Olympic LiftsFeb 02, 2023
Where the foot initiates, the ankle follows.
Where the ankle goes, the knee follows.
Where the knee goes, the hip follows.
Where the hip goes, the intent of your movement fully expresses itself.
A key part of this chain is the ankle.
Physical therapy isn’t just for injuries. PT plays a critical role in helping individuals achieve their fitness goals, especially when it comes to performing olympic lifts. One of the most important areas of focus for physical therapists when working with athletes is ankle mobility and ankle strength. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of these two factors for performing olympic lifts, and offer tips and exercises for improving them.
Olympic lifts, such as the snatch and the clean and jerk, are highly technical and demanding exercises that require a significant amount of skill and strength. These lifts require a tremendous amount of power and coordination, and they place a great deal of stress on the body, particularly the ankles. Without proper ankle mobility and strength, everything up the chain will suffer. Good luck trying to catch weights overhead in a full squat with poor ankle mobility!
Ankle mobility is the ability of the ankle to move through its full range of motion. This includes the ability to dorsiflex (flex the foot upward towards the shin) and plantarflex (flex the foot downward away from the shin) as well as invert and evert (rotate the foot inwards and outwards). In order to perform olympic lifts, athletes need to have a good amount of ankle mobility in order to get into the correct starting position and execute the lift properly. If an athlete's ankles are stiff or lack range of motion, they will struggle to get into the correct position, which can lead to poor form, reduced power output, and even injury.
Ankle strength, on the other hand, is the ability of the muscles and tendons surrounding the ankle to generate force. In order to perform olympic lifts, athletes need to have a good amount of ankle strength in each of these planes of motion in order to push through the ground and generate power. Weak ankles can lead to poor form, reduced power output, and even injury.
Here’s an example of great ankle mobility and strength by world-class weightlifter Liu Xiaojun:
As a side note… knees over the toes is okay for Liu! Having your knees going over the toes is always a case-by-case assessment and depends on many factors, such as tissue mobility and previous degenerative changes in your knees.
So, how can physical therapists help athletes improve their ankle mobility and strength?
One of the most effective ways to improve ankle mobility is through stretching and mobility exercises.
To improve ankle strength, physical therapists may prescribe exercises such as single leg calf raises, resisted ankle dorsiflexion, and single-leg balance exercises that take the ankle through a full range of motion. These exercises can help to strengthen the muscles and tendons surrounding the ankle, which educates the ankle on how it can fully express its capacity during a quick olympic lift.
Beyond strengthening, physical therapists also use manual therapy techniques such as soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, dry needling, and manipulation to help improve mobility and strength in the ankle.
Finally, using an olympic lifting shoe to improve your ankle’s expression isn’t a bad idea either!
Ankle mobility and strength are essential for performing olympic lifts. Physical therapists play a critical role in helping athletes achieve their fitness goals by identifying and addressing any deficits in these areas. Through the use of stretching and mobility exercises, strength training, and manual therapy techniques, physical therapists can help athletes improve their ankle mobility and strength, which in turn can help them to perform olympic lifts more effectively and safely.
If you’re having any difficulty with your ankle mobility during your olympic lifting, please reach out! We’d be happy to help you with this journey.
Dr. Marcus Rein PT, DPT
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