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Ankle Mobility Exercises to Improve Dorsiflexion

Limitations in ankle dorsiflexion can cause quite a few functional and athletic limitations, leading to the desire to perform ankle mobility exercises.    

These types of ankle mobility drills have become popular over the last several years and are often important components of corrective exercise and movement prep programming.  

In this article, I’m going to cover everything you need to know about improving ankle dorsiflexion, including:

  • What causes poor ankle dorsiflexion?
  • Why limited ankle dorsiflexion can be a problem
  • What is normal range of motion for ankle dorsiflexion?
  • How much dorsiflexion range of motion do you need?
  • How to assess your ankle mobility
  • My 3-step approach to ankle dorsiflexion exercises to optimize mobility

What Causes Poor Ankle Dorsiflexion?

Before we get too deep into discussing how to fix poor ankle dorsiflexion, it helps to understand what could cause poor ankle mobility.

In my experience, the most common reason people may have poor dorsiflexion is a past surgery or injury.

This makes sense when dealing with big injuries, such as fractures, Achilles tendon ruptures, and ligament tears from acute sprains.  Anything that requires a period of immobilization of the foot can obviously lead to a loss of ankle mobility.

But you don’t need to have a major injury or surgery, even mild injuries can lead to a loss of ankle mobility.

Ankle sprains, even mild degrees, seem to be an injury that frequently leads to a loss of dorsiflexion range of motion.  

If you look at the anatomy of the anterior talofibular ligament, otherwise known as the ATFL, you can see that it attaches to both the fibula and the talus:

anterior talofibular ligament ankle sprain dorsiflexion
Image from Wikipedia

Any disruption of the ATFL ligament will lead to increased translation of the ankle, and even a more anteriorly positioned fibula.  A 2006 study in JOSPT and a 2014 Study in JOSPT have both confirmed that subjects with chronic ankle instability had an altered position of the fibula.

It’s also been shown that scarring of the ATFL ligament can cause anterior ankle impingement.  This is why people often feel a pinch in their anterior ankle when they dorsiflex.

But even if you haven’t sprained your ankle, activities with repetition dorsiflexion, such as sports that involve a lot of running and jumping, can also lead to adaptive changes and anterior ankle impingement.

As always, another factor can be our postural adaptations and terrible shoe wear habits, especially if high heels.  Remember the body adapts to stress applied and stress NOT applied.  It’s no wonder that so many people have ankle mobility issues.  So the concept of “use it or lose it” can be a factor for those that don’t perform a lot of daily activities that need dorsiflexion. 

Why Limited Ankle Dorsiflexion Can be a Problem

Several studies have been published that shown that limited dorsiflexion impacts many of our functional movement patterns, such as the squat, single-leg squat, lateral step down, and even landing from a jump.  

This is likely due to the kinetic chain effect on the body. Here’s an example of some of the compensations with see with the lateral step down portion of the Champion Performance Specialist movement assessment:

When assessing a wide variety of studies in a systematic review, Lima found that limited ankle dorsiflexion is correlated with dynamic knee valgus angles during functional movements.

This can have obvious implications as a lack of dynamic knee valgus is associated with a variety of injuries, including ACL tears and patellofemoral pain.  In fact, in one study, patients with patellofemoral osteoarthritis had less ankle dorsiflexion than those without arthritis.  

What is Normal Range of Motion for Ankle Dorsiflexion?

The generally accepted normal range of motion for ankle dorsiflexion is 20 degrees as defined by both the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Medical Association.

However, there is a lot of variability if you search the literature.  

Benhamu showed between 13-21 degrees, Rome showed between 8-26 degrees, and Weir showed between 12 and 23 degrees of dorsiflexion their respective studies.

Baggett compared normal dorsiflexion range of motion in a non-weight bearing and weightbearing position, showing 0-17 in non-weightbearing and 7-35 degrees in weightbearing.  Rabin also reported a large difference in dorsiflexion when comparing these two positions, however, they also noted a moderate correlation, meaning that a limitation in either position will likely show up in both.

With such a wide variety of methods of measuring and reported values, the bigger question may be how much dorsiflexion mobility do you need?

How Much Dorsiflexion Range of Motion Do You Need?

The ability to have a proper amount of dorsiflexion isn’t something that is only needed in sports, it’s actually a vital movement to allow normal functional activities.

Walking has been shown to require approximately 10 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion by Dr. Jacqueline Perry in her gait research.  As the body advances, the trail leg needs to dorsiflex as the hip extends right before push off.

Image from Wikipedia

More recent research has reported that up to 20 degrees of dorsiflexion has been shown in subjects during gait analysis.  

More dynamic movements, such as the squat, require even more ankle dorsiflexion range of motion.  A 2006 study by Hemmerich in the J Orthop Res showed that the further you go into the squat position, the more dorsiflexion motion is needed.  Maximal squat depth to just past parallel requires almost 35 degrees of dorsiflexion.

As you can see in the images above, once you get deeper than 20-30 degrees of squat depth, the amount of dorsiflexion needed goes up considerably. The first image is depicting someone with a restriction with ankle dorsiflexion, and how that will impact the depth of the squat. In the second image, you can see how having more dorsiflexion will improve the depth of the squat. The third photo shows an example of modifying the squat by elevating the heels. This take some of the dorsiflexion needs out of the squat to allow her to go deeper.

Check out this video demonstration on how to improve the squat with limited ankle dorsiflexion to see how we would coach this:

Ever wonder why weightlifting shows have a large heel lift?  Well, it’s to squat deeper by taking out the need for so much dorsiflexion.  In my experience, a lack of dorsiflexion is one of the biggest reasons why people often squat poorly.

How to Assess Your Ankle Mobility

So based on everything we’ve covered so far, you can see, dorsiflexion range of motion can be variable.  That’s why when assessing ankle dorsiflexion mobility, I like to measure the specific degree, but also include a simple self-assessment that people can do themselves.  This is simply a pass-fail type test.

I’m also a big fan of standardizing a test that can provide reliable results.

One test that is popular and part of our integrated movement assessment in the Champion Performance Specialist program is the half-kneeling dorsiflexion test.   Here’s a video from the program demonstrating:

In this test, you kneel on the ground and assume a position similar to stretching your hip flexors, with your knee on the floor.  Your lead foot that you are testing should be lined up 5″ from the wall.  This is important and the key to standardizing the test.

From this position you lean in, keeping your heel on the ground.  You can measure the actual tibial angle in relationship to the ground with a goniometer, or simply measure the distance of the knee cap from the wall when the heel starts to come up.  

An alternate method would be to perform the same movement and measure how many inches forward your knee passes your toes.  If I am looking to quantify this movement to be able to assess progress, I’ll use this method.

I personally prefer to standardize the distance to 5″ from the wall and simply perform it as a pass-fail test.  If they can touch the wall from 5″, they have pretty good mobility.  

I should note that my photo below has my client wearing minimal heel drop shoes, but barefoot is ideal

Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobilty

This is a great position to assess your progress, and as you’ll see, I’ll recommend some specific drills you can perform from this position so you can immediately assess and reassess.

Ankle Mobility Exercises to Improve Dorsiflexion

There are many great ideas on the internet on how to improve dorsiflexion with ankle mobility exercise, but I wanted to accumulate some of my favorites in one place.  Below, I will share my system for assessing ankle mobility and then addressing limitations.  I use a combined approach including self-myofascial exercises, stretching, and ankle mobility drills.

As I mentioned previously, I like to use a 3-step process to maximize my gains when trying to enhance ankle dorsiflexion:

  1. Self-myofascial release for the calf and plantar fascia
  2. Stretching of the calf
  3. Ankle mobility drills

I prefer this order to neuromodulate tone, loosen the soft tissue and maximize pliability before working on specific ankle joint mobility.  

When looking at the efficacy, a recent study showed that combining self-myofascial release and static stretching had a greater increase in ankle dorsiflexion range of motion than either on their own.

Self Myofascial Drills for Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility

One of the more simple self-myofascial release techniques for ankle mobility is foam rolling the calf.  

Anytime I perform self-myofascial release exercises, I follow a 3-step plan:

  1. Roll up and down the entire length of the muscle for ~10 reps or up to 30 seconds
  2. If they hit a tender spot or trigger point, pause at the spot for ~8-10 seconds
  3. Add active ankle range of motion movements during rolling, such as actively dorsiflexing the foot or performing ankle circles:

A foam roller does a really good job of helping to improve ankle dorsiflexion.  This has benefits as you can turn your body side to side and get the medial and lateral aspect of your calf along the full length.  

Here’s a clip of someone performing this in real-time.  Notice how they hit all aspects of the calf follow my 3-step self-myofascial release system.  Don’t forget to roll the bottom of your foot with a ball, as well, to lengthen the posterior chain tissue even further.  There is a direct connection between the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.

Some people do not feel that the foam roller gives them enough of a release as it is hard to place a lot of bodyweight through the foam roller in this position.  That is why I often use one of the massage sticks to work the area in addition.  You can use a massage stick in a similar fashion to roll the length of the area and pause at tender spots.  I often add mobility in the half-kneeling position as well, which gives this technique an added bonus.

Stretches for Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility

Once you are done foam rolling, I like to stretch the muscle.  A systematic review by Radford has shown that static ankle dorsiflexion stretching can lead to a statistically significant improvement in motion.  A more recent meta-analysis revealed a 5-degree increase in mobility after ankle dorsiflexion stretches.

If moderate to severe restrictions exist, I will hold the stretch for about 30 seconds, but often just do a few reps of 10 seconds for most people.  

The classic wall lean stretch is shown below.  This is a decent basic exercise, however, I have found that you need to be pretty tight to get a decent stretch in this position.

I usually prefer placing your foot up on a wall or step instead, as seen in the second part of my video below.  The added benefit here is that you can control the intensity of the stretch by how close you are to the wall and how much you lean your body in.  I also like that it extends my toes, which gives a stretch of the plantar fascia as well.  For both of these stretches, be sure to not turn your foot outward.  You should be neutral to point your toe in slightly (no more than an hour on a clock).

Simple Ankle Mobility Exercises

I like to break down my ankle mobility exercises into basic and advanced, depending on the extent of your motion restriction.  There are several basic drills that you can incorporate into your movement prep or corrective exercise strategies.

Half-Kneeling Dorsiflexion Wall Mobilization

The first drill involves a simple half-kneeling dorsiflexion movement, which is essentially just a dynamic warmup version of the ankle mobility test we described above:

This tends to be the first dorsiflexion mobility exercises that I tend to give people, as it is super easy to perform, and also easy to gauge progress by your distance from the wall.

Half-Kneeling Ankle Dorsiflexion with a Dowel

A progression from the wall mobilization is to use a dowel.  The dowel is an important part of the ankle mobility drill.  You begin by half kneeling, then placing a dowel in front of your 2nd or 3rd toe.  Now, when you lean into dorsiflexion, make sure your knee goes outside of the dowel.  This will help maintain a neutral arch position and avoid compensating by pronating your foot and internally rotating your hip.  You can add the dowel to many of the variations of drills we are discussing.

Half-Kneeling Ankle Dorsiflexion with Your Hand

A slightly more advanced variation of the dowel is to use your hand.  Your arm will act like the dowel, and require your knee to go to the outside.  This movement requires more hip mobility to perform but can be really useful for those that may be struggling to keep a neutral arch during the movement.

Half-Kneeling Lateral Ankle Glides

For some people, especially those with a past injury like an ankle sprain, lateral mobility of the ankle can become limited.  This mobility drill is very popular with my clients, they really like the feeling and ability to move afterward/

 

Advanced Ankle Mobility Exercises

When the person is ready to progress to more advanced ankle mobility drills, I often like to progress the drills by including multiple planes of motion, making the positions more dynamic, or progressing to drills that require more dorsiflexion to accomplish.

Half-Kneeling Dorsiflexion with Voodoo Floss

Chris Johnson shared a nice video using a Voodoo Floss band to assist with the myofascial release and position the tibia into internal rotation.  Restoring ankle dorsiflexion at the level of the talocrural joint is critical and should be established with the knee flexed to mimic the midstance demands of walking and running. The performer will grasp the distal tibia and fibula region and wind into internal or external rotation and then lunge forward and backward. 

Half-Kneeling Dorsiflexion with a Mobility Band

For those that have a “pinch” in the front of the ankle of tight joint restrictions of the ankle in general, Erson Religioso shows us some Mulligan mobilizations with movement (MWM) using a band.  In this video, he has his patient put the band under his opposite knee, however you could easily tie this around something behind you.  In this position you step out to create tension on the band, which will move your talus posteriorly as you move forward into dorsiflexion:

Standing Dorsiflexion Wall Mobilization

The standing dorsiflexion wall mobilization is an advanced version of the half-kneeling position.  But rather than simply leaning in and touching your knee to the wall, we change the start position to that your toes up on the wall and extended.  This essentially combines an ankle mobility drill with a stretch to the calf, Achilles tendon, and even the plantar fascia due to the toes being extended.

This isn’t one of the first drills I use because it’s advanced, but it’s one of my favorites.

Standing 3-Way Dorsiflexion Wall Mobilization

Kevin Neeld shows a great progression of this exercise that incorporates both the toes up on the wall, essentially making it more of a mobility challenge and stretch.  If you look closely, you’ll see that he is also mobilizing in three planes, straight neutral, inward, and outward:

Standing Lateral Ankle Glides

Similar to the above progression from half-kneeling to standing dorsiflexion drills, I like to perform a more advanced version of the lateral ankle glides by performing standing:

Push Up Position Ankle Rocks

As you can see, we’re really progressing to positions that require more and more ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, so you can see the potential progressions.

The push up position ankle rocks drill is a great one, that involves a great stretch of the calf and Achilles tendon.  Most of my athletes will use this ankle dynamic mobility drill at some point in their warm-up.

Functional Dorsiflexion Dynamic Mobility Drills

So far, we’ve covered a variety of mobility drills to perform to enhance ankle dorsiflexion.  As mobility increases, it’s super important that we try to functionally incorporate dorsiflexion into our programming.

Here are some examples that I like to use.

Seated Dorsiflexion Ankle Raises

Once you’ve established dorsiflexion mobility, it’s a good idea to strengthen the muscles that dorsiflex within the new range of motion.  A nice easy drill to start with is seated dorsiflexion ankle raises.  Because you start in the neutral position, any lift of the ground is moving towards more dorsiflexion

Standing Deficit Dorsiflexion Toe Raises

A variation of the seated position, standing up on a weight plate or similar low height box will allow you to need to dorsiflex against any tightness of the gastrocnemius.  By adding the box, you will allow strengthening into a great range of motion.

Knee Extension with Dorsiflexion

In addition to strengthening into dorsiflexion, I also like to work on the endurance of maintaining the position.  An easy way to do this is with a kettlebell around the toes of the foot.  You will need to dorsiflex to hold the kettlebell, and can easily progress to heavier weights.  I often incorporate this with a knee extension movement to include a lengthening of the gastrocnemius.

Toes Elevated Squats

As we’ve previously discussed, the squatting motion requires a lot of dorsiflexion to go deep into the motion.  

One drill I like to do for a dynamic warm-up prior to squatting in someone that is working to increase their dorsiflexion is simple toes elevated squats.  You can slide a small weight plate, or something about 1-1.5”, under the toes and slowly perform some bodyweight squats.

Reverse Bear Crawls

The reverse bear crawl is an amazing exercise for ankle dorsiflexion.  When crawling backward, you’ll need a decent amount of ankle mobility.  The movement includes a dynamic movement into dorsiflexion with the knee bent and toes extended, so acts as a good drill for the soleus and plantar fascia.

Improving Dorsiflexion Mobility

As you can see, there are many different variations of drills you can perform based on what is specifically tight or limited.  You may have to play around a little bit to find what works best for each person. However, these are a bunch of great examples of ankle mobility exercises you can choose to perform when trying to improve your dorsiflexion.

5 Exercises You Should Perform If You Sit All Day

Do you sit all day? Don’t worry you are not alone.

Sitting throughout the day, and a more sedentary lifestyle in general, has dramatically increased over the last several decades as desk jobs have become more popular and our devices have taken over as our form of entertainment.

The media loves to tell you that “sitting is the new smoking.” This is backwards in my mind, and something I’ve discussed in detail in a past article Sitting isn’t bad for you, not moving is.

In the article, I listed 3 things you should do if you sit all day to stay healthy:

  1. Move, Often
  2. Reverse your posture
  3. Exercise

For those looking for some specific exercise, here are 5 great exercises to perform to combat sitting all day.

5 Exercises You Should Perform if You Sit All Day

I’ve been talking about the concept of Reverse Posturing for years. The concept is essentially that we need to reverse the posture that we do the most throughout the day to keep our body balanced and prevent overuse.

Sitting involves a predominantly flexed posture, so doing exercises that promote the posterior chain would be helpful. These will depend on each person, but if I had to pick a basic set of exercises these would be the 5 exercises to combat sitting all day.

Thoracic Extension

The first exercise is for mobility of your thoracic spine. This is the portion of your back that becomes the most flexed while sitting all day. This is probably the biggest bang for you buck exercises in my mind:

If you are looking for more drills, you should view one of my past articles for several more great thoracic mobility drills.

True Hip Flexor Stretch

The second exercises is another mobility drill, this time for the pelvis. We always perform mobility drills first to maximize range of motion. This exercise is called the true hip flexor stretch, something I termed several years ago after seeing so many people do this stretch poorly.

This exercise will help prevent your hips from getting too tight, as well as put your entire spine in a better position.

Chin Nods

Now that we’ve done a couple of mobility drills, let’s try to reinforce a few movement patterns to reverse your sitting posture and activate a few select muscle groups.
The first is the chin nod, which is great for the neck muscles and forward head posture. Many have heard of the chin tuck exercise, but the chin nod exercise is a little different in my mind.

Shoulder W’s

The next exercise builds off the chin nods, and now combines the chin nod posture with retraction of your shoulders. This will help turn on your posterior rotator cuff and scapular muscles all in one drill.

Glute Bridge

Lastly, we want to focus on the glutes and their ability to extend the hips, and taking some pressure off your low back. This glute bridge exercise, in combination with the above true hip flexor stretch, will be a great combo to help with your overall posture and core control.

How to Integrate These Exercises into Your Day

An easy way to start and keep it simple is to perform each of these 10 times. These should take less than 5 minutes to perform and will make a big impact on how you feel throughout the day.
Many people ask, “how many times a day should I perform these?” Or even, “do I need to do these every day?”

You don’t need to do these every day. Just on the days that you sit… :)

But seriously, remember these are 5 exercises you should do if you sit all day, so doing them at the end of each day to reverse your posture is a great idea. Many people who sit for a really long time like to perform them during the day as well.

As you get comfortable with them, you may find that certain ones help you feel better than others. Feel free to add repetitions to those as needed.

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The True Hip Flexor Stretch

The hip flexor stretch has become a very popular stretch in the fitness and sports performance world, and rightly so considering how many people live their lives in anterior pelvic tilt.  However, this seems to be one of those stretches that I see a lot of people either performing incorrectly or too aggressively.  I talked about this in a recent Inner Circle webinar on 5 common stretches we probably shouldn’t be using, but I wanted to expand on the hip flexor stretch as I feel this is pretty important.

I’ve started teaching what I call the “true hip flexor stretch.”

I call it the true hip flexor stretch as I want you to truly work on stretching the hip flexor and not just torque your body into hip and lumbar extension.  It’s very easy for the body to take the path of least resistance when stretching.  People with tight hip flexors and poor hip extension often just end up compensating and either hyperextend their low back or stress the anterior capsule of the hip joint.

I explain this in more detail in this video:

The good thing is, there is a simple and very effective.  Once you adjust and perform the true hip flexor stretch, most people say they never felt a stretch like that before, hence the name “true hip flexor stretch.”

True Hip Flexor Stretch

To perform the true hip flexor stretch, you want to de-emphasize hip extension and focus more on posterior pelvic tilt.  Watch this video for a more detailed explanation:

Key Points

  • There is a difference between a quadriceps stretch and a hip flexor stretch.  When your rationale for performing the stretch is to work on stretching your hip flexor, focus on the psoas and not the rectus femoris.
  • Keep it a one joint stretch.  Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee.  This incorporates the rectus and the psoas, but I find far too many people can not appropriately perform this stretch.  They will compensate, usually by stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
  • Stay tall.  Resist the urge to lean into the stretch and really extend your hip.  Most people are too tight for this, trust me.  You’ll end up stretch out the anterior hip joint and abdominals more than the hip flexor.
  • Make sure you incorporate a posterior pelvic tilt.  Contract your abdominals and your glutes to perform a posterior pelvic tilt.  This will give your the “true” stretch we are looking for when choosing this stretch.  Many people wont even need to lean in a little, they’ll feel it immediately in the front of their hip.
  • If you don’t feel it, squeeze your glutes harder.  Many people have a hard time turing on their glutes while performing this stretch, but it is key.
  • If you still don’t feel it, lean in just a touch.  If you are sure your glutes and abs are squeezed and you are in posterior pelvic tilt and still don’t feel it much, lean in just a few inches.  Our first progression of this is simple to lean forward in 1-3 inches, but keep your pelvis in posterior tilt.
  • Guide your hips with your hands.  I usually start this stretch with your hands on your hips so I can teach you to feel posterior pelvic tilt.  Place your fingers in the front and thumbs in the back and cue them to posterior tilt and make their thumbs move down.
  • Progress to add core engagement.  Once they can master the posterior pelvic tilt, I usually progress to assist by curing core engagement.  You can do this by pacing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or by holding a massage stick or dowel in front of you and pushing down into the ground.  Key here is to have arms straight and to push down with you core, not your triceps.

I use this for people that really present in an anterior pelvic tilt, or with people that appear to have too loose of an anterior hip capsule.  In fact, this has completely replaced the common variations of hip flexor stretches in all of our programs at Champion.  This works great for people with low back pain, hip pain, and postural and biomechanical issues related to too much of an anterior pelvic tilt.

Give the true hip flexor stretch a try and let me know what you think.

5 Ways to Get More Out of Self Myofascial Release

With the popularity of self myofascial release skyrocketing over the last decade, we’re seeing people rolling all over the place.  And for good reason…

Foam rolling helps you feel and move better.

Foam rollers are great, and I have talked about other self myofascial release tools that I highly recommend you try.  But it’s not always just about WHAT you are using to roll out, it’s also about HOW you are performing self myofascial release that is important.

If you combine some of our basic understanding of functional anatomy with our understanding of movement, we can really enhance how you perform self myofascial release to get even better results.

5 Ways to Get More Out of Self Myofascial release

To illustrate this concept, I wanted to share 5 videos demonstrating how you can enhance how you perform self myofascial release.

Reduce the Surface Area

My first video discusses the concept of reducing the surface area while rolling.  Again, foam rollers are great.  But depending on the tissue you are focusing on when rolling, you may want to reduce the surface area.

When you get used to foam rolling and are looking for a deeper sensation, putting the same amount of body weight on a smaller surface area will obviously increase the applied pressure.

This is also helpful when you are foam rolling an area that is hard to place full body weight on the roller, like the calf, as you will be able to apply more pressure.

 

Roll in 360 Degrees

In the next video, I discuss the ability to use a mobility sphere to be apply to easily alter the direction of rolling, instead of just back and forth using a foam roller.  This is one of my favorite progressions.

 

Hold a Spot

Often times when rolling, you’ll find one spot that is really tender.

Once you find a tender spot, combine our treatment technique of sustained pressure on the area.  Stop rolling and hold pressure on that spot for 10-30 seconds.  The goal is not to crush the spot, but rather to gentle hold and increase pressure as the tenderness subsides.

You’ll be surprise how the spot will decrease in tenderness after holding the spot.

 

Add Active Motion

The next variation is also a simulation of our treatment techniques, this time a pin and stretch.  Again, when you find a tender spot, hold it for a duration, then add some active motion of that muscle group.

Focus on slowly moving the muscle through full range of motion while sustain pressure.

Move Another Muscle

On a similar note, you can also pin one muscle and stretch an adjacent muscle.  The example I use in the video below is the hamstring and adductor group.  You can pin the adductor and slowly flex and extend the knee to move the hamstring.

 

These examples are just 5 of the many ways we enhance self myofascial release with our patients and clients at Champion.  I’d love to hear what you do as well.  By combining some of our treatment concepts, we think you can really get a lot more out of your self myofascial release.

If you like this type of content, be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook, I’ve been sharing a lot of videos like this:

 

6 Hip Mobility Drills Everyone Should Perform

Recently, I have seen dozens of social media posts with “advanced” hip mobility drills that made me stop and think…

Should we actually be seeking to perform these advanced variations?

I would argue most people still need the basics, and should incorporate just a handful of more simple drills as the foundation of their mobility drills.

The internet is famous for sensationalizing the drills that look “fancy” rather than the ones that are likely the most effective.  It’s probably another case of the Pareto Principle, where 80% of the drills seen online should only be performed 20% of the time, and conversely, 20% of the drills seen online should be performed 80% of the time!  Heck it may be even less than that when it comes to hip mobility.

To make matters worse, the more advanced hip mobility drills are probably inappropriate for most people.  In my experience, limitations in hip mobility seem to be more related to the individuals unique anatomy, boney adaptations, and alignment rather than simple soft tissue limitations.  So, forcing hip mobility drills through anatomical limitations is just going to cause more impingement and issues with the hips, rather than helping.

Sometimes less is more.

 

My Favorite Hip Mobility Drills

I wanted to share my favorite hip mobility that I use with most of my clients.  I think you should really focus on these hip mobility drills before proceeding to more advanced variations.  If these don’t do the trick, it’s probably best that you seek out a qualified movement specialist to assess the reason behind you hip mobility limitations, rather than forcing more drills.

 

Quadruped Rockbacks

The first drill is a quadruped rockback.  This is one of my favorite drills for the hips, and feels great to loosen up the adductors and hip joint into flexion.  Plus, I do these barefoot to get more dorsiflexion and great toe extension.

 

Adductor Quadruped Rockbacks

The adductor quadruped rockback is a variation of the rockback that involves straightening out one hip.  This takes away a little bit of the hip flexion benefit, but enhances the effect on the adductors.  Performing this on both sides is the best of both worlds.

 

True Hip Flexor Stretch

The true hip flexor stretch is probably the most fundamental hip mobility drill we should all be performing.  I started calling it the “true” hip flexor stretch because the more common versions of this do not lock in the posterior pelvic tilt and just end up torquing the anterior capsule.

 

Posterior Hip Stretch

The posterior hip stretch feels great on the glutes and hits the posterior hip area, which is often tight.  Many people feel like the can get into a hip hinge much better after this drill.

 

Figure 4 Stretch

The posterior hip is a complicated area of muscles, I often pair the figure 4 stretch with the posterior hip stretch above to get different areas.  For me, I simple go by the feedback from my client on what feels more effective for them.

 

Spiderman

The Spiderman hip mobility drill is likely the most advanced of this list, which is why I have it last.  This is something I don’t always perform right away, but is a goal of mine to integrate with everyone eventually.  This requires more hip mobility that the others, so acts as a nice progression to put these all together.

 

How to Get Started with Hip Mobility Drills?

So wondering how to get started?  Start with the quadruped rockbacks and hip flexor stretch.  Those two are very foundational and will be the most impactful for most people.  Once you get those down, progress to the posterior hip stretch and figure 4 to hit more of the posterior aspect of the hip.  Lastly, progress to the Spiderman drill.

I honestly don’t think you need much more than that, and if you seek to get too aggressive with hip mobility drills, you often make things worse.

 

 

2 New Self Myofascial Release Tools to Try

In my recent article on the best self myofascial release tools, I overviewed a variety of tools that people can use based on their goals and needs.

I mentioned a couple of newer self myofascial release tools that I have started using instead of a simple foam roller.  I still like foam rollers, but think that many people could benefit even more by upgrading to these newer tools.

A lot of people have been asking me about these newer tools, so I wanted to film a couple of videos showing you more.

 


Acumobility Eclipse Foam Roller and Mobility Ball

 


Mobilitas Mobility Sphere

 


Try these two new products and I think you’ll be impressed.  And be sure to check out my other recommendations of foam rollers, massage sticks, and other mobility tools.

 

 

 

The Best Self Myofascial Release Tools

Self myofascial release tools, such as foam rollers, trigger point balls, and massage sticks, have become some of the most popular tools used for corrective exercises, fitness, and sports performance.  In fact, performing self myofascial release has become almost a uniform component in the majority of fitness and sports performance programs.

You can certainly argue the exact physiological benefit of performing self myofascial release.  Ironically we are likely not really “releasing” fascia.

However, it’s hard to argue the benefits of self myofascial release.

Two recent studies in International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy and Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy have been published that analyzed the current state of research and conclude that self myofascial release:

  • Increases mobility and joint range of motion
  • Reduces post-workout soreness and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
  • Allows for greater workout performance in future workouts
  • May lead to improved vascular function and parasympathetic nervous system function

“Simply put, self myofascial release has been proven to help you feel and move better.” [click to tweet]

In order to get started, I wanted to share my years of experience with self myofascial release tools.  There are so many foam rollers, trigger point tools, and massage sticks out there these days.
I’ve tried nearly all of them and these are what I consider the best self myofascial release tools.

Best Self Myofascial Release Tools

Over the years I have tried a ridiculous amount of different self myofascial release tools, some great, some awful, and some just a rip off.  Luckily, new products emerge all the time and continue to improve.

I’ve learned a couple of things that are important:

  • There are different types of self myofascial release tools for different needs, body parts, and intensities.  Building your own “kit” is probably going to be the most effective.  Trying to use just a foam roller on everything is going to not work well.
  • You tend to build up a tolerance to self myofascial release and want to upgrade to more advanced foam rollers, trigger point balls, and massage sticks.  Start with the basics and advance overtime.

Best Foam Rollers

Amazon Basics High-Density Round Foam Roller self myofascial release - amazon foam roller

The first place to is a basic high density foam roller.  This could be the cheapest and most versatile tool you get.  Amazon has started to make their own version, which is a great price.  You’ll find various sizes.  I’ve never personally gotten much use of the large 36-inch versions and tend to favor the 18-inch version.

TriggerPoint GRID Foam Rollerself myofascial release - grid foam roller

The basic high density foam roller is a great place to start to get used to foam rolling, but quickly gets pretty easy.  You’ll want to upgrade to a more firm foam roller in increase the intensity.  My preferred choice is the GRID foam roller from TriggerPoint.  I’ve been using this foam roller for years with continued success.  It has a rigid hollow core that increases the intensity very well.  This is worth the extra investment as it will likely be your main foam roller for some time.

Mobilitas Mobility Sphere
self myofascial release - mobility sphere foam roller

Somewhere between a foam roller and a trigger point ball, I actually really like using 5” mobility balls.  Because of the round shape, the contact area is smaller so the amount of force to the area is larger.  Plus, you can use into in multiple planes of motion because it is a ball instead of a roller.  This is something I personally use.  You can get into smaller areas, like your chest, but I use this just as much as a standard foam roller.  There are a few but the one I use and recommend is the Mobilitas Mobility Sphere.

Acumobility Eclipse Foam Rollerself myofascial release - acumobility foam roller

I was recently turned onto the Eclipse Foam Roller from Acumobility and have been impressed.  I was intrigued by the design and wanted to try it myself.  I’m not a big fan of foam rollers with ridges, as I just feel they don’t do much and concept is more of a marketing gimmick.  But Acumobility has a made a great advanced foam roller that includes a firm middle section that can encompass a body part really well.  It’s a really unique design and a great tool for advanced foam rolling.

Best Massage Roller Stick

While foam rollers are the primary self myofascial release tool for most needs, there are body parts that simply don’t do as well and need a massage stick tool.  The next tool you should add to your self myofascial release tool kit is a massager stick roller.  There are a few popular massage sticks on the market, and as it is with most things, I actually don’t prefer the two most popular massage sticks.

TheraBand Roller Massager+self myofascial release - theraband massage stick roller

The original massage stick began with plastic pieces and did a fairly well job, but newer tools have used a more grippy surface that I feel is far more effective. A plastic roller is just placing pressure downward on the tissue, where the grip on the TheraBand Roller Massager+ seems to also create a tissue traction with the friction produced.  This is a great product for areas like the forearms and feet, but also areas where you want to apply more pressure than what you can with just body weight, like the quads, hamstrings, and calves.  Plus, this has been the massage roller featured in many of the research reports.

Best Trigger Point Release Tools

In addition to foam rollers and massage sticks.  Trigger point release tools are another must have addition to your self myofascial release tool kit.  Essentially, these just tend to be smaller self myofascial release tools that can get into tighter areas.

Lacrosse Ballself myofascial release - lacrosse ball trigger point tool

Yup, that’s it, just a lacrosse ball.  People have tried to make better versions of trigger point balls, but nothing beats the affordable lacrosse ball.  Great material, density, and durability.  This is a great place to start.  Get a couple so you can use two at once one places like your spine.

Acumobility Mobility Ballself myofascial release - acumobility ball trigger point tool

Acumobility, the maker of the Eclipse Roller above, has another great tool, their Mobility Ball.  This is made from a great dense material, but has a flat bottom that allows you to keep this in one spot on the floor or even against the wall.  This really helps to provide firm pressure while performing movements of the muscle group.  This is a great upgrade from the lacrosse ball.

Trigger Point Wandself myofascial release - trigger point wand

Sometimes an area is hard to reach, such as your neck or back.  That’s where sometimes a trigger point wand comes in handy.  I would definitely consider this a speciality tool, however a very popular choice.

Foot Rubz Massage Ballself myofascial release - foot rubz massage ball

Another speciality tool, but something that I wanted to include as I really love, is the hand and foot massage ball from Foot Rubz.  This is a smaller trigger point ball perfect for the hands and feet.  You can use a lacrosse ball or even the TheraBand Massage Roller above for these areas, but I feel this is slightly better and worth it for many.  (I’m literally using one as I type this haha…)

Create Your Own Self Myofascial Release Tool Kit

All of the above options are great choices.  I would recommend getting one of each of the foam rollers, massage sticks, and trigger point tools.  Together, these cover pretty much all of your self myofascial release needs.

If you are interested, I also have an Inner Circle webinar on how I perform self myofascial release.

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

how pelvic tilt influences hamstring and spine mobilityHow many people come to you and complain that they have tight hamstrings?  It seems like an epidemic sometimes, right?  I know it’s pretty common for me, at least.  

Many people just tug away at their hamstrings and aggressively stretch, which may not only be barking up the wrong tree, but also disadvantageous.

I have really gotten away from blindly stretching the hamstrings without a proper assessment, as I feel that pelvic position is often the reason why people think they are tight.  This is pretty easy to miss.

In the video below, I want to explain and help you visualize the how pelvic tilt influences hamstring mobility and spine position.  Often times the hamstrings feel “tight” or “short” when in reality their pelvic position is just giving us this illusion.  I talk about this a lot with clients at Champion and often find myself making these drawings on our whiteboard.

Keep this in mind next time you think someone has tight hamstrings or has too much thoracic kyphosis.  Often times the key is in the hips!

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

Strategies for Anterior Pelvic Tilt

If you are interested in learning more, I have a couple of great webinars for my Inner Circle members that you may find helpful: