Monday, August 11, 2003 - Physiology
The Ankle Joint Pivotal for Success

- By: Ross McKinnon, PT

As previously discussed on ankle flexibility and strength are critical to achieve a forward body position in both skating and classic. Technique videos often describe supple ankles, etc. But what are the best methods to achieve this? Roughly 30-35 of bend at the ankle and knee are required to properly position the body forward during initiation of the push phase of diagonal stride. Inadequate ankle flexibility will cause one or more of the following:

  • The skier will not be able to achieve the correct forward position.
  • To achieve the forward position the athlete will compensate elsewhere, (see Figs. 1 and 2).
  • Fig. 1 is demonstrating that to achieve proper ankle dorsiflexion (meaning the foot comes upwards towards the body) the skier must rotate their knee inwards. This knee rotation also results in abnormal hip rotation. These compensations result in a huge decrease in the power that the lower extremity can generate. Fig. 2 demonstrates inadequate ankle range of motion resulting in over-pronation through the rear and midfoot.

    FIG 1
    (Redrawn from Zachewski et al)

    FIG 2
    (Redrawn from Vasyli)

    Lack of ankle joint flexibility can be a result of two factors; tightness due to biomechanical factors and or a lack of strength. Muscles that tighten and lose flexibility quite often due so as they cannot generate tension through their range. It is not enough to just stretch the muscles; they must be strengthened through their range, ideally in a ski specific manner. This is especially important for those who spend lots of time on their bike.

    Start the heel raises balancing on one leg with the ball of the foot on the edge of a step. Lower down so that the heel drops below the step then rise straight up through full range. This exercise should be performed with both the knee straight and flexed at a 25-30 angle. The 25-30 angle will more closely mimic the forward ski position for skate and classic. This should be performed with your other strength exercises and your goal is 30 reps without tiring!
    Face a wall with the calf to be stretched behind. Line up your back foot straight ahead facing the wall. Make sure that you do not collapse your arch as you lean forward from the ankle, keeping your knee straight. A stretch should be felt in the posterior calf muscles. The second step is to slightly bend your knee and lean forward from your ankle. This second stretch should be felt lower in the calf than the first stretch. Make sure that your arch does not collapse during this exercise. If it does, place a rolled up towel under the inside of your foot to maintain the foot position while stretching. If you have had a history of ankle sprains of injuries and feel any pressure in the front of the ankle joint you should check with a physiotherapist about mobilizing the ankle joints. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds in each position, then repeat with the other leg.

    Ross McKinnon is a former ski racer now working as a physiotherapist at Rutland Physical Therapy in Kelowna, BC. His interests include improving an athlete's performance through the use of specific exercise. For further questions he can be contacted at or at . Ross provides individual evaluations to help improve performance and prevent injury.


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