By Austin Womack STACK.com
Speed kills. Having the ability to blow past your opponent is becoming more and more valuable. This article will reveal a tiny secret on how to sprint faster. Whether you are the fastest player on your team or someone who desperately needs to build speed, this article is for you.
How Ankle Mobility Relates to Sprinting
When you sprint, your ankle joints perform two primary movements, dorsiflexion and plantarflexion. Dorsiflexion is when the foot flexes up toward the knee, and plantarflexion is when the foot flexes down away from the knee. This article focuses on the ankle’s ability to dorsiflex.
Why is ankle dorsiflexion so important for running at top speed? Sprinting is a highly intensive activity, and it requires a large range of motion in the hips, knees, and ankles. All three of these joints need to work together efficiently to produce the soundest biomechanics.
Olympic sprinters’ ankles are dorsiflexed, not plantar flexed, as they explode off the blocks. This helps the foot strike the track in an optimal position to put force into the ground and launch forward. A poor foot strike minimizes the amount of force generated between the foot and the ground, thus reducing speed.
How to Improve Ankle Dorsiflexion
There are two major reasons why athletes lack ankle mobility. Either the structure of their ankle joint doesn’t allow it to move back and forth in its natural range of motion, or the muscles on the back of the lower leg are tight and need to gain more flexibility. The following exercises correct both of these issues.
Soft Tissue Work
Performing self-myofascial release on the lower-leg muscles with a foam roller, roller stick and lacrosse ball can improve the muscles’ flexibility and tissue quality. In this video, Todd Durkin explains in greater detail the benefits of self-myofascial release.
Ankle-Specific Mobility Drills
Combining self-myofascial release techniques with these drills will help improve ankle range of motion.
Performing sprints uphill improves sprint technique, because it forces the body to increase its range of motion at the hip, knee and ankle. To counter the incline, you need to dorsiflex your ankle more than you normally would when sprinting on flat ground. Watch this video to learn more about how to incorporate Hill Sprints into your training program.
Wall Ankle Mobilization
Wall Ankle Mobilization focuses on dorsiflexion by stretching your calf and Achilles tendon. To perform the drill, place your hands on a wall and assume a staggered stance. Bend your front knee toward the wall as far as range of motion allows. Straighten your front leg and repeat.
If you test yourself and discover that you lack the ability to dorsiflex your ankles, implement soft tissue work and mobility drills in your pre-workout warm-ups. I even recommend including these drills as filler exercises between sets of Squats and Deadlifts. You will see an improvement in ankle mobility, and your range of motion will increase.