Ankle dorsiflexion is your ability to close the angle in the front of your ankle, by either bringing your toes toward your knee (open kinetic chain) or driving your knee forward with foot flat on the ground (closed kinetic chain).
When it comes to exercises with our feet on the ground, insufficient dorsiflexion will lead to compensations up the chain.
For example, if you’re trying to sit your butt to your heels in a deep squat, if your knees can’t go past your toes you’ll compensate via posterior pelvic tilt (butt wink) and a flexed spine, which can set you up for low back pain.
Then, if you treat the low back pain via core exercises, you might get some temporary relief, but if you continue to squat without addressing dorsiflexion, you’ll continue to suffer as you haven’t addressed the root cause.
This is also why squatting with a heel lift helps you get deeper – because it compensates for a lack of dorsiflexion.
Now that you understand the importance of the range, let me show you how to improve it.
How to Improve Ankle Dorsiflexion
First up it’s always a good idea to address structural limitations and mobilizing the joint is important for the ankles (to help you out with this, be sure to grab the free lower limb joint mobility routine here).
Once you’re sure your joints aren’t restricting you, it’s time to build your range of control and you can do so with the technique below.
Ankle Dorsiflexion Exercise #1: Level 1 End Range Expansion (ERE) Sequence
Perform 1-2 sets of 2-3 cycles per side and do it 3 days/week and your range should start to increase after a couple weeks.
UPDATE: Below you’ll find the Level 2 Ankle Dorsiflexion ERE Sequence.
Ideally, you should do Level 1 for at least 3-4 weeks at 2-3 times/week, progressing the # of cycles you do.
It’s best to do the most simple thing first before moving to advanced.
In this case, the complexity of Level 2 often exceeds a person’s capability as many don’t have the ability to actively/consciously invert/evert their ankles, making Level 2 more frustrating than anything.
Ankle Positions: Inversion (Left) and Eversion (Right)
So while doing Level 1, I’d also prescribe basic inversion/eversion movements, which is exactly what I do in Lower Limb Control.
When you’re ready for Level 2, follow the same rep/set and progression scheme as outlined for Level 1.
Ankle Dorsiflexion Exercise #2: Level 2 End Range Expansion (ERE) Sequence