I’m doing something different today. Below is the audio version of this letter. Let me know if this helps! Enjoy.
Tight calves affect ankle mobility. That means that you will move with limited range in your ankles. When you walk, stand, or climb stairs, your ankles will not be able to fully flex the way they should. The design of your ankles enables forward and backward flexion of your shins above your foot. There’s also the lesser known ankle function, which is to let your shins rotate around in all directions on the horizontal plane.
To illustrate this, say you are standing on one foot. If a giant hand came down out of the sky and grab you by the shoulders, it should be able to move you around like a joystick without your foot moving at all. Your ankle should be able to let your shin rotate on it in this way. Feel free to stand and experiment with this concept.
When my ankles are restricted I walked funny. I land too heavily on my heels, and I feel like my steps are too short. This usually happens in the morning, after a long day of walking. My tissue gets tight if I don’t mobilize it at night before bed.
Tight ankles also give me trouble squatting. My feet tend to splay out, instead of staying in their initial forward position. This is because my ankles aren’t letting my shins rotate freely. Rather, my shins are causing my feet to pull out as I descend to the bottom of the squat.
In the ideal state, ankles are smoothly rotating joints between the shins and feet. They allow your foot to stay planted on the ground, while the rest of your leg bends. When you squat, your foot is in position the entire time. As you lower, and your knees pull out, your shins will tilt slightly outward. With mobile ankles, your feet will stay planted and you will build up torque for the upward push. This results in a powerful stand, jump, or lift.
When walking, your mobile ankles will also allow your feet to stay where you placed them. You will be able to touch down your heel, blade, ball, and toes in a forward position. As your body glides forward, your foot will be able to stay in place, and your leg will rotate inward as it ends up behind you.
Compare this to a stiff-ankled walk, where your foot can’t stay planted, and your stepping leg actually rotates outward as it ends up behind you. You’ll see the duck-footed walk with tight ankles, usually accompanied by tight upper quadriceps. It’s usually easier to walk with toes pointing outward when your legs are all stiff in this manner.
So what’s the problem with duck-footed walking? Long term, it leads to pronated feet, super inflexible ankles, agitated knees, tight quads, and tight hips. The moment you need to lift something heavy, leap to catch a falling object, or miss a step on the sidewalk, can result in a pulled muscle, ligament, or tendon. Happens all the time.
Short term, you have ineffective movement. Your body design gives you better propulsion and strength with straight feet, smooth ankles, correctly aligned knees, and supple quads and hips. This will pass on love to your spine and shoulders, which depend in large part on the lower portion of your body for proper mechanics. After all, when you walk, jump, bend, or lift, the ground is your source of push. And your feet, through your ankles, are your direct relationship to that ground.
Mobilize your ankles with calf stretches. Two minutes on each foot should be good, once a day. You can catch me on Snapchat doing some of this in the evenings. Please let me know if this helps!