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Super–Duper ankle–soleus stretch routine (essential for the squat)

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Hello all,

**UPDATE**. I added a new combination ankle-hamstring-sciatic nerve-fascia stretch taught to me by Mike Goldfield (we did some work today with Matthew Darling, in Michigan, and adding this here seemed very timely). See revised exercise 9 for details, below.

At the request of my US Super-Host, Robin Truxel of tru Pilates fame, has asked me to document a routine that is guaranteed to free up tight calves and ankles. As well, tight calves could even be the cause of your back pain.

But first, the test. Can you squat down, in bare feet, with the knees together, and keep your heels on the ground?

If you can't, then your ankles are too tight—that's all there is to it. The heels have to come off the ground, to keep your centre of gravity in front of your balance point, and if the ankles cannot allow this, either you fall backwards, or your heels come off the ground. Let's change this.

**Note: all images can be enlarged by clicking on them***

1. The first stretch is the straight-leg wall calf stretch; you all know this one, but make sure that the knees are over the forefoot (middle of the second toe) and the full arch height is preserved (press weight on the little toe side to ensure this), and press the knee straight. Make sure you have remembered the new cue of externally rotating the whole leg in both the ankle and hip joints (this is what actually creates the arch as well as winding up the fascia). See which leg is the tightest.

2. Then the classic Downward Dog, but our 'one-legged' dog version. All the same alignment cues as the standing wall calf stretch, above, but with the addition of flexion at the hips—this increases the neural and fascial dimensions incredibly. And if you can't reach the floor easily, lean your hands on stairs, or a box/chair against the wall. Work the tighter side one more time.


Note how I am applying a downward force on the ankle as well as a gentle back-straightening pressure at the same time. As you loosen, move the heel further back from the support. The way Robyn is supported, there is less hamstring effect and maximum ankle/fascia/soleus and gastrocnemius effect.

3. Then back to the wall calf stretch, but this time, apply the 'rod of correction': this is a piece of dowel; the smaller the diameter, the more intense the sensation, so start with one of at least 25mm (one inch) diameter. Make sure your partner is wearing material of some sort on her legs, to facilitate the sliding of the rod.

Apply pressure onto both sides of the rod and work the outer, middle, and inner borders of the lower calf, from just below the knee to all the way down soleus. Apply gentle pressure the first few times to get the person used to it, then increase the pressure (applied at 90 degrees to the surface you are working on). Once the pressure is applied, slide the stick down the leg while holding the pressure on. This is intense (for your subject!), so be gentle the first few times.


Then, once that's done, do the usual contractions and re-stretch. You will see noticeable improvement between the first iteration (#1 above) and the final position following the fascial work and the contraction–re-stretch. The first image above shows a central pressure/stretch application position, and the second the outer border.

As well, please note how I am bracing the leg I am working on with the outer part of my thigh; this is essential. Do not move the rod too quickly over the skin; the fascia has to be coaxed into releasing.



4. Now the new one (I will make a video of this soon). Get into a gentle wall calf stretch once more, and ask your partner to press on the calf muscle, just below the knee. Don't move the lower leg—but 'sit' the hip away from the wall (this bends the knee more if you have the right position). As well, with your hip back further than usual, you can add your own weight more easily to the stretch.

Now ask your partner to use his other hand to grip the ankle just above the heel, and help you press the heel onto the floor firmly. Use the first hand to press the back of the knee further forward (to increase the angle at the ankle). Do not lose the arch shape. Once you can go no further, try to relax: this will be an intense feeling in soleus, as well as at the front of the ankle joint (we are levering off the tibia and the talus bone of the foot). (If you dip down to exercise 7, below, you will see the hand position for this variation; the exercise will look similar, except the heel will be on the floor.)

Now repeat the toe-pointing (pressing the ball of the foot into the floor) contraction; this time, because the knee is bent, the sensation will be felt mainly in soleus; it is a much deeper sensation than stretching gastrocnemius. And when the contraction is done, ask your partner to help you bring the knee further forwards in good form (the 'stretchee' can definitely help here, too, of course), and bring the knee as far forwards of the toes as you can. This, too, will be intense.

A note on breathing for the re-stretch: even if you are really experienced, once a stretch becomes intense, you will forget the basics (blame it on the body's self-preservation mechanisms!). Before you try any re-stretch, breathe in fully, relax the part you are working as much as you can, and only while you are actually breathing out do you do the stretch into new territory. If you need more time than one breath out, stop, breathe in again, and only go into new ROM while actually breathing out.

5. Find a set of stairs, and do the classic single leg, ball of foot on stair, heel drop stretch. Apply all your weight to one leg, and ask your partner to once more hold the stretching leg's heel, and ask them to help you stretch deeper by leaning some of their weight onto the gripping hand—thereby intensifying the stretch. Note that my 'top' arm is helping Robin straighten her knee. Do a few slightly bouncy contractions in the bottom position (may as well get some fascial involvement here too) and then some slower standard contractions, and re-stretch.


And a close-up of the grip position:


6. Find something to hang on to, and with feel parallel, spread the knees, and lower hips into a full squat (this is also an ankle stretch, as well as one of the best lower back stretches). Try to bring the body as far as possible through the thighs to deepen both stretches. As well, once you have the wide knee version, try again with the knees together: this intensifies the ankle part (and limits the lower back movement for the same reason).

7. If you are up to it, repeat the stair stretch (#5 above) but ask yor partner to bend the knee on the leg you are stretching; as before, this action focuses the effect on the ankle.


8. I added this today (because I forgot it in the sequence when writing yesterday); but if you have partner assistance, this one and the bent-leg one above will have the strongest effect on improving ankle flexibility of all of them (and this strongly and preferentially affects soleus, too).

Kneel as shown, holding something firm, and press as much of your body's weight as you can through the forearm of the other arm. This is the start position (and you can do contractions and re-stretches this way too).


On the other hand, if you have a partner, the big guns can be brought to bear. See how I am leaning my weight straight down on the knee? This both holds the heel on the ground and pushes the ankle further forward. Very strong contractions can be effected, and you can control the amount of the re-stretch, by adding your own forces to the same knee through your forearm. Look at this picture of the setup:


As well, here's an image that shows additional supports: my hand on her back, and my thigh is assisting, too.


New exercise 9. You will need a sturdy Yoga chair for this; turn over as shown, and place a sticky mat inside the now-upside down seat. Place your feet as wide as possible on the base, and press the edges outward. Now, keeping your back as straight as you can, lean forwards to the maximum calf stretch point, then bend forwards at the hips. Whew: intense.

I am pulling myself further forwards by holding on to the legs. Contractions can be added to enhance the effect. See the setup:


And the close-up that shows just how much flexion the ankles are enjoying!


10. Then the big test: on flat ground (or slightly sloping downhill for a bit of assistance—or even a thin support under the heels, or a small weight held at arms' length!), try to squat down, keeping your heels in the ground. If this sequence has worked for you, you will find you can lower your hips deeper before feeling like you are going to overbalance and—one day—you will get all the way down.

Now you are ready for the SLS (Single Leg Squat) progressions; see HERE.

Good luck and please report back. KL

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  • 9 months later...
  • 3 months later...

It's your choice as to whether you do the partner versions; they are stronger and hence more effective. It's all a question of what you want, and what you need. You might try a different group of friends, too.

This is an improved version of the one I show above as 7.

Elaborating, working with other people makes the times you spend exercising way more effective. It does not render solo practise a waste of time, by any means, either; most of my stretching is done solo. Use the partner versions to get you over a hurdle.

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  • 1 year later...

Hi Kit and thank for all the good input.

So this Ankle Soleus Stretch replaces exercice #5 (solo) and #7 (assisted).

When i d these i can really feel the stretch of my soleus.

But when i do the exercice of the video i just feel pressure on my ankle crease and no soleus stretch.

Any idea what I could be doing wrong?

Same issue with exercice #8.

I dont feel a stretch, just a cmpression at the ankle crease.

Beginnin to wonder if my bones arent an issue here....


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  • 9 months later...

I've been thinking I really need to make some progress on my ankle dorsiflexion (actually been thinking this for at least 5 years).  After doing those anti pronation exercises I've got a better awareness and understanding of the pronation mechanism.  So while in yoga when my knee is behind my foot but still heavily loaded I noticed my arch was a lot higher than when I'm stood up.  It appears my feet pronate strongly just from standing because of the huge lack of flexibility.  So I started from no. 1 and made an effort to keep weight on the outside of my foot / rotate the whole leg out, instantly I felt a stretch which vaguely recognised but because my awareness / connection to that muscle is so bad I've thought it was stretching a hamstring but gave it more thought and realised it is from the lower leg and I believe the outer gastroc?  I then switched to a tame single leg down dog with my hands about a step and a half high and breathed into it and the stretch just got stronger and stronger, not like I was going to do some damage, it was an overwhelming type feeling.


So for me this is a major breakthrough! :D  It might come across as stupidity that I've only just figured this out but I believe this is connected to when I had excruciating arch pains in my feet nearly 20 years ago and problems began.  Back when compensations started perhaps?  Perhaps even then I was tight in the hip flexors?

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@ Edd: not stupid at all; this is very common and happens to me all the time! And external rotation of the thigh–lower leg in the hip and ankle joints simultaneously is the setup now for all calf stretches. Ext. rotation activates proneus posterior, too, and this picks up the arch. 


@ Adrien: any compression in the front of the ankle joint can be relieve somewhat (or completely) by using a band (tied off to something behind you) across the front of the joint. Strong tension is needed. This force is experienced as joint distraction and can be night vs. day kind of relief of this discomfort.

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  • 10 months later...
3 hours ago, Kit_L said:

What stops you doing a pose perfectly? This recent article is all about the Single Leg Dog Pose (SLDP), THE way to change ankle and calf flexibility.


Breaking it up into the SLDP really is the key, I see many yogis (myself included) mindlessly doing down-dog for years with little to no progress. 

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