Dryland Tip: How to Improve Ankle Flexibility for Swimmers

Michael Butler
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Why Does Ankle Flexibility Matter?

The ankle joint must be flexible enough to allow you to maintain a streamlined position, especially when you’re kicking your feet at a high rate of speed. To help you do that, you’ll need to apply resistance to the ankles through ankle stretches.

Some swimmers who are new to swimming pools or who aren’t as physically fit as others, may not have flexible ankles. Low flexibility in the ankle ligaments can be caused by lack of physical fitness, injury or old age.

You probably know that stretching muscles isn’t always enough to help them relax. To really increase your flexibility, you need to stretch the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles and attaches them to the bones. This type of connective tissue acts much like a rubber band.

Over time, as you stretch it, the band gets weaker and less effective. Eventually, it becomes longer and more elastic. And that’s when you see your flexibility improve.

Ankle flexibility can be problematic for swimmers. If your ankles are not flexible enough, your legs will not perform the kicking leg motion smoothly. As a beginner, you will also find it difficult to find the right position in the water.

Ankle range of motion will affect your balance in the water, and if you have tight ankles, you will tend to lose your balance more easily.

Dryland Tip: How to Improve Your Ankle Flexibility

As a swimmer, ankle flexibility and mobility are two areas you need to work on. Ankle flexibility helps you achieve a smooth stroke since you need to have the ability to point and flex your foot.

Swimmers don’t do much weight training (except for gym class) that adds the strength in the lower leg or the posterior chain. The posterior chain is the group of muscles in your leg that can play a huge role in helping you swim faster and better. Ankle flexibility is critical if you want to perform a powerful kick and gain speed and endurance in the water.

Manual release can be used to improve the flexibility and mobility in your ankle and throughout the entire posterior chain.

The way manual release works is by using controlled and sustained pressure to release the knots, tightness, and adhesions where the muscles, fascia, and ligaments connect. The idea is to release the soft tissues without over stretching.

For ankle flexibility, start by finding the tight spots and rest some pressure there. Do this for 1 or 2 minutes 3 to 4 times a day. If any pain is felt, then back off and move to another section.

If you’re not familiar with manual release techniques, find a manual therapist that can teach you. It is a safe and effective way to release the tightness and get back into shape.

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The purpose of flexibility work is to increase passive range of motion. However, you may want to change the direction of the muscle fibers depending on the movement you are targeting. On a basic level, there are two angles relevant to flexibility training: horizontal and vertical.

Horizontal range of motion exercises include compensation strategies. As you bend or stretch in one direction, the surrounding muscle groups act in opposing directions to stabilize the structure. An example of this type of training is when you focus on stretching the hamstrings and end up engaging the quadriceps and glutes to hold the legs together.

Vertical flexibility consists of unopposed muscle stretch. You stretch the muscle in a coordinated and conscious way that leaves it long and relaxed. An example is extending the hamstrings. If you do this with the knee straight, you strain the quadriceps and place the hamstrings in a disadvantageous position. To get a better hamstring stretch, bend the knee and push the heel toward the ceiling with the knee flexed. This change in position shifts focus from the quadriceps to the hamstrings, leading to an improved stretch.