T Nation

Loaded Stretch for Improving Ankle Mobility and Squat Performance

Hi Coach,

Just like Eugene Teo, after doing numerous typical mobility drills for years on end, I started to believe that lasting improvements in mobility really do come down to nervous system adaptations.

After watching your symposium on loaded stretching I got inspired and noticed great improvements in mobility restrictions of the shoulders, chest and biceps.

However, I could not solve the ankle issue by loaded calf stretches. Should I focus more on contracting the tibialis anterior in the deep squat position? Or do you have an isolation exercise to target the tibialis for loaded stretching?

Thank you.

Same problem here, I’m trying with Split squats “knees over toes” type loaded stretches with the feet on the ground but honestly my ankles feel too stiff. Whenever I try to squat ankle stiffness is always the limiting factor, specially right ankle. If you’ve come to a solution please let me know!

Well, the solution is almost never one sided and can differ depending on the individual and his/her specific issue.

To improve ankle/hip flexor mobility, Coach Thibs and I agreed that two very effective loaded stretching exercises are:

  • the loaded calf/hamstring stretch (you can perform this exercise like a jefferson curl and with your toes placed on two small weight plates to further increase the stretch).

  • the loaded split squat stretch with rear foot elevated and front foot closer to the rear foot if you want to emphasize the quads and calves.

  • An auxiliary movement you can use to increase mobility in the calf muscles is the single or double standing loaded calf stretch. You can either use a standing calf machine (if you have one available), use a smith machine or db’s.

There are different ways in which you can perform loaded stretching depending on your goals (hypertrophy, athletic performance, injury prevention etc.). For mobility improvements I would suggest the training paramaters as mentioned in CT’s article on loaded stretching: Thibarmy

He also clarified to me how the loaded stretches should be performed as I myself was a bit confused due to controversial suggestions. I don’t think he would mind me sharing his tip:

“Think of it as contracting everything. The agonists (= muscle(s) you’re targeting) will already be contracting because they are resisting gravity, but once you are in the stretched position you can concentrate on contracting them even more. The key point however is to pull yourself down with gravity so that both the agonists and antagonists are contracting”

Understand though that loaded stretching might not be the solution for your specific issue as it targets the fascia, muscles and tendons but NOT the joints.

However, the good news you can extract from this is you will accumulate gains on so many levels: increased tendon size and strength potential (= this is often a hidden cause of a mobility restriction because your CNS will not allow a lot of ROM in a muscle that has weak tendons due to risk of injury), muscle hypertrophy, improved motor programming and so much more.

If your mobility restriction is muscle/fascia related or if tendon weakness is the main culprit, loaded stretching will help. If your restriction is joint related, then there are probably better solutions. You’ll still benefit from doing loaded stretches though. AND it also helps you narrow down the options that caused your restriction in the first place as you can potentially rule out a restriction caused by tendons, muscles or fascia.

If none of the above works, I suggest you go see a professional with a solid reputation as this will probably lead to the quickest adaptations.

Thank you so much!! I’ll try and tell you

Interesting anecdotes about flexing the antagonist as I’ve found that while PNF-stretching alone is very effective I’ve derived even greater results when I finish a PNF stretch by flexing the antagonist forcefully while trying to relax the agonist.

For instance, doing a seated pike stretch. After a relax-contract-relax I’ll try and lift my feet into the air making active use of my “newly gained” flexibility.

Yes, using the antagonist in an active stretch actually works to increase your flexibility in the agonist muscle because overtime it causes neurological adaptations in the length-tension relationship of those two muscle groups.

I’m a little short on time at the moment but do some research on (long) isometric contractions and their impact on muscle relaxation. It has something to do with muscle fiber fatigue but also with imroved elasticity of the muscle tendons that makes isometric contractions so effective as a mobilization protocol.