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Revolution Conditioning Training Tip: Ankle Flexibility: The Forgotten Joint

Revolution Conditioning Training Tip: Ankle Flexibility: The Forgotten Joint

If your joints were characters in a fairytale (stick with me on this one), your hips would be Cinderella and your ankles would be the ugly stepsisters. The hips get all the attention and the poor ankles take the neglect until finally they get cranky enough to start meddling with your goaltending supremacy.

Let me try to explain myself out of this (rather weak) analogy. To do that I will simply ask you to think of the last time you did a stretch or strengthening exercise specifically for your hips. Now, when was the last time you did a stretch or strengthening exercise specifically for your ankle….hmmmmm.

The Ankle Joint

The ankle is a mortise and tenon joint – similar to what you would see in carpentry.  The bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula come down and actually extend along either side of the bones of the foot that make up the ankle.  This structure gives the ankle good range of motion when moving the foot up and down (dorsi-flexion and plantar-flexion), and allows for some movement side-to-side (inversion and eversion) but with bony limitations.  The ankle really is not designed to rotate at all – if your ankle is spinning, you are in trouble.

Now in addition to the bony structure, of course there are muscles, ligaments and tendons that help support the ankle.  Ever sprained your ankle?   Then you have damaged a tendon or two in there to some degree.

So, now that we know what the ankle should and should not do, let’s look at a four exercises you can add to your dryland goalie training that will improve the function and reduce the risk of injury to your ankle.

Ankle Exercises for Your Dryland Goalie Training

1. Active Dorsi-Flexion

I am imagine 99.9% of you have never thought about active dorsiflexion and how it relates to your dryland goalie training.  Am I right?

Active dorsi-flexion is the action where you bring your shin bone forward over the top of your foot by flexing at the ankle.  Without sufficient dorsiflexion your entire gait cycle is messed up.  You cannot roll forward over your foot, you need to compensate; typically by turning your foot outward which just sends the impact of this dysfunction up the kinetic chain to the knee, hip or back.

To see if you have sufficient ankle dorsiflexion, try the self-evaluation I have in the video below and see if you can still touch your knee to the wall when your toes are at least three inches away from the wall.  If you cannot do this, then you better add the active dorsiflexion exercise I show in the video to your off-ice training routine.  You can do this with or without using the cable column with great results. I will typically see dramatic improvements in only 7-10 days of daily mobilization.

If you have access to a cable column, then lower the pulley as close to the floor as you can get it and attach the ankle cuff so it is low on your ankle, right above your foot.  Then simply repeat the testing motion.  Keeping your foot pointing straight ahead and your heel flat on the floor, glide your knee forward over your toes as you perform active dorsiflexion.  You will likely see some big improvements in only 1-2 weeks of working on this.  Do it once daily for 20-30 repetitions – that will take about 30-60 seconds total.

2. Single Leg Static Balance

You might be surprised to know that I have trained elite players who cannot balance on one foot – do you think that may impact their ability to produce precise and powerful movements?  If you said ‘Yes’, you would be what I like to call ‘Right’.

So this exercise is so simple you may think that it is too easy, but try it anyway.  Stand on one foot, cross your arms over your chest so your hands rest on the opposite shoulders.  Now, can you hold your balance for 60 seconds without taking your hands off your shoulders or ‘travelling’ with your foot that is on the ground?  Oh yeah, if you find that you want to wrap your ‘free’ foot around the lower leg of your balancing foot – stop it right now – that is cheating.

If you cannot balance for 60 seconds without taking your hands off your shoulders or travelling with you balancing foot, then practice it once per day until you can.  It won’t take too long.

Need to make it harder?  Try closing one eye.   Need to make it way harder?  Try closing both eyes.  No kidding, that is what you are working toward; balancing for 60 seconds on one foot with your eyes closed and arms crossed. Here is a special note for the benefit of all the mothers and wives out there – please do not try this drill while standing in front of the china cabinet. Could have dire consequences.

3. Single Leg Dynamic Balance

Now that you have some static (stationary) balance, time to add a dynamic component.  For this off-ice drill you will stand on one foot and swing your other leg back and forth across your body – like when you do leg swings for warm up.  You are not allowed to hold on to anything for balance and your goal is to do 30 swings without losing your balance or travelling with your stabilizing foot.

Make sure your leg follows a path across the front of your body. Athletes in the Revolution Studio often try to turn it into a diagonal swing with more of a front-to-back component than a side-to-side movement.

This is actually a little sneaky because swinging your leg back and forth across your body actually moves your ankle through inversion and eversion as well, so it is a good mobility drill for those movements.

4. Box Hop & Stick

This final off-ice exercise will help with dynamic balance, quickness and movement control. To begin, mark out a square shape on the floor (do not use permanent marker on your Mom’s fine silk rugs – please!), it should measure approximately 18 inches square. My suggestion is to use masking tape or sidewalk chalk on the driveway, in the garage or in the basement.
Stand on one foot in the centre of the square and then as quickly as you can hop out of the square to your right and immediately back to the exact centre of the square.  Now, stick your balance and hold it for about 3 seconds.  Then, as quickly as you can hop out of the box backward and back in to the exact centre of the square, sticking the balance and holding for three seconds.  Continue around all sides of the square.

If you land back in the centre of the square, but lose your balance, battle to recover and then hold that balance for three seconds before making your next hop.

Can you see how this quick, precise acceleration and deceleration can help fine-tune your crease movements?  I hope so. This one will be a lower volume drill so you can maintain your quickness. Do two rotations in a counter clockwise direction on one foot and then do two rotations in a counter clockwise direction on the other leg. Then repeat in a clockwise direction for each leg.

Click on the video below to see demonstrations:

InGoal Columnist Maria Mountain is an expert trainer of hockey players, including Stanley Cup Champions. Learn more about working with her at

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About The Author

Maria Mountain M.Sc.

Hockey strength and conditioning coach Maria Mountain, MSc specializes in off-ice training for hockey goalies. As the founder of and the owner of Revolution Sport Conditioning in London, Ontario, Maria has trained Olympic Gold medalists, a Stanley Cup Champ and athletes from MLB, NHL, AHL, CHL, CIS and more. Try Maria's Goalie Stretch Solution today.