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Ankle Flexiblity and Weightlifting Form

Posted: Tue Mar 13, 2012 10:38 pm UTC
by TheKrikkitWars
After a significant hiatus* from indoor training, I went back to the gym... Started with some stretching and then proceeded to begin my old weights regime and thankfully chose to go for a light weight** so I could check on my form. Went in to start with a clean and jerk as normal and could immediately feel it all on my back, so I started paying attention in the mirrors and it became clear that I wasn't putting my heels in contact with the ground and getting my back straight and locked; yet try as I might I could not get my ankles to flex sufficently to get low enough to start the lift with good form.

Two questions:
  1. Am I missing something fundimental here, is there a way of recievng the bar from the floor with good form without needing to get down very low.
  2. How can I go about building ankle flexibilty*** if that's what's needed to improve this?

Any help much apprecated

*About 18 months
** 10kg on a 20kg bar (about 65lbs) which given that it's about half what I used to lift as an average workout and I still regularly lift and carry 50kg beams at work shouldn't be that much of a struggle.
*** I'm a whitewater canoeist/canoe slalom paddler, so I'm training upwards of 15 hours a week kneeling in a boat with my feet fully pointed and pushed flat against the hull of the boat, it's not unknown for people to end up causing permenent ligament changes or damage within the sport.

Re: Ankle Flexiblity and Weightlifting Form

Posted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 2:19 am UTC
by Nath
Ankle flexibility is a limiting factor in how deep you squat when you rack the clean. It should not be a limiting factor at the start of the lift (when you are pulling off the floor), assuming you are setting up correctly. There's more than one school of thought, but most people set up with the bar over the base of the big toes, with shins relatively vertical. The shoulders are slightly forward of the bar. The back is straight and the torso is braced. You may need to do some mobility work to get into this position, but the limiting factor will probably be hamstring flexibility rather than ankle flexibility. Experimenting with stance width and angle may also help.

If you do need to improve ankle flexibility for the squat, my favorite stretch is to plant my heels on the floor, go into a deep squat, and place some weight on the top of the knee. A 25lb plate works, or you can just put the bar across both knees, and push down with your arms. Keep your feet pointed forward, push your knees out, weight on the heel, and just shift your weight from side to side, pushing and exploring. There are other ankle stretches you can do against a wall, but the weight-on-knee thing seems to work pretty well for weightlifting.

It would be helpful for you to record your set-up, so that we (and you) can see what's going on. Mirrors are often misleading, and looking at a mirror can change the dynamics of the lift, usually for the worse. If not a video, even a still photo would help.

Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert on Olympic lifting, though I've had a little coaching from people who know what they're doing.

Re: Ankle Flexiblity and Weightlifting Form

Posted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 5:24 pm UTC
by Samik
My suggested exercise sounds pretty similar to Nath's (assuming I've visualized his right).

I hurt my left achilles once in high school, pretty badly. At the time, I was a dumb kid and was pretty insistent on not ever going to the doctor for anything short of steak knife through the hand (actually happened). To this day, I don't know exactly what I did, except that I was literally hopping around on one foot for the better part of a month - it was that long before I could really even put any weight on it at all, and several months before I could really walk with a normal gait, let alone do any kind of strenuous physical activity.

That injury nagged me for years. Every time I got motivated to start running again, I would have to start out the first few times lightly jogging literally a quarter mile - not enough to even get my blood moving - because I knew anything else and it would start giving me trouble and I'd be out of commission for a few weeks again. If I was insanely slow and delicate with it, I could eventually work it up to the point where I could run or do as much as I wanted on it, but the first few weeks/months of any workout regimen required maddeningly slow progress.

In hindsight, I think that the gradual improvement every time I went through an active phase had more to do with the slight/moderate achilles stretch I got from the hamstring stretches I would do before every run, rather than any actual strengthening. I think this because a few years back I finally stumbled on a convenient, more effective achilles stretch (you know: the sort of thing that a doctor or physical therapist could have shown me day one if I'd just gone to the doctor at the time...), and since that discovery, my ankle is an utter non-issue. Since I started doing this stretch regularly (even when not in a workout phase), I haven't felt a peep from that ankle in a couple years now.

Essentially, you just find some place to put your toes, where your heel can hang off the edge (a stair step, a chair, anything), and just crouch forward until your chest is resting on that thigh (you probably won't be able to comfortably support your entire body weight on the one leg from this position at the start, so use your other foot and hands to provide a little balance/support). If your achilles are very inflexible, you'll be astonished at just how intense this stretch is at the start.

As with Nath's, you can work the stretch a little by shifting your weight more towards your knee, or back towards your heel, and leaning side to side a bit.

I think this is probably functionally very similar to Nath's exercise. Just that since you're using your body weight for the resistance, you can drop down and do it pretty much anywhere at a moment's notice (and have a pretty fair bit of weight to work with, even if you're pretty light). The obvious drawback being that you can only do one leg at a time.

Re: Ankle Flexiblity and Weightlifting Form

Posted: Thu Mar 15, 2012 6:59 pm UTC
by TheKrikkitWars
I think you hit the nail on the head, it's actually the hamstrings which are my problem, that's what I was trying to articulate but it took me a while to realise that ankle flexiblity is generally used for the opposite direction to the one in which I'm stuggling to flex.

I did think that getting video feedback would be helpful, but given how massively undersized the weight room I'm using is, I don't know that it would be possible to get a clear line of sight unfortunately. I'll bear your advice about mirrors in mind too, I did notice several of the more experienced users intentionally facing away from them.

Re: Ankle Flexiblity and Weightlifting Form

Posted: Thu Mar 15, 2012 8:35 pm UTC
by Nath
Ah. For hamstrings, I like the doorway stretch (easily Googlable).

If you can't take a video in the gym, it might still be helpful to take a picture elsewhere, setting up with a broom handle or something at mid-shin height.