Have you ever seen someone squatting with a five-pound plate under their heels or using the Olympic lifting shoes that have a raised heel? Ankle mobility is just as important as hip mobility when it comes to getting deep in the squats. Most of us have done the basic gastrocnemius and Soleus stretches where you hold a static stretch for 30 seconds. This does work and is the traditional way of gaining mobility from a joint. Banded Heel Cord (BHC™) and Barbell Calf Smash™ are ideas that might have been around forever, however it was not until recently that studies have been coming out about them. Using bands to stretch is nothing new for anyone who has been in a gym. It is used as a way to passive static or PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretch by many people.
Have you ever hear of distracting a joint? This is the separation of joint surfaces without rupture of their binding ligaments and without displacement1 and when you use this while stretching, you’ll find yourself in a new world. This is a technique that should not just be performed without some prior knowledge of what you will be going. Unlike traditional static stretching, you can get hurt when you distract a joint while stretching. You are putting the joint in a dangerous position, meaning it is a little off of where is it most stable. You are not hurting the joint at all while doing this, keep that in mind. The “Banded Heel Cord” does this with the ankle to help get more of a stretch out of the calf muscles.
The Barbell Calf Smash is based on foam rolling, but with a barbell. While sitting on the ground, place one leg on the barbell. Rolling from base of the Achilles to a point just below the calf, with the opposite leg on top of the one on the barbell, actively rolled the bottom leg. Remember to continually rotate the foot inward and outward so that all of the tissues is lengthened. The study that will be mentioned said that the people would do this for two minutes, twice a week. This is not the same as a foam roller, so be ready for something new.
In the study “Examining Ways To Improve Ankle Mobility During The Overhead Squat Lift” by George Larson, goes over the Banded Heel Cord, Barbell Calf Smash, and traditional static stretching. Over six-week, a group of college athletes (44 female) worked on ankle mobility. Three groups were formed, Banded Heel Cord, Barbell Calf Smash, and traditional static stretching groups. Each group did their mobility training twice a week and only performed the exercise they were assigned. Before the six weeks started, each student-athletes was tested on torso angle, squat depth, shin angle, knee flare, foot width, & ankle eversion.
The results of this study are what you would think they should be, all three types of mobility training did work. The question is, which is better? Looking at the Ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, the traditional static stretching had an increase of an average of 10% (8% on right and 12% on left) after six weeks. On the other hand, Barbell Calf Smash had an average of 22% (24% on right and 20% on left) improvement. While the Banded Heel Cord had an average of 26.5% (24% on right and 29% on left) improvement. Right away we can already see that the traditional static stretching does not hold even close to the same results on the ankle joints mobility. The squat depth data showed just how important ankle mobility is for the squats. The traditional static stretching gave an average of a 2% increase in depth, however, Banded Heel Cord and Barbell Calf Smash blew that out of the water. Banded Heel Cord had an 8% improvement and the Barbell Calf Smash had an 11% improvement. It is important to point out that the shin angle, knee flare, foot width, ankle eversion & torso angle had shown no significant difference between the post measurements compared to prior to the six weeks.
So think about this for a second, you probably have spent countless hours foam rolling and stretching the muscles around the hips but not nearly the same amount on your ankles. All of this information might blow your mind because you never thought of the ankle joint being as important to hip mobility. Try the Banded Heel Cord and Barbell Calf Smash to see how they work. There will be videos below to help explain how to perform each. Remember that the study only had the student-athletes perform the mobility work twice a week for two minutes each leg. So do not overdo it, try this for the six weeks.
Check out the videos below!
Video from Calvin Dietz
Note: You can put your toes on a 25-pound plate while your heel stays on the ground to give more of a stretch.
Video from Linchpin Performance
Note: This is a lot harder then she makes it look.
- Larson, George. “Examining Ways To Improve Ankle Mobility During The Overhead Squat Lift.” (2014): 1-92. Http://udspace.udel.edu/. ProQuest, 2014. Web. 1 Feb. 2016. <link>.