Stop Fighting the Water! Part 5

Start using your feet: How to work on ankle flexibility

Today I’m going to talk a bit about how to improve your ankle flexibility and eventually your overall propulsion from your kick. One of swimming’s unique aspects is that the arms contribute 70%-80% of propulsion, while the legs produce the rest despite their greater strength. Propulsion from the legs is incredibly dependent on the flexibility of your ankle. The foot must be able to pivot freely as the legs kick up and down. This flexibility in the ankle allows for a greater amount of force to be applied through the surface of the foot to the water. Ankle flexibility does not come naturally however and the power of the legs is often under-utilized as a result.

Without ankle stretching the typical swimmer’s ankle flexibility is often below 60 degrees. To fully utilize the legs in swimming, top athletes often achieve over 90 degrees of flexibility [See Chart Below]. Luckily there are a few simple ways to begin stretching your ankles and building ankle flexibility. None of them take very long, just a bit of commitment and consistency everyday during training to see real results:

  • Simply sitting down on a floor or mat and pointing your toes 10-15 times every day is a simple way to begin loosening up your ankle muscles. Go Swim has an excellent video demonstrating this stretching method.
  • Still not getting enough from your kick? Try sitting down on a mat with your buttocks on top of your heels. Slowly and carefully lean back, raising your knees up off the mat. You should begin to feel a stretch on the front of your ankles. This stretch applies much more force to your ankles than the previous stretch so be careful and take it slowly.

One tool that can be used to work on ankle flexibility is the Rack. The Rack will provide you with a bit more leverage allowing you to work towards higher degrees of flexibility.

In the water, Zoomers and Z2 fins are effective tools for loosening the ankles as well. The short, stiff blade of the fins force the swimmer to flex the ankle, gradually increasing the swimmer’s ankle flexibility and range.

- Paul