it seems almost counter-intuitive for physios, but having stiff ankles will help sport performance
Here is why
In any sport where you are on your feet, from table tennis to grid iron, the ankles/feet are the first point of contact to the ground. They are essential for force production, and absorption.
Don’t get me wrong, flexibility isn’t bad. You need good dorsiflexion to accelerate and decelerate.
Every time you take a stride while running (and even walking) your body produces ground reaction forces (GRF). Every action has an equal and opposite reaction (Newton’s 3rd Law). The faster you go, the more GRF. The moment you hit the ground, your lower limbs (starting with the ankles) need to absorb this force, and direct into back into the ground in a split second to allow you to take the next stride.
This means that an ankle that is floppy will ‘bleed’ force rather than allowing it to help propel you forward. Ergo, a less efficient athlete.
If you ever want to see this in action, try running on the beach (unstable surface), vs running on concrete. On concrete the force production/absorbtion is much more efficent vs on the beach where you bleed force every which way.
A 2017 study found that in 6 male elite sprinters, as their speed increased, so did their ankle stiffness, GRF, and stride length. There is a clear link between ankle stiffness, and speed. (Naghara and Zushi 2017)
This is where things like POGO’s, skips, and other plyometric exercises come into play. Training the ankle to be stiff on landing and toe off can help sport performance.
By Jay (Physio)