- - Dorsiflexion: Why Does It Matter and How To Improve It

Dorsiflexion: Why Does It Matter and How To Improve It

Dorsiflexion is when the toes are pulled toward the shin. It is a critical portion of the ankle’s functional motions that can significantly impact the athletic performance of many activities like Running, Mountain biking, Nordic Skiing, and Strength Training.

If the knee cannot easily pass the toes, we compensate by finding the path of least resistance. This usually happens with overpronation. The main results are decreased efficiency, balance issues, a higher risk of injury at the knee and hip, calf and Achilles pain, anterior ankle impingement, and posterior tibialis overuse, only to mention a few.


  • Tightness and restrictions in the calf muscles 
  • Minor injuries like a slight ankle sprain to major surgery can cause scar tissue formation that will impact the ligaments’ mobility in the area, thus affecting dorsiflexion. 
  • Continuing to train before an injury fully heals can cause the joint capsule to tighten and further limit dorsiflexion.
  • Also, the shoes we wear and how we hold our feet throughout the day (when sitting at a desk, for example) can significantly impact the length and tightness of the calf muscles, thus impacting dorsiflexion     mobility. 


Dorsiflexion’s usual range of motion is “0- 17 degrees non-weight-bearing and 7-35 degrees weight-bearing”. A more straightforward way to think about it is that your knee needs to pass your toes by at least 5 inches (or 12 cm) to be considered normal.

Place a ruler on the floor against the wall. Place your foot next to it and lunge the knee toward the wall. Find the farthest placement where the knee touches the wall before the heel wants to lift off the floor. Take notes of your results and track them over time.

Anterior pain during the test indicates joint restriction, and posterior discomfort indicates soft tissue tension. 

If motion limitation, it’s essential to improve dorsiflexion with exercises and stretches.


Proper dorsiflexion and ankle mobility are essential for everyone: being a joint at the base of our stance, lack of mobility will negatively impact our posture and stability throughout our daily routines. It can cause issues like knee and back pain and loss of balance. It is important to maintain proper mobility for optimal well-being. 

But let’s take a more in-depth look at a few disciplines that are particularly impacted:

Strength and mobility training: the lack of dorsiflexion mobility during a squat, results in a forward lean compensation or a valgus drop of the knee, which causes the center of gravity to shift. The result is additional pressure on the back, neck, and knees. It also diminishes the overall power output and muscle recruitment capacity, minimizing the effectiveness of your training. A few exercises where dorsiflexion is crucial involve squats, lunges, and jumps.

Running:  Not only is it fundamental for absorbing shock from the ground with each stride. It is also the key to your running speed. Dorsiflexion is crucial for proper running mechanics. Quick dorsiflexion upon recovery of the foot helps stretch the calf muscles that will be utilized when striking the ground. This results in greater power potential, improved ground contact time, increased turnover rate, and overall speed and efficiency.

MTB: Dorsiflexion plays a big role on descents when in attack position while cornering, pumping, etc. Lack of dorsiflexion impedes an aggressive stance on the pedals and diminishes stability and power.

Nordic Skiing: adequate dorsiflexion allows for shin angles which are crucial for proper body position in classic and skating techniques. It will enable greater balance and muscle recruitment which turn into more power and a natural acceleration of the ski down the track


1. Self-myofascial release:

Using a dumbbell, kettlebell, or foam roller: place it just above your Achilles tendon and roll the lower portion of the calf. Stop and lean into any trigger point you find. Do this for 1-2 minutes on each side. Then in the same position, pull your toes toward you 20 times each leg.

2. Resistance band ankle stretch:

Firmly secure a resistance band to an object behind you or hold it with your other foot. Place the band below the front ankle joint and lean forward. You can add pressure or a weight on the knee for a deeper stretch. Rock slightly back and forth. 60 sec per side.

3. Later tibia glide mobilization:

 Using a PVC pipe or stick:

  • Place it on the outside of your pinky toe.
  • Get your knee on the other side of the pipe and lunge forward while keeping your whole foot on the floor.
  • Hold for a couple of seconds and repeat about 30 times on each side.

4. Toes, plantar fascia stretch with ankle dorsiflexion

In front of the wall:

  • Place your toes on the wall with your heel down, where you feel a stretch of your plantar fascia.
  • Lean with the knee toward the wall and hold for 2 sec, then back to a straight leg and hold for 2 sec.
  • Repeat 30 times on each side.

5. Elevated-toes half-squat

Place the balls of your feet on top of a weight plate or book. Squat down to feel the stretch on your calves. Hold for 5-10 sec, then repeat 20-30 times.


Finally, here’s a drill to practice dorsiflexion muscle activation for running. 

Find a wall or fence for balance. The key here is to start in a good dorsiflexion position. Leg down to “claw” the ground with your foot, then quickly back up, recovering the dorsiflexed foot. You can add arm movement for coordination. Here, think about leading the arm motion with the elbow.



About the Author:Anna Ceruti is a lifelong athlete with a passion for the mountains and helping to facilitate each of her athletes to define and pursue their goals by providing the tools and knowledge necessary for self-actualization, confidence, and success at any level. Anna is a certified Nordic Ski Instructor and Coach and nutritionist. She teaches Cross Country Skiing, leads clinics, trains skiers, triathletes, endurance athletes, and is Nordic Coach for the Mammoth Nordic Racing Team. To schedule a free call with Coach Anna, click HERE,

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