Athletic Performance: Dorsiflexion - Furthering the Flex

There is no wrong movement. There is lack of preparation and lack of awareness.
— Ido Portal


BY: Jason Harrell

Last week we touched on how improved ankle mobility and dorsiflexion make all of your training and daily movements better. Before we get the meat and potatoes today lets recap some: 

  • Your ankle is mechanically designed to be more mobile
  • If your ankle does not have the prerequisite mobility to perform a motion that you are trying to do than the body will find that range from a different joint (more than likely a joint designed to be more stable)
  • Locked ankles wreak havoc on the rest of the body (knees, hips, lumbar spine)
  • Performing a baseline dorsiflexion assessment

Now that we have recapped,  lets talk about how to make your ankles movement-ready and primed for every motion you want them to do. Enter PAILs (Progressive Angular Isometric Loading) and RAILs (Regressive Angular Isometric Loading). PAILs and RAILs are a different and more advanced way to work with your ankle dorsiflexion and expand the range of motion (ROM) in the ankle joint. Not only will PAILs and RAILs expandyour ROM, but they will also strengthen your now expanded range because your central nervous system now sees it as “safe”. Essentially,  your brain removes a neural roadblock andallows you to get further down the mobility road. Translation: greater ROM leads to stronger ROM, and better movement in that ROM. Say hello to stronger squats, lunges, sprints, park time with kids or weekend warrior awesomeness. 



We begin PAILs and RAILsfrom the same position we assessed ankle dorsiflexion: half-kneeling. Follow through to the previous week’s post if you need a refresher on the set up.

Get yourself into the half kneeling position with your hand pushing against the wall. Once in that position, find a passive stretch and hold it for 30 seconds. 

We begin the PAILs contraction. Begin byslowly pushinginto the floor through your heel and balls of your feet. Rate the pressure you place on your foot from 0 to 100slowly building up to 100% contraction (20%, 40%, 60%,…). Once you get to 100% and you have tension throughout your whole body, hold it for 10 seconds. 

, After the 10 second PAIL contraction, you will move into RAILs.  Think about pulling your toes up to your shin and your shin down to your foot for 10 seconds to get into the contraction. It’s important to note that after the RAILs contraction not to just fall out of the position you’re in. After the 10 seconds, relax your whole body into the new stretch for a minute or two to allow the new adaptation to set in and let your body get used to the new position. It’s equally important to note that completing these correctly is difficult…so be patient, breathe, and try to enjoy the ride. 


There are variations of PAILs and RAILs for every joint in the body. Think about it…there’s a way to increase ROM, strength, and endurance in a joint, while also decreasing probability ofinjury/ re-injury as well as overall daily joint and muscle pain. 


Strength is journey. Enjoy the ride. 


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