Peak Performance | Better Knees through Ankle and Hip Mobility

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, learn how to improve your knee health by increasing hip and ankle mobility.
Courtenay Schurman Courtenay Schurman
November 16, 2021
Peak Performance | Better Knees through Ankle and Hip Mobility

Knee pain is a common complaint among outdoor athletes of all ages. Knees function best when the hip and ankle joints move well throughout their entire range of motion. In other words, by improving mobility and strength at the joints above and below the knee, you will be less likely to experience knee discomfort as you age.

To get started, try incorporating the following six movements into your strength routine.

Backwards walking: Spend five minutes warming up by walking backwards on a flat surface, gentle uphill slope, or treadmill that is off. Work your feet through their entire range of motion. For added resistance, drag a sled or tire.

Anterior Tibialis raise: To train the muscles in the front of the lower legs that raise the toes, position your butt against a wall with both feet a foot or more in front of you. Pull your toes back towards your shins as far as possible, then return them to the floor. Build up to 25 repetitions. For an added challenge, pull your toes against a band or resistance ball.

Wall calf raise: To strengthen the gastrocnemius (chief muscle of the calf of the leg, which flexes the knee and foot) in the back of the lower leg, face the wall at arms-length. Walk your feet back as far from the wall as possible while touching the wall with both hands. Start with your heels flat on the ground. For 25 repetitions, raise your heels as high as possible, then return both heels to the floor. For more challenge, build up to doing 25 single-legged calf raises.

Soleus calf raise: The soleus is responsible for raising your heels in a bent-knee position. To train this muscle, lower into a semi-squat position, hands pressed against the wall. Maintain this position as you raise and lower your heels for 25 repetitions. For a greater challenge, squat lower or add a pack.

Patrick step: Stand on one foot, keeping your torso vertical. Pull your toes back and press the opposite heel toward the ground as far forward as possible. The working knee will track forward of your toes and you’ll feel a strong stretch through the ankle and knee. Complete five repetitions before switching sides. To add resistance, elevate your working leg up to six inches, hold weight, or keep your working heel elevated. Perform three sets of 5-10 repetitions per side.

ATG split squat: To stretch the psoas (hip flexors) and add functional strength throughout the entire leg, place one foot flat on a high bench (17-20 inches) and lunge forward as far as your current flexibility allows, hamstring lowering toward your calf. Keep your front foot flat on the bench. Maintain a vertical torso and straight back leg. Your back knee should not touch the ground. Pause for a second or two, then push back to standing with good posture. Repeat this movement five times. Once you’re able to reach full compression with the back of your leg touching the ankle with your torso vertical and back leg straight, lower the step several inches at a time until you can perform these on the floor. To add resistance, hold a weight or use a pack. Perform three sets of 5-10 repetitions per side.

Include these exercises in your exercise program two to three times per week to increase your ankle mobility, hip mobility, and knee strength. May your fall adventures be free of knee pain.

Sequencing and progression of these exercises courtesy of Ben Patrick, @KneesOverToesGuy. For more alpine training tips and exercises visit For motivational strategies on getting unstuck and moving forward, subscribe to Courtenay Schurman’s new free weekly blog at

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2021 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our  magazine archive.

Lead image of Brooke Schurman performing an ATG split squat on a 17” box. Photo by Courtenay Schurman.

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