We are always looking for joints to be mobile enough to load force efficiently, and stable enough to use that force in an efficient manner.
Mobile & Stable
We are always looking for joints to be mobile enough to load force efficiently, and stable enough to use that force in an efficient manner. Every joint moves in a way to allow the efficient production and transfer of force. If a joint is lacking the appropriate mobility it will have trouble loading. If a joint is unstable, it will have trouble exploding. Both cases affect our performance and injury potential.
Mobility or Stability?
When we approach any movement problem it is helpful to know if it's primarily mobility based or stability based. Is the biggest limitation because they just can't move? Or is the biggest limitation because they don't feel stable? When looking at the foot and ankle, an unstable foot, can contribute to an immobile ankle, and vice versa. Here is a way to determine if your foot needs more strength, or more mobility. I learned about this from Dr. Emily Splichal's book, Barefoot Strong. Here is how I apply it to rowers.
Get your clients out of their shoes and socks and have them stand normally with their feet straight ahead and shoulder width apart. Take a picture from behind and look closely at what the feet are telling you.
Do they stand with the weight primarily centered on their feet? This is a neutral foot, exactly what we're looking for. This foot is able to load and explode without difficulty.
Do they tend to roll out to the outside of their feet? This is an immobile foot. This foot type has trouble loading because it's constantly in an exploded position. The primary focus here should be on addressing mobility. Here are some examples of how to work on this foot type. Note that once mobility has been addressed it is still important to apply strength and stability to this foot type. A lack of strength or stability may be the reason they're locked up in the first place!
Do they tend to drop in towards the inside of their feet? Do they have collapsed arches? This is an unstable or weak foot. This foot type has trouble exploding because it's constantly in the loaded position. The primary focus here, should be on addressing strength and stability of the foot. Here is a great video on how to address this foot type.
Note that these photos are exaggerated to give you an idea of what we are looking for. Most people will not be so extreme.
One foot may also be different than the other. One immobile, and one unstable.
If I have an immobile foot, I will address mobility first and follow up with stability/strength. If I have an unstable foot I will skip the mobility and go straight to strengthening.
Blake Gourley holds a Masters of Science in Sports Performance Training and has over 10 years of experience working with rowers. Read more