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Feet Matter! Correct Over Pronation Now and Avoid Problems Later

Karen Goeller, CSCS

Pronation is the action of the foot as it roles inward upon foot contact with the ground. This action acts as a shock absorber for the foot and rest of the body. Over pronation occurs when a person’s foot rolls inward and their arch flattens while performing weight bearing tasks. The foot may appear normal while sitting, with a noticeable arch under the foot, but over pronation becomes evident when a person stands or walks. Even people with normal foot structure can develop over pronation as a result of excessive foot stress and improper arch support.  

There are many possible causes for over pronation including walking on hard surfaces for extended periods of time – either barefoot or with flat shoes, heredity, obesity, an imbalance between the posterior and anterior leg muscles, or tight gastrocnemius and soleus muscles among other causes.

Since over pronation causes the person to walk along the inner portion of the foot, this poor alignment may lead to injury in the foot and ankle among many other areas of the body. Problems such as heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, knee pain, back pain, and other medical issues can be the result of over pronation.

Gymnasts are at risk of over pronation because they train barefoot and often do not use proper landing mechanics. The over pronation becomes more of a problem when gymnasts either tumble or land with their feet in the over pronated position. If a gymnast is accustomed to standing or walking in the over pronated position, she will land from dismounts with the same poor foot alignment. The gymnast lands from some skills with a force of up to 16 times her body weight. Landing with such an immense force in an over pronated position, especially when it is on a daily basis, may cause severe damage to the gymnast’s body, ending her career.

There are various methods used to identify over pronation. One method is to look at a person’s shoes. If the shoes are more worn on the inside of the sole, then over pronation may be a problem. Another indicator would be to make a footprint by wetting the foot and stepping onto a towel or any surface where a print can clearly be seen. If there is no dry spot to specify the arch there may be a need for special foot care. The footprint may also be performed in a gymnastics facility by using chalk on the foot and stepping onto a clean mat.

One recommended form of treatment for over pronation is to wear supportive shoes, but the alignment problem should still be corrected for long term foot health. Because a gymnast trains barefoot, corrective exercises may be the best treatment besides wearing supportive shoes while not in the gym. There are many exercises that can help strengthen the foot and improve lower body alignment. Here is one simple conditioning exercise for the feet that can be performed with a towel.

Towel Pull: Place a towel flat on the floor. Keep the heels on the floor and place the toes on the edge of the towel. Next, pull the towel towards the body with the toes so that the towel gathers under the feet. Make sure the foot remains on floor as the toes pull the towel. This exercise may also be performed while sitting in a chair, but gymnasts will be able to relate the standing exercise to landing technique faster than the seated version of this exercise. Once the gymnast is able to perform several repetitions of this exercise, a small weight such as one pound may be placed on the towel.

It is imperative that coaches assign safe and effective exercises and teach proper landing mechanics in an attempt to prevent some injuries. Coaches must watch their gymnast’s feet, knees, hips, and posture closely during each landing performed, whether the landing is from a simple jump on floor or a dismount from bars. It is important to encourage gymnasts to keep their knees in line with their middle toes (where the shoe laces would be if they were wearing shoes) and hips upon foot contact with the mat.

One simple drill for landing mechanics and alignment involves the use of a mirror. The gymnast should stand in front of a mirror with her feet parallel to one another. The gymnast should then slightly shift her weight towards the inner and then outer portions of the feet while watching her knees shift laterally. This should only be a slight shift, but it will be the difference between a safe landing and an injury. This mirror drill will show the gymnast how the foot alignment greatly affects the entire lower body. The gymnast will see and feel the difference between proper and poor alignment. The ankles, knees, and hips must be in line with one another.

Another method of teaching proper alignment is a common exercise used in the fitness world, the Squat Exercise. The gymnast should perform the squat exercise without weights to learn the proper form before she uses light dumbbells. This exercise will help bring awareness of proper landing mechanics and once weights are used it will help her with lower body strength.

And finally, after the Squat Exercise is mastered, gymnasts should perform the “Stick Drill.” This drill involves dropping down from a spotting block or mat stack and landing in the proper squat position. Start with a low stack until gymnasts master the proper position. For best results, gymnasts should practice ¼, ½, and parallel squats. A gymnast must be able to stop the force somewhere between the ¼ and the parallel squat positions.

For safety and success, gymnasts must learn proper foot alignment and perform appropriate strength and sport specific conditioning exercises. And keep in mind that injuries are NOT necessarily part of the sport. Many aches, pains, and injuries may be prevented when the training program is carefully constructed and the athletes are carefully monitored.

One more important note: The gymnast should not perform these or any other drills, exercises, or skills if they feel pain, are ill or injured, or are being treated by a medical professional.

Karen Goeller, CSCS

More information on over-pronation at the below websites.

Education.Auburn.edu/news/2008/june/flipflop.html

Sportsinjuryclinic.net

PacificCollege.edu

Foot.com, DeerfieldFoot.com

Heel-that-pain.com

SportsMedicine.about.com

TheFreeLibrary.com

USAG Safety Manual Page 31

NSCA Performance Training Journal Volume 7, Issue 1 Landing Mechanics

Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning Exercises

Wikipedia.org Flip-flops, OurHealthNetwork.com Pronation

From 6 Inches to Split, 10 Minutes

I can’t believe the progress I had with one 14 year old gymnast yesterday.



Gymnasts must be able to do complete splits, 180 degrees. That’s a straight line from ankle to ankle. This photo is one of my gymnasts performing a split leap. It is better than the required 180 degrees a gymnast needs.

 A gymnast came to me for help with flexibility and other injuries. I asked her “stretch” on her own before we started. She spent about ten minutes stretching. I then asked her to show me her split on her less flexible side. She was about six inches from the floor. Her hamstrings had decent flexibility, but her hip flexors were very tight. To me it was obvious because her front leg was nearly all the way down, but the gap was between her upper thigh on her back leg and the floor. She was tilted forward.  

We then spent ten to fifteen minutes doing many variations of a hip flexor stretch seen here. I had her do the stretch with varying foot positions, leaning forward as seen here and upright. She said her coaches never allow them to do the stretch with their back leg up, but she said she always felt it more this way.

After that I asked her to try her split again. Her expression was priceless because she was able to go all the way down, 180 degrees for the first time in her life!!!  Why did it only take fifteen minutes to reach this success when it usually takes gymnasts several months to accomplish the same thing? The answer is simple. Many gymnasts are not actually stretching properly or they are not stretching the muscles they really need to stretch. They think doing a split will help the split, when in fact, it often will not. Wait, what? She said her coaches make her do “over-splits” for two minutes and it’s been that way for a really long time. Guess what, over splits do not really work.

You read that correctly. First, you must identify which muscles are tight. In her case it was the hip flexors, mainly the psoas muscle. Then, you must stretch that muscle individually. Stretch it slowly, in various positions, and in small increments.

The athlete and their muscles must be completely relaxed in order for any progress. This gymnast was happy the entire time that we were stretching. She felt the stretches, but no pain. After about ten minutes in the gym, her dad said “your voice sounds so soothing.” I just smiled and said there is no reason to yell or be angry.

Stressing an athlete out and making them hold one position for two minutes will not really do much for flexibility. And manually pressing on them while they are stressed can also cause problems such as locking muscles, reduced flexibility, and emotional trauma. Stretching an athlete to the point of tears is not necessary and it’s really abusive.

Once an athlete’s muscles lock up you not only prevent progress, you could be reducing flexibility, and causing injury. A gymnast’s skill performance may also decline as a result. Coaches want results and they want them fast, but why aren’t they listening to sports science? Unfortunately, many are just repeating what they did as gymnasts instead of doing their homework, going to clinics, and consulting with CSCS’s and physical therapists.

Let me know how I can help your team… Or check out www.GymnasticsDrills.com

Karen Goeller, CSCS
Gymnastics Coach 40+ years and CSCS
www.BestSportsConditioning.com
www.KarenGoeller.com

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