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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

Your Gymnast’s Life is in Her Hands, Literally

Your Gymnast’s Life is In Her Hands. Your Gymnast Will Peel Off the Bar if She is Not Prepared.


Web-CassGiantsMay05SideViewI think we will have more gymnasts peeling off the bars in the first month back than ever before. Why? Because many gymnasts have not done any strength for their grip-hands and forearms.

They will likely have only done shaping and core conditioning. How many have actually done conditioning for grip strength? I’d guess almost none of them. It is not something that is stressed once a gymnast has been doing giants on bars for a long time. Hanging on the bar daily builds that strength, but most gymnasts do not have a bar to hang from at home.

Please keep in mind that a gymnast’s life is literally in their hands when swinging on the bars. If they peel off during a giant, or any skill for that matter, they can cause serious injury or even death. The tensile force on the hands, forearms, and the rest of the body during giants could be several times their body weight. Will they come back prepared to withstand that force? If they cannot hold heavy dumbbells without dropping them or hang on the bar for 30 seconds to one minute and have not been doing grip strength exercises or hanging conditioning they should not be doing giants the first week back in the gym.

And be extremely careful in the straps too. Swinging in the straps creates even more tensile force because of the speed of the giants and circle skills. Gymnasts can cause tears in the soft tissue of their shoulders and the rest of their upper body.

Please keep your gymnast’s safety in mind when asking them to perform giants or any of their old skills for the first time in several months. Coaches must take the time to rebuild strength, power, flexibility, and confidence before asking gymnasts to perform familiar skills or learn new skills.

Each gymnast is an individual. Some will take longer to regain what they may have lost and others will come back well-conditioned and ready to perform skills more quickly. Ask your gymnasts what they did at home to stay in shape, watch their energy levels, and evaluate their strength the first week so they progress at a steady and safe pace.

Many will try to do too much too soon and we will see overuse injuries, more than in previous years, if we are not careful with the training.

Good luck with your return to the gym. Stay safe and let me know how I can help you.

Grip Strength Ideas…

  • hang 30-60 seconds
  • pull-ups in varying hand grips and other bar conditioning without coming off bar for 30-60 seconds
  • squeeze tennis or other balls
  • ring towel
  • bicep curl in over and under grip
  • dumbbell wrist twist
  • dumbbell writs curls in every direction
  • grip / squeezing devices
  • fingertip or fist pushups
  • farmers walk or just holding heavy dumbbells for 30-60 seconds

Always keep safety in mind when training. Your safety is your personal responsibility.

Karen Goeller, CSCS, Consultant
www.BestSportsConditioning.com
Gymnastics Drills Book
Handstand Book

 

What Can Gymnasts Do at Home?

What can a gymnast really do at home?

tn_web-me-bulgsqtWell, every coach will say conditioning and stretching. I agree. Maintaining strength and flexibility is very important. The skills will be there if the gymnast continues to perform general strength and sport-specific conditioning through this difficult time. Nearly all gymnasts remember most of the conditioning they do in the gym, but they all have favorite exercises. It is important to perform a variety of exercises. If they have space, they should perform their entire pre-workout warm-up to help stay in shape. A good warm-up with stretching and shaping is at least 45 minutes.

Many gymnasts will need a higher than the desired volume of hip flexor conditioning. I bet many will grow during this time. The hip flexors play an important role in the gymnast’s training. They not only allow the gymnast to lift her leg very high, but they help with posture. And when the hip flexors are weak or tight, the gymnast may feel low back pain. That is because they basically connect the spine and femur. When the hip flexors are tight they actually pull on the spine into a lordosis position. And when they are weak they become stressed when the gymnast lifts her legs such as in a glide kip, kick, or leap. As a coach, I can tell when a gymnast has tight hip flexors by her posture; there is a slight bend at the hip while standing. A well-conditioned, well-stretched gymnast usually stands with no angle and the front of the hip.

20151129_153808To keep the hip flexors conditioned I recommend the pike-sitting leg lifts. The gymnast will sit in a pike position, place her hands next to her knees on the floor and then lift both legs. And for the stretch, I recommend the quad-psoas stretch. Kneeling lunge with one foot out front and hips pressed forward. The gymnast should also do this with the back leg bent and that foot facing the ceiling.

But there are other things that will be helpful. For example, balance drills and visualization. For balance, the gymnast can do simple exercises such as RDL and slow-motion needle kicks with and without light dumbbells. They can also perform arm routines with their eyes closed. The gymnast would stand in place and perform her beam routine with just her arm and head movements. That is for both visualization and balance. When that becomes simple, the gymnast can perform it in a passé leg position, one foot touching the inner side of the knee. The gymnast should do this drill with each leg because most gymnasts have a sharper sense of balance on one side. When this becomes simple, the gymnast can add very light ankle/writs weights to the wrists or hold 1lb dumbbells in each hand. And to bring it up one step as far as challenge, the gymnast can do this standing on a softer surface such as a Bosu or balance disc.

And finally, for a change maybe they can do the Legs Plus or Swing Set Fitness workouts. Many of the exercises in my swing workouts were actually gymnastics conditioning exercises my gymnasts have done using a barrel mat. The Legs Plus workouts are really good general fitness as well as dismount-landing and bars conditioning. My gymnastics drills and conditioning book is useful to all gymnasts as well.

So gymnasts should try really hard to stay in shape and keep their sanity. Athletes can use this time to get stronger and heal any aches and pains they may have had.

And let me know how I can help your gymnast.

The books and exercises mentioned can be found at http://www.KarenGoeller.com, http://www.GymnasticsDrills.com, http://www.LegsPlus.com, http://www.SwingWorkouts.com.

Karen Goeller, CSCS

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