Ouch, Increasing my Plantar Flexion is NO Fun!

This is a guest post courtesy of Abbie Fish of RITTER Sports Performance. From qualifying for the Olympic Trials to working at USA Swimming’s headquarters, Abbie has been on all sides of swimming. Abbie is a stroke mechanics guru and believes anyone with the heart to train can benefit from technical advice!

Fun and easy are two adjectives that are used synonymously in our culture. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it won’t be fun or vice versa.

In last week’s blog post, we discussed how to increase our plantar flexion (and it most likely wasn’t “fun”). If you need to catch up on Part I, CLICK HERE.

If you read Part I and spent last week rolling out the muscles next to your shins—I want to hear from you! Did you notice a difference? Was it uncomfortable? Did your kicking improve?

To be clear, even though this is technically a “blog post”, I want to create discussions between us. At anytime, feel free to comment or question what I’m writing (nicely, of course) ? !

With that being said, let’s get onto Part II.

Last week, we established that plantar flexion is key for Freestyle kicking. It is actually the same for kicking in Backstroke too. But, how much plantar flexion is needed when we kick? Does running improve or inhibit our ability to plantar flex? Let’s get YOU the answers!

kickpart2clipartFun Fact: Some of the world’s greatest swimmers can sit with their legs straight out (as if they’re stretching their hamstrings) and plantar flex their toes until their big toe hits the ground.
That’s super awesome, but is that needed? The short answer is no, especially if you’re a triathlete.

 

Plantar flexion is a great for swimming (and ballet), but for just about every other land sport—it is not. If you’re a runner and have too much plantar flexion, your ankles will become very unstable and your risk of injury increases drastically.

If all you do is swim, the more plantar flexion you have—the better off your kick will be. But, what’s the balance of the two?

As humans, most of us are born with about 50 degrees of plantar flexion. That is about equivalent to the picture shown below.

kickpart2footpic

A good test to check and see whether you have 50 degrees of plantar flexion is what I call the “Line Test”.

  1. Recruit a friend and give them your phone in camera mode.
  2. Ask them stand a few feet away from you.
  3. When you’re ready, stand on one foot (near something to balance, if necessary) and plantar flex the other foot (that’s in the air)–as far as you can.
  4. Have your friend take a picture of your foot at its’ furthest point of plantar flexion. Be sure to get the foot, ankle, and shin in the frame.
  5. Repeat on both sides.

When you upload these photos to your computer, if you can draw a straight line from your shin to your big toe without your foot crossing it—you have the proper amount of plantar flexion. If you are unable to draw a straight line, we need to get to work.

The ideal scenario is to have enough plantar flexion that we reduce drag from our kick in the pool AND keep our risk of injury low outside the pool. The easiest way to think of reducing drag in the pool is to keep the top of the foot “in line” with the respective lower leg when we are horizontal (instead of the foot being perpendicular). Not only does the line test check whether we have 50 degrees plantar flexion, but it also shows whether we have enough plantar flexion to keep the tops of our feet “in line” with our lower legs and therefore, reduce drag in the pool.

If you pass the line test with flying colors, you have achieved this feat. I would recommend performing the line test every few months to make sure your flexibility hasn’t changed.

I want everyone reading this post to have enough plantar flexion that they reduce their drag in the pool, but can continue on with their daily life outside the pool. Be sure to tune in next week for our last and final segment on Freestyle kick. We will conclude our discussion on plantar flexion and answer our final question: whether running and/or any other land activities impede our ability to plantar flex —I think you guys may already know the answer ?

Until next time,
-A. Fish

Want more from Abbie? Click here for 3 ways to Improve your Freestyle Catch.

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