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Inability to straighten legs, point toes

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Geoffrey Taucer

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I'm sure every coach has seen one or two kids who can't get their legs completely straight or their toes completely pointed. And I'm not talking about sloppy form; I'm talking about kids who are physically incable of getting their legs completely straight and their toes completely pointed.

I have one guy on my team like that right now. When he is just sitting in a pike, straightening his legs as hard as he can, they still aren't quite straight. And when he points his toes as hard as he can, to the point where his feet start to cramp, they still aren't completely pointed.

What causes this? Focusing on just the knees for a minute, is this due to a lack of hamstring flexibility? (He can go all the way down in all three splits) Are there some tendons/ligaments that are too tight? Is there some other thing I'm not thinking of concerning how his joints are structured?

More to the point, is there a solution? Is this a problem that can be fixed, or is he genetically doomed never to have perfect form?
 

ACoach78

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Feb 22, 2007
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My initial thoughts are a tight gastrocnemius combined with weak or inhibited hamstrings.

The gastrocs primary action is plantarflexion (pointing the toes). However, it's also a secondary knee flexor. Because it crosses two joints (ankle & knee), it can only act at one joint at a time. If it is tight and over-active such that it's acting at the knee, then it can't act at the ankle very well. This would inhibit plantarflexion while causing knee flexion.

Now, the primary knee flexors are the hamstrings. But, if they are weak and more importantly, inhibited (meaning they aren't firing right), then gastroc activation would probably be the compensatory mechanism that the body would default to for knee flexion.

This is just a best guess. The only real way to check on all of this would be to first get a manual muscle test to look for weakness/imbalances. Or, to get a more precise diagnosis, you'd need to test for strength using an isokinetic dynamometer with EMG to look for firing patterns.

In gymnastics, we're constantly stretching the hamstrings and eventually that weakens that muscle and more importantly - inhibits it neurally. In contrast, we're always pointing the toes and constantly activating the gastrocs. I'd bet money that if you tested the kid for dorsiflexion (flexed feet) range of motion, it'd be very low due to all of the toe-pointing or attempted toe-pointing.
 

ACoach78

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First of all, I'm making a pretty hefty assumption meaning that it could simply be bad genetics and more structural-based as opposed to functionally-based (i.e. inflexibilities, imbalances, etc.)

As far as a tight gastrocs or soleus (both are plantarflexors), work on ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. Here's a YouTube video that shows some ankle mobility drills.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxr9-IB0Rr4

This is where I'd start. Check out the video and see what you think.
 

Geoffrey Taucer

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Thanks. Video doesn't seem to be working on the gym computer, so I'll take a look when I get home.
 
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