How can ankle flexibility increase a rowers risk of low back pain?

The foot stretcher angle or ‘rake’ is over 30 degrees in the rowing boat – this means that a rower needs a free and easy range of ankle dorsi-flexion to be able to get to the catch with a vertical shin position.

A lack of ankle dorsi-flexion (knee over toe) motion will result in the knee not being able to progress to be above the ankle.  The rower then needs to create stroke length by ‘over-reaching’ from the hips and low back, this often result in the low back having to move into a curved position and it is this flexed position that has been linked to an increased incidence of low back pain.

One strategy that rowers with a lack of dorsi-flexion use is to flatten our the foot plate or reduce the ‘rake’.  This can allow the knee to progress over the ankle and reduce the risk of over-reaching from the spine BUT this foot plate position is not as ideal for generating backwards force.  A flattened foot plate results in a backwards force that has a more upwards component and this is detrimental to performance and boat speed.

A lack of ankle dorsi-flexion can be a result of the ankle joint structure (unchangeable) or a lack of short calf muscle / soleus muscle length.  The length of the soleus muscle can be improve with long hold stretching.  perform the stretch below for 2 minutes once per day for 2 weeks.  This usually results in an improvement that can allow the rower to increase the ‘rake’.


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