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Overreactions to Good Generalalities…Dorsiflexion | Boddicker Performance

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Overreactions to Good Generalalities…Dorsiflexion

by on May 19th, 2010

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Last week I wrote a bit about the overreaction to the “core stability” issue, today I’ll talk a bit about the idea of dorsiflexing whilst running.  For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, this is in relation to the idea that many strength and conditioning coaches cue athletes to dorsiflex your ankle during sprinting.  While it sounds nice and gives a coach a reason to stand there, does it even matter and if yes, why?

A common answer is one I pulled from a conversation that went like this: “The simplest explanation is that dorsiflexing the foot puts the gastroc on stretch in anticipation of producing ground force. I tell them it is like stretching a rubber band in order to make it shoot farther.”

While it sounds nice in theory, does it really work that way?  I’m not so sure.

While I think that’s a reasonable answer, I think too much has been made of this cuing dorsiflexion idea.  Sure, you don’t want an athlete’s foot to be drooping or pointing down, but people have taken a good general recommendation too far (like Joint-by-joint concept that suggests lumbar stability so any motion at said segment must be bad during all activities, right?) and have come to the conclusion that dorsiflexion is all that should happen at the ankle during sprinting or that it should be cortically controlled by telling the athlete to “add the toe back to the body quickly.”

Certainly, inadequate dorsiflexion results in premature ground contact and negative horizontal velocities (braking forces) that needs correction, but we as coaches need to realize that it’s not black and white and athletes are probably initiating plantar flexion before ground contact.  Perhaps they don’t get all the way out of dorsiflexion, but the direction is there and telling an athlete to maintain dorsiflexion into ground contact will be deleterious and likely impossible.

Nigg’s work suggests and Bosch speaks frequently about the concept of “muscle tuning” and “pretension” prior to ground contact to enable appropriate elastic loading of the triceps surae and deceleration of excessive vertical forces (Nigg) and potentially other structures like the IT Band, hamstrings group, and abdomnial wall.  We’re missing the boat as to how reactivity develops.  Thus, with respect to the dorsiflexion debate, I’m not sure that dorsiflexion is what matters, especially conscientious dorsiflexion in most circumstances.  Muscle tuning is going to happen in successful run performances, and it occurs far too quickly to be under cortical control.


Carson Boddicker

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Leave a Comment »4 Comments
  • Steve Mackel May 19, 2010

    I understand the concept of dorsiflexion to pre=load the stretch response but it also sets up a heel strike, for most people, which I believe creates additional impact and braking forces. I would also have to ask if we are talking about sprinting or long distance running. And, what level runner are we talking about. I coach a lot of beginner and intermediate runners and i notice that as most people’s legs swing through they are already dorisflexed.

    I am a ChiRunning® coach so I believe in and teach mid-foot landing. I know there are many camps in this debate. I also agree with you last statement and would go one farther, conscientious dorsiflexion takes a lot of energy that may be better used keeping sound postural alignment and relaxing into your effort.

    I think as coaches we would be better working with our athletes on speeding up their cadence than worrying about conscientious dorsiflexion. I know I have seen remarkable results teaching cadence.

    Good site, I’m glad I found it.

  • Doug Burns May 20, 2010


    With regard to the “Overreaction to Good Generalities” part of the title and the comment “but people have taken a good general recommendation too far (like Joint-by-joint concept that suggests lumbar stability so any motion at said segment must be bad during all activities, right?),” what would be some general examples of where a bit of lumbar flexion would be alright? Or is it simply a case of allowing a bit to happen when mostly unavoidable or unanticipated is one thing and fine, while in conscious training, we should work to avoid it so as to “save it,” if you will, for when we may need it in a largely unavoidable situation?

    I am perpetually confused on this one, because I have seem some who largely advocate avoiding it in training, and yet they will say they still may use a reverse crunch type movement in certain cases.

  • Carson Boddicker May 20, 2010


    One could argue that that pre-stretch actually impairs the SSC, while the pretensioning idea is what leads to the most efficient return of elastic energy.

    I agree with you that there are more efficient ways to move as a middle and long distance athlete. I think the best way to do this is to either change the thickeness and density of a shoe or at minimum wear a textured insert. The concept of barefooted running is also in harmony with the RNT principles of changing motor patterns.

    Carson Boddicker

  • Carson Boddicker May 20, 2010


    It’s a contentious issue and one that has left a lot of people confused. While training little to no motion around the lumbar spine is generally a good idea in the strength training world is a good idea, it doesn’t fully apply.

    Some instances when I’d actually allow lumbar flexion of significant degrees are toe touch progressions, and then to a lesser degree mutli-segmental rolling in supine to prone, ALSR patterning and the like.

    I don’t use reverse crunches simply because I think we can get an athlete stronger in better/safer positions and generally many of my runners have done so much of it in the past that their inner unit and rotational stability is suspect while their ability to move in that area is quite good.

    Carson Boddicker

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