Yesterday I received an e-mail from my friend and colleague Brijesh Patel discussing the most ideal way to coach a footstrike in plyometric activities taking into account how the foot and ankle spring systems work. B wanted to know if there is any difference in between “landing on your arch” and a forefoot strike in the efficiency of the response. As is often the case, I think the answer is that “it depends” and, provided the “on your arch” cue doesn’t force the athlete’s COM too far back, I think we we can make an argument for either.
Forefoot landings offer many benefits, including a relative deloading of the patellofemoral joint, a forced eccentric contraction of the plantar flexors, and maybe a more sport-similar contact pattern. A flat-footed landing likely offers many of the same benefits, but there is theoretically less of an eccentric load placed upon the extensor mechanism.
What I think matters most, however, is the “tripping of the trigger” mechanism, which, provided appropriate mobility is available, should happen in both scenarios. Tripping the trigger is a idea that David Tiberio and Gary Gray have used to describe to the function of the subtalar joint. Upon ground contact, the subtalar joint everts forcing inversion of the midtarsal joints or vice versa in a forefoot landing, which creats a relative internal rotation of the tibia loading the extensor mechanism of the hip via iliotibial tract.
Aside from the hip extensor loading, the resultant inversion of midtarsal joint, subtalar eversion, and talocrural dorsiflexion facilitates elastic loading and proprioceptive facilitation of tibialis anterior, peroneal group, the two-joint gastrocnemius, and tibialis posterior. As many of these muscles have relatively short contractile tissues and very long tendons, we’re speaking of muscles that have great potential to store and release elastic energy.
The key to making this trigger work effectively is to ensure proper talocrural, subtalar, and midtarsal joint mobility as I have written about extensively in the Alleviating Ailing Ankles Part 1 and Part 2. Without proper mobility of the joints, there is little hope for an ideal utilization of the trigger. This holds true for those who lack subtalar motion into eversion whether they are individuals locked into inversion or the flat foot, locked into eversion athlete.
If we’re looking to teach good landing mechanics that utilize the foot’s trigger and elastic loading, I think we can benefit from teaching our athletes our early jumping and hopping progressions without footwear. Barefoot movement is relatively self limiting, and after an initial series of barefoot movement, the body tends to select the most effective pattern that spreads contact pressures and leads to a more natural foot strike that is probably best for elastic recoil.
What do you think?