Ways to improve the dorsiflexion and plantarflexion action of the foot.
Les Archer explains some exercises that will help to reduce your foot/ground contact time and improve your speed
It is a well-known fact that the dorsiflexion and plantarflexion action of the foot is a characteristic of sprinters. To improve on the working capacity of the tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus, peroneus longus, soleus and gastrocnemius that does most of this work they have to be strengthened and have a greater capacity to apply force faster.
The dorsiflexion action is not merely a lift of the toes, but a lifting of the front part of the foot. The plantar flexion action is not just a downward movement of the foot; it has to be done in such a manner that it applies maximum force against the ground in the shortest possible time.
We are trying to reduce the athlete's ground contact time and thus help improve speed. The more time you spend on the ground applying force the longer it takes, and time is not something that a sprinter has plenty of during a race.
The following are just a few ways to improve on this:
Seated foot up
3 to 4 sets of 30 lifts per foot at a varied pace.
Standing foot lifts
3 to 4 sets of 30 lifts per foot. As balance plays a role here, it can also help improve your stability. Make sure your toes 'flip' upwards every time your foot leaves the ground. Do this at varied speed.
Walking with foot lifts (small steps)
Every time you lift your foot up moving forward, make sure you lift your foot and land on the front part of your foot. Throughout this exercise, you stay on your toes. Walk distances of 15 to 20 metres, 3 to 4 repetitions. Once the skill has been mastered, walk faster with every training session. Keep your knees stiff. Once the athlete has mastered it, do the same in a speed ladder.
Jogging with foot lifts (small steps to long steps)
Do this with stiff knees and "pulling" with the hamstrings and calf muscles to move forward. Dorsiflex the foot every time it lifts off the ground to take another step. Do 3 to 4 reps over distances ranging from 15 to 35 metres. It should also be done in the speed ladder.
This is a very common training method that will enhance dorsiflexion and plantar flexion. Important to note that the foot lifts every time it leaves the ground. Start with 30 touchdowns and work it up to 100. It can also be done against time.
Short jumps (static or dynamic forward movement, mini hurdles)
Do 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 20 jumps and lift the feet after every touchdown. Dynamic jumps - work from 15 to 35 metres with the same action. IMPORTANT: Try not to bend the knees too much as this will only slow the action down.
The above exercises are just a few thoughts. It is however important for sprinters to do this type of training at least twice per week in the general preparation phase and once per week during the specific preparation phase.
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About the Author
Les Archer is a track and field coach in South Africa with experience from schools to the Olympics specialising in sprints and long jump. He is also the current strength and conditioning coach for the Golden Lions rugby union in South Africa.