Foot injuries can occur when playing sports but a shoe or cleat can often protect the foot from injury. Some sports, like gymnastics, are performed barefoot. Gymnasts have extra demands placed on the small muscles of the foot as they are not getting the support of a shoe. When training barefoot, there is an increased demand of the muscles in the foot and lower leg. These muscles will help to stabilize the foot and ankle which may reduce the risk of ankle sprains or injuries higher up the leg such as in the knee or hip. How can gymnasts help prevent injury when training barefoot? Here are some ways gymnasts can strengthen their foot muscles to improve their performance.
Toe yoga helps to activate the small muscles within the foot and the toes.
Try to prevent the ankle and knee from rocking side to side as you lift the toes. This exercise can feel like it takes a lot of thinking as we are re-training and isolating muscles that do not get a lot of attention; take your time and keep trying. As it becomes easier, try to perform in standing or alternating between lifting big toe and small toes.
Single leg balance is a huge component of strength and proprioception (sense of self-movement and body position) of the foot and ankle. Try performing balance without shoes on. Below are some variations that can increase the challenge:
This helps to gain strength and endurance for walking on the balance beam and helps with push off for floor and vault.
We want to make sure to strengthen the ankle in all four directions the ankle can move – up, down, in, and out. Resistance bands come in different levels of resistance so make sure to select the appropriate difficulty for where you are starting. It is important to perform these strengthening exercises with control instead of speed. Try to perform 20-30 reps each direction.
For an added challenge, try to perform the pushing down motion with your toes curled. This motion will have four steps 1. Curl toes into band 2. Point the whole foot and ankle down 3. Return ankle to starting position while keeping toes curled 4. Relax toes. This helps to isolate ankle and foot muscles and specifically those in the arch of your foot.
Training barefoot can help all athletes but it is especially important for sports that do not wear shoes such as gymnastics. Try adding these exercises into your training routine and see if you notice a difference. If you are looking for a more individualized program for a gymnastics injury, you can find an Athletico gymnastics program member near you today.
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