Part 4 will deal with ankle mobility and the structures in the ankle and foot.
Restriction: Ankle mobility
Rowing fault: Poor compression, splayed legs at the catch, poor leg drive at the catch from being in an unstable position
Explanation: Poor ankle mobility results from muscles of the lower leg, including the calf muscles of the soleus and gastrocnemius, and the tibialis anterior and posterior, and even the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a sheet of connective tissue covering the muscles on the bottom of the foot. Any or all of these tissues can become restricted to result in poor mobility of the ankle, which will limit the rowers’ ability to get to full compression without another fault at the catch. Rowers with restricted ankles may splay their legs at the catch, lift excessively from the heels, or round at the lumbar spine (posterior pelvic tilt) to compensate for the lack of ankle mobility. Knee pain, ankle pain, and shin splints can result from restricted muscles of the lower leg.
In a seated position with one leg outstretched, begin by foam rolling the calf muscles one leg at a time, covering both the middle portion (gastrocnemius) of the calves as well as the outer portion (soleus). Go slowly and methodically. If this is too easy, place one leg on top of the other to add pressure to the bottom leg receiving the manual therapy. Once you have made several broad strokes over the calves, use a tennis/lacrosse ball to go through again and search for trigger points. Work from the base of the ankle all the way to the top of the lower leg, sitting on each painful point for at least 30 seconds. You may then do the same on the tibialis anterior, the large muscle running along the shinbone. Use only the tennis/lacrosse ball, not the foam roller, and be careful not to roll along the shinbone. Sitting in a chair or on a bench, place the ball under one foot (no shoes, bare feet or socks for this part) to roll the plantar fascia. Apply pressure as necessary, just roll over the area. This is great to do while on the computer, watching TV, etc. Once repeated for both sides, move to dynamic stretching for the ankles as shown in the video. Make sure to keep your weight on the heel throughout the movement. After dynamic stretching, try to sit in the “third world squat” for 2-3 minutes. This will be difficult for many on the first attempt, but this is great to do for full ankle range of motion.
Watch the Video
The calves tend to need more loosening than strengthening. However, the gold standard for calf function is 10 full range unilateral calf raises with a 1-2 second hold at the top and minimal external support. This is a great exercise to do while waiting in line at the grocery store, talking on the phone, etc., and can be easily worked in to a daily regimen if so desired. Squats, deadlifts, and rowing training will strengthen the calves as well.
In order to enact significant, lasting change, a dedicated comprehensive program that involves all modalities is critical. I recommend focusing on one problem area at a time, at least one 10-15 minute session per day. Spending 20 minutes a day working on mobility for 2-3 weeks while watching a TV show, for instance, is a great way to progress toward full function. Foam roll, perform self-manual release on specific trigger points, and stretch, then make sure to perform additional strengthening exercises while implementing proper form into your rowing and erging training. Once full function is achieved, daily maintenance is simply performing daily activities from that now-strong position that your body can now adopt as normal positions.