Foot and Ankle Mechanics in the Single Leg Deadlift

Foot and Ankle Mechanics in the Single Leg Deadlift

I love single leg deadlifts.

strength development

I love airplaning and all it’s variations. I can never remember exactly which warrior variation this is in yoga (is it 3?) but I think it is great, ass-burny fun.

Let’s talk a bit more about ankle and foot mechanics during the single leg deadlift/airplane/warrior 3/whatever the heck you call it.

Decided to make some detailed, scientific graphics to illustrate today's concept. Behold, the airplane.

Decided to make some detailed, scientific graphics to illustrate today’s concept. Behold, the airplane.

 

Recently, I received this question in an email about how to perform the airplane exercise:

Q: “…I’m sure I read somewhere in Dance Stronger you keep your supporting leg bent? Or did I totally imagine that?”

 

M: There are two trains of thought, and both are proper, as long as your choice is deliberate and done with awareness 😉 You can do it with a slightly unlocked knee, OR with a straight, but not hyperextended knee. If you are going to do it with an unlocked knee you foot should move into a slightly pronated position, while still maintaining a tripod, and if you do with a straight knee, your foot should be supinated (or at least attempting supinate away from pronation), with an arch, definitely not pronated. Try both and see how they feel. 

A few hours later, the reply:

QIs it just a question of what feels better in your body or is there a reason why you would do one version over another?

 

MIt’s more like a question of how the foot and ankle coordinates with the knee dynamically in gait. In a single leg deadlift, as you go down, the foot and ankle should naturally pronate, and as you come up, should resupinate. So, bending the knee couples with pronation, and straightening the knee couples with supination. You want to respect that as much as possible in your training. So if you’re holding the airplane position with a straight leg, then you’ll want a supinated foot. If you’re holding the airplane with a slightly bent knee, you’ll want a slightly pronated foot, and if you’re realllyy bending your knee, you’ll want an even deeper pronation. If you’re doing the movement dynamically you should be able to move in and out of pronation and supination as your knee bends and straightens, respectively. 

These were not the instructions I included in Dance Stronger, but hey, if people want details, I’m into that. I’m really into that. I’m stoked this question came up- seeing as lower foot and ankle issues are a huge deal in dance, the more we can do to integrate their healthy movement into weight bearing exercises, the better.

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Did you know visual art was my lowest grade in high school? I don’t know why…

Trying to do a single leg deadlift with this focus on ankle and foot movement makes it feel INSANE. Bring this into your yoga practice and it will rock your world. Notice what your feet are doing during plies and you just might push a bit deeper down into a demi if you stop trying to control your arches from dropping.

By holding a pronated foot I don’t mean rolling completely to the inside letting the outer edge come off the floor- this would actually be an everted foot, I mean a “relatively pronated tripod”. And the same goes for supination. To supinate does not mean to roll all the way to the outside edge of the foot letting the ball of the big toe come off (that would be an inverted foot). We want an adaptable tripod, not a chunk.

This is why it’s useful to see people move without shoes on. At the gym/clinic I train at, nearly all of the clients I get as referrals from physio have orthotics. Orthotics for high arches, orthotics to support flat arches. What if you started treating your foot like the rest of your body and trained it to move better? Imagine if we all walked around with powerlifting belts on because we needed more “core support”- an ab orthotic. Just do the dang work, and if you still need the orthotic for your feet, or your abs, or whatever it is you are trying to control, it’ll be there for you.

My two cents for today. Tune into your feet on your single leg deadlifting/airplaning, and other activities, and see how an adaptive foot changes things for you.

 

Pronation Isn’t Bad

Pronation Isn’t Bad

Very quick post today, and it’s about ankles and feet.

First, check out these two videos. In particular, check out her front (left) foot/ankle as she performs a split squat. What do you see in the before vs. after?

Well?

I hope you saw what I saw: A big change in the control of her pronation. Rather, an improvement in her ability to limit excessive pronation on the descent, and then successfully re-supinate as she came up.

Just FYI, pronation isn’t bad. You need it for shock absorption. You need it when you dance as a part of turn-out.

In fact, to extend your hips and activate your glutes you need to be able to pronate so that you can then re-supinate, driving hip extension from the ground up.

Much like you need sadness to perceive happiness, darkness to perceive light, you need pronation to perceive re-supination and to extend your hips. Yin and yang baby.

You don’t need orthotics to prevent your foot from pronating (well, sometimes, maybe. But it’s not a long-term solution).

You’re better off working on motor control and training yourself to become an orthotic.

Pronation can become problematic when it happens at the wrong time, in excess, and gets stuck there at rest.

By the same token, anterior tilt isn’t bad. Lumbar hyper-extension isn’t bad. They are  necessary movements for dance and for life.

But they can be troublesome if you’re stuck in one of those positions, or they happen at the inappropriate time. Does your lower back hyperextend doing a sit up? That’s not supposed to happen… But it might if you’re like me, and some other dancers who are stuck in ineffective extension patterns.

Thank you, back-bends and chest breathing.

The time between the first and second videos was about 5-10 minutes. What did we do in that time?

An Anatomy in Motion inspired exercise that looked something (but not exactly) like this:

And we used an AiM wedge under the lateral part of her left foot to coax it to re-supinate at the appropriate time.

How can this help her dancing?

Proper control of pronation and re-supination means glute activation and hip extension will happen at the right times.

For this particular dancer, it means that she’ll be able to save her back by extending at the hip instead of her spine in excess.

It means she’ll have better arch strength and probably be able to point her feet better.

Being able to activate her glutes at the right time means her sore, tight hamstring will be able to relax and feel better.

And one of her main goals for working with me, improving ankle stability for better balance, is likely to become more solid too.

We have a lot of work to do yet, but not bad for a 10 minute experiment, eh?

I’m not an AiM practitoner, but I’ve been playing around with Gary Ward’s concepts, and having some pretty cool results. What happens at the foot is kind of a big deal. If you can find an AiM person near you, I highly recommend it.

The main take-away?

Be aware that pronation isn’t bad. If someone recommends you get orthotics to limit pronation, get a second opinion. Find someone who does AiM and they will teach you how to become your own orthotic.

What do you think?