Foot Function- Innovations in Hurdling

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…Like when he huddled with Beckett and told the righty that putting too much weight on the toes of his back foot causes him to lean toward third, witches forces him to throw back across his body and miss outside.

-ESPN the Magazine on Sandy Koufax

In 1987 technology in pressure profiling the foot was started to reduce injuries, based on the innovations in 1977 with Nicol. Fast forward to 2009, the Fins outdid themselves with their presentation at the XIX IMEKO World Congress Fundamental and Applied Metrology. So what is so important with pressure profiling the foot with elite sport, specifically hurdling? Perhaps it’s the reason why style has substance in regards to technique in hurdling. Much of the interpretations of elite athletes with technique seems like more expression of the constraints of the event rather than adopted techniques of others. While some technique is adopted by the athlete from watching others and instruction of a coach, why are they more prone to have different trail leg functions? Why are some athletes of similar speeds and heights have different take off techniques? So many variables are present, but foot function is a major influence in mechanics of the lower extremity and even shoulder and elbow. Look at the video of Eric Cressey and what his pitching coach is doing with his prize pupil, Tim Collins. While it’s good to make conjectures of off personal video, best practices with analysis and data capture are still embryonic with professional in medical and performance realms. I am seeing a growing interest in foot function with videos from 8weeks out, but the key is to look back at the history of what we have done and start building better approaches to make clinical and performance changes without resorting to white coat problems like hemorrhaging time or overdosing information to athletes and creating stiff robots.

Currently right now many teams are not doing pressure mapping fused with EMG, motion capture, and video analysis. Some are doing one or two, but all of the data tells a much different story. Then we have the physiological monitoring such as power monitoring, Tensiomyography HRV, and saliva/blood/urine testing. All of this data on paper looks like a major burden that may be neat for research but differently not practical for teams. Right? Not so. The issue we are facing right now is that sport science may be changing as we speak. One of the issues we see is that the data on athletes is that the equipment is in a lab and controlled by the sport scientist. Now we are seeing lab equipment in the hands of medical and performance staff that is consumer friendly. Meaning the equipment is quick, simple, and easy to use. Sometimes when it’s good enough you don’t notice it’s there! The best technology is when it’s not noticed. Placing reflective markers on athletes or having them wear fanny packs just isn’t real. Now with opensource software and inexpensive tools, we are starting to get insight that turns into practical coaching and clinicial solutions.

Three summers ago I traveled to a D1 track program to get movement screen (Grant’s Assessment) and pressure profile of a hurdler to see why he was injured. The hurdler was to travel to get manual therapy and we wanted to see why the athlete was injured. He was experiencing psoas issues and it was strange to see the problem there because the program had no pattern of that injury. I was using crude laser pulse technology at the time because the athlete was healthy and because the muscle was not surface, it was a mystery. We did different testing and found out that the injury was foot related a year earlier. While it didn’t show up on the naked eye, the pressure profile was clear even in walking. Walking gait is not hurdling, but what happens when an athlete is hurt and can’t run or jump? Walking gait is a way to get low force information to ensure that foundational function is at least working. It’s important to get actual baseline screening of other movements, but that is highly difficult without some time and hacking of equipment and data reporting. My issue is communicating to others what I see with my naked eye, as I can’t video everything without investing a huge amount of time. Plus you need to agree on what is normal and what is dysfunction. To be honest, much of what I do is for communication purposes as I know what I can see. Unfortunately the range of abilities is high with different coaches and we can’t trust the information all of the time. After I got the pressure profiles I sent them on dropbox to three different experts on three different continents. One was in South Africa, one was in Northern Europe, and the last one was in North America. After getting the three reports, the best one showed issues of lateral ankle sprain and therapy on the injury site and the injury root cause was done and the athlete made huge improvements. From then on, Cloud therapy was born as we captured and analyzed data in three states and was able to communicate the findings rapidly with major impact.

Two summers later the data was again used to see why different hurdlers (13.3-13.6 PRs) had different contact times and we manipulated velocities to see what happens as speed increases with foot function. We also used Tensiomyography to see what happens to different hurdling styles to the adductors, hamstrings, calves, and quads. Since it took 8 minutes to get the legs, this was a no brainer to do for one week to see what happens during a heavy hurdling session. Braden Cole’s research with the Tekscan device was very important, but the velocities of top hurdlers are faster than 9 meters per second, something that I can’t use with 15x hurdlers. On the other hand the study was interesting to see what happens as the center of mass drops from higher positions and this is something I feel that Daryon is leveraging because of his height and the fact he runs of the hurdle plantar flexed. The foot strike to each hurdle will have more and more stiffness needs as the speed increases in order to not jump the hurdle and increase air time. A blocked foot (restrictions) will delay this by a tiny fraction of a second and increase air time and use less of the hips. Take off angle is about cut step and pelvic position, but I think it also has to do with how fast one can create stiffness and that is highly dependent on function of the foot.

What can be learned from this? Much of the data from Ralph Mann leads to good questions of why and who. The summary of the data is good, but it would be treat to see tables of each athletes and their respective body types anatomically. Mounting points and skeletal alignment along with architecture of the foot would hint to why some athletes may be predisposed to injury patterns or specific styles. This may allow coaches to assign better options with technique instead of forcing an average theoretical model on an athlete that simply can’t express such options.

Data must be useful to a coach since not all of the information we see on studies is coachable or even practical. Some items like grab velocities of the tibia or radial swing speeds of the femur is ornamental at best. Coaches need to see almost binary factors such as take off distances, hurdle cycle splits, joint positions, and of course comfort and feedback of the athlete. Simple effective data that can be instructed with a phrase is all we can do. Nobody coaches humeral extension positions, we just say swing the arm back farther and hope the athlete improves technique and time, provided it was necessary to begin with. I am a fan of marking tape (for me), electronic timing, passive videoing, and checklists that are realistic.

Medically we need to see what anatomical landmarks can be simplified to get more Key Performance Indicators instead of massive reports leading to more questions than answers. For example the bluetooth technology and postage stamp size sensors (for those that still mail things) can be placed on the sole and capture data at 1000hz. From that you can see where the biggest bottlenecks are and the force direction. This may explain why David Oliver has great air times and Dominique has great running times, but the problem is only a few athletes get tested and it’s usually not multivariate data. Importantly it the data may explain why things ground based may hurt muscle and joint groups. For example in acceleration the fifth metatarsal is likely to fracture with some athletes, shoe companies can design their boots in soccer to reduce fractures, but with Adidas creating a boost product promising the moon, shoe design will be more about Zigging and Zagging (Reebok nonsense) than actual health.

I think the key is finding a way to collect data and use wisdom and practical coaching methods to utilize the information we are getting. Maybe I am not clever enough to interpret much of the data and use it, but I will keep it clear with take off distances and other key performance indicators and see if we can get athletes running .97 for more than one or two hurdles. I have said with confidence that the best all time splits add up in the 12.5s, but realistically 12.67 or low 12.7 is no longer impossible thanks to the not perfect yet race of Aries Merritt giving us hope that we can do better. As more information trickles down, I think more evolution will happen after years of stagnation at 12.9x.

Carl Valle

Carl Valle

Track & Field Coach
Carl is an expert coach who has produced champions in swimming, track and numerous other sports. He is one of the foremost experts in the fields of nutrition and restoration.
Carl Valle

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