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Plantar Flexion Explained for Coaches

What is Plantar Flexion?

Plantar flexion is an ankle movement in which the toes move down, increasing the angle between the foot and the shin––for example, as you push through the ball of your foot and move to the top during a calf raise. This motion is crucial for activities like walking, jumping, and running. It’s the opposite of dorsiflexion, which is when the toes move closer to the shin, such as when lowering the heels toward the floor during a calf raise.

Plantar Flexion Examples

  • Walking on the toes with the heels not touching the ground
  • Contracting the calves and pushing through the balls of the feet to raise the heels during a calf raise
  • Explosively pushing off the ground and jumping in the air with the toes pointing down

Plantar Flexion in Sports and Fitness

Plantar flexion occurs during various activities and is crucial for sports and fitness performance.

  • Proper plantar flexion allows athletes to generate more force off the ground and perform better in sports that require explosive movements (e.g., jumping, accelerating, and decelerating), like volleyball, football, and basketball.
  • In traditional gym training (particularly in bodybuilding), plantar flexion is crucial for training and developing the calves and improving strength and stability in the lower legs.
  • Plantar flexion also plays a crucial role in running and cycling. For instance, this ankle motion transfers the force generated by the thigh to the bike’s pedal. In running, it propels the athlete forward by providing support off the push-off phase, leading to a more efficient stride.

FAQ

1. How can athletes improve their plantar flexion strength?

Movements that load the calves concentrically are ideal for developing plantar flexion strength––the ability to push off the balls of the feet and elevate the heels. Similarly, plyometrics, such as jump squats, can help develop explosiveness.

2. What are some ways to increase plantar flexion range of motion?

Static stretches (typically assisted, with trainees holding the front of each foot and pushing it down) that increase the angle between the foot and shin can gradually improve plantar flexion ROM.

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