Friday, March 22, 2013

Ankle Flexibility With Olympic Medallist Cassie Patten

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Last weekend we were joined by Olympic Medalist Cassandra Patten on our Coach Education Course in Ireland. Having recently retired from swimming, Cassie's already developing into a fantastic coach and joined us in Limerick to find out more about Swim Smooth's coaching methods.

Despite attending the course as a coach, Cassie let us take a look at her freestyle stroke and as you can imagine she has a beautiful stroke technique, with a super high body position in the water:

One thing that is immediately apparent when watching Cassie swim is how hyper-mobile she is in many of her joints, even by elite swimming standards. For instance with her ankles, when sitting down she is able to touch the floor with her toes:

This extreme level of flexibility allows her to produce good propulsion from her leg kick and in fact Cassie has a personal best of #### for 100m kicking with a kick board - a lot faster than most readers of this blog will be able to swim full stroke for 100m!

This is all very interesting but what should you be looking for with your own ankle flexibility?

Good Flexibility But Not Too Much

Studies have shown that even the great Ian Thorpe (who was famous for having an extremely powerful leg kick over 200m and 400m) only developed 11% of his propulsion from his leg kick¹. For most of us racing over longer distances, without the flexibility of an elite swimmer, it is unrealistic to generate significant propulsion from our leg kick.

However, very poor ankle flexibility drops the feet down into the water flow as you swim and adds a lot of drag at the back of your stroke, pulling your legs down low in the water:

If you have poor ankle flexibility some simple stretching exercises are well worth adding into your routine to increase the range of motion of your ankles.

If you are already flexible don't go overboard with this, whilst extremely flexible ankles are a useful attribute in elite pool swimming they will leave you vulnerable to ankle and lower leg injuries, especially when running. If you can point your foot in line with your leg then that's plenty of ankle flexibility for adult swimmers and triathletes.

Two Simple Stretches For Your Ankles

The safest way to stretch off your ankles is to sit down on the floor with one leg crossed over your lap, holding your foot and knee to stretch through the shin and upper foot:

Hold this stretch for 30 seconds at a time and only apply a light pressure. Developing your ankle flexibility will take many months and shouldn't be rushed - it's a long term project - but you will notice even small improvements in your swimming.

A second stretch is to kneel on a soft surface and sit back gently onto your ankles. By itself this may be enough to stretch the ankle but you can increase the stretch by lifting a knee up gently with your hand:

Again, hold for 30 seconds at a time and never force the stretch. If you suffer from any sort of knee pain or injury do not perform this stretch.

Using Fins

In the Swim Smooth squads we make extensive use of fins when performing drills. Not only do the fins give you good support to focus on improve your stroke technique but they also gradually stretch your ankles at the same time. Used regularly during drills sets, fins can make a big difference to your ankle flexibility as the months go by. We recommend a long flexible rubber fins such as these.

A special thanks to Cassie (@CassiePatten) for letting us share her feet with the world(!) also a big shout out to Alan Ward and all the staff at the University Arena for making us very welcome at their fantastic venue in Limerick.

Swim Smooth!

[1] Toussaint, H. M., Hollander, A. P., de Groot, G., Kahman, R., & van Ingen Schenau, G. J. (1990). Power of leg kicking in front crawl swimming. In N. Berme & A. Capozzo (Eds.), Biomechanics of Human Movement (pp. 456-459). Worthington, Ohio: Bertec Corporation.

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