The Muscle Manager - Assessing the impact fallen arches for Powerlifters (1 of 2)

In June 2016, I was very fortunate to be invited to my first Training Exchange at CityGym Limerick. This fantastic opportunity allows Powerlifting Athletes & Powerlifting Coaches come together to share their knowledge and learn from one another.

Not only was I lucky to take part in the training session with CityGym Head Coach Gar Benn, I was also fortunate to speak with many of the athletes who asked about a variety of concerns they had. Over the next few weeks, my aim is to write a series of articles on some of the topics discussed with the athletes at the Training Exchange. This first article, of two, will focus on assessing the impact of fallen arches on the Powerlifter for squatting, and common compensation methods used by the athlete. The second article on arches will look at other limitations brought about by fallen arches such as the impact to explosive movements, the knock on effect on the glutes and some of the inflammation and pain modalities that will occur for the athlete.

Assessing the impact fallen arches has on squatting technique.

Squats are awesome. Okay, there are days when even I disagree with that statement, but it is truly an amazing technique that we learn very soon after learn how to walk, and then suddenly we un-learn this technique.

I have a niece (aged 3½) and a nephew (aged 2). They have PERFECT squat technique, and as their uncle, I feel it will be my duty to ensure that they never unlearn how to squat. If you watch any young child looking to pick up something at a lower level, they will instantly take up the perfect squat position & perform a perfect technique. Bum to the floor – every time. This leads me to believe that performing a squat is not something you learn, it is something that is built into our physiology because if you were to remove the muscles of a postural neutral body, the body would collapse into a squat position before toppling forward.

It is important to take a moment to realise that our feet are the first point of contact for everything from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed.

As a Sports Therapist & Injury Specialist working primarily with Powerlifters, my approach to treating fallen arches is dependent on the athlete. If the athlete is complaining of pain in the inside of the knee, hip pain, groin pain or pain in the lower back, then we’d look at treating this issue cautiously and aggressively however if the athlete presented with no pain in these areas, we’d take a less aggressive approach to strengthening the weakened muscles. We must always remember that Powerlifters are, in my opinion, one of the most propriosceptively aware athletes across all spectrums of sport. As a Powerlifter approaches the bar there is almost a subconscious checklist of every muscle in the body. So it makes sense that any change to their current muscles state (positively or negatively) will impact how they lift on a psychological and physiological level. Treating any muscle group for a powerlifter will require the powerlifter taking time to re-learn their technique, becoming aware of the changes we have helped them achieve. This is why treating arches can be very tricky. As a Sports Therapist focusing on injuries you want to do enough so the athlete gets an improvement, but not too much so their entire subconscious checklist is affected adversely.

In order to understand the issues with fallen arches, we must first understand the mechanics associated with the foot, and it’s alignment with the knee and hip. An un-fallen arch allows the ankle, knee & hip to stay in alignment. It achieves this because the arch elevates the foot just enough to keep the tibia in line with the knee and as a result keeps the knee in line with the hip.

SQUATTING ISSUES:

When the arch collapses, the heel kicks outwards resulting in the tibia rotating inward. Once this happens an excessive pressure is experienced at the knee – possible resulting in pain particularly on the inside of the knee. Furthermore the Q-angle further up between the knee and the hip is also misaligned. What this means for your squat is you will not be able to track the knee over the foot when you squat because as a result of the fallen arch, the knee is already internally rotated.

This fallen arch also alters the joint mechanics of surrounding areas. We observe an increase in knee adduction, and internal rotation of the knee. As previously mentioned we also see an increase in the external rotation of the foot and an increase in the pronation of the foot. At the other end of the spectrum we observe a decrease in the dorsiflexion of the ankle and a decrease in the foot’s ability to perform inversion.

Limiting the range of motion, particularly limited dorsiflexion, during lifting movements will eventually case a mobility deficit. This means if you always training in a limited range of motion, at some point the muscle of the body will remember this limited range and only work within that limited range. This is true for all muscle groups not just those associated with the arch of the foot. 

Poor dorsiflexion as a result of fallen arches will limit an athletes ability to get into a deep squat – but powerlifters (being absolute heroes), will find another way to squat deep every time, and the body will take the route of least resistance to achieve this. Taking the route of least resistance means there will ALWAYS be a compromise elsewhere in the body. So from coaching perspective the danger would be to ask an athlete to squat deeper, and in order to achieve this the athlete will find the path of least resistance, which will ultimately produce a poor quality of squat.

The route of least resistance for an athlete due to a fallen arch can present in a variety of ways, but I will only describe 3 of these in this article.

You will probably notice in the observations below that I say this “can” be dangerous, as opposed to this “is” dangerous. This goes back to what I said earlier about the proprioception of powerlifters and their subconscious checklist. If a Powerlifter has always had fallen arches due to a hereditary pre-disposition, then there may be no fixing this, and going straight in and correcting any of the other observations listed below in isolation, without looking at the postural performance of the body as a whole, will bring about further problems for the athlete. If you observe any of the below with your athletes, please take time to get advice from an expert in the area, be it a physiotherapist or sports therapist with the knowledge of the biomechanics associated with powerlifting, or an experienced & successful Powerlifter.

1. LOOK AT THE TOES

At the bottom of the squat, take a moment to look at the toes. If the athlete is coming up on the toes at the bottom of the squat, stop them. This can be dangerous during a squat, especially if the load is particularly heavy. If the athlete raises up on the toes, they may have a very unstable base from which they can drive through and they will more than likely lose their balance. The inexperienced squatter will be putting themselves and their spotter at risk of injury.

2. LOOK AT THE WAIST

As the Powerlifter hits their depth, they are more likely to try and increase this depth by leaning forward at the wait. This is probably the most dangerous compensation method the Powerlifter can make, as they are at risk of doing some serious damage to their lumbar spine. 

3. LOOK AT THE KNEES

As the athlete approaches the end of their true range of motion (without taking the route of lease resistance) they will excessively pronate or flatten out their feet. When this excessive pronation occurs, it will force their knees to turn inwards in order to get more depth. This turning inward of the knee can result in further complications with the ACL and patellofemoral joint.

This brings us to the end of our first article. I hope you found the information helpful. Be sure to look out for our next article on the impact of fallen arches for Powerlifters.

If you wish to discuss your symptoms further, you can book your appointment today by popping into us in CityGym Limerick. You can also call The Muscle Manager on 085-704 5157, or email us on niall@themusclemanager.ie

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