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The mechanics of toe off during running

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  • The mechanics of toe off during running

    It is generally accepted that the plantar fascia of the foot fulfills a number of roles during gait and that one of these is the storage and release of energy at different parts of the gait cycle via the windlass mechanism . My question is this .During running when the stored energy is release , what does this energy help to move and in what direction does it move it .

    Some time ago I (blue) placed a few posts on a site run by Professor Jason Cholewa which touch on this subject .----------

    Hi Jason
    A super slow motion version of a professional tennis match shows a large variety of foot contacts and patterns of movement and I should imagine that the mechanics of changing directions and stopping/decelerating varies .
    Going back to the subject of concentric contraction of the toe flexors I wonder if you are familiar with a paper entitled ?The architecture and contaction time of the intrinsic foot muscles ? Tosovic et al ,University of Queensland ,2012 .
    Based on the contraction time of the muscle the paper suggests a role for flexor digitorum brevis (FDB)which involves the muscle acting to develop rapid ground reaction forces .
    It made me think .Might it be that one role of the FDB is to assist in the rapid movement of the foot and leg /lower leg relative to the centre of mass (COM) rather than move the COM itself ?. Think fast feet !

    End Post -----------------
    Referring to the above might it be that during running and in particular sprinting both the flexor digitorum brevis and the wound plantar fascia act to propel the foot in an initial almost vertically upwards direction causing the lower leg and foot to accelerate relative to the rest of the leg with a subsequent flexing of the knee joint . I am not suggesting that this flexing action is in anyway sufficient to push the foot all the way up to the proximity of the glutes but only that it might assist in the initial flexing of the knee so that the range of motion at which the major knee flexors (semimembranosus ,semitendinosus and biceps femoris ) work most efficiently can be quickly achieved allowing faster recovery and preparation of the reference leg for subsequent strides . My understanding is that the knee flexors work most efficiently at between 20-30 degrees of knee flexion

    A second post on Jasons site by me refers to a study which showed that strengthening the intrinsic toe flexors can improve sprint times and perhaps the mechanism described above might be one of the reasons for this . ----

    blue permalink
    Hi Jason
    On the subject of strengthening the toe flexor muscles of the foot and improved sprint performance I wonder if you have yet had time to read a very recently published paper which showed that strengthening the intrinsic toe flexors led,on average , to an improvement of 0.29 secs over a 50m sprint distance amonst a group of healthy male subjects .
    The paper is ? Takayuki Hashimoto ;Keishoku Sakuraba -Strength Training for the Intrinsic Muscles of the Foot ;Effects on Muscle Strength ,the Foot Arch and Dynamic Parameters Before and After Training ; J.Phys.Ther.Sci.26 373-376,2014
    The online version of the paper does not contain a photograph of the equipment used to strengthen the toes but the method seems to have involved flexing the toes against a load provided by scales whilst the ankle was kept in a plantarflexed position to reduce the input of the extrinsic toe flexors .
    I would be interested in your thoughts

    End post ------------------

    Finally it may be useful to look at a sprinter moving in slow motion . The video I have in mind can be found here and features Asafa Powell .
    The video focuses in on his feet at about 3mins 20 secs into the clip just as he passes the 70 m mark . Just after the feet leave the ground there appears to be a judder at the ankle joint . I am not sure of the significance of this but could it be indicative of the forceful upward propulsion of the foot by the Intrinsic toe flexors and the unwinding plantar fascia timed to co-inside with the unweighting of the foot as the rest of the body moves forwards and upwards .

    Asafa Powell Slow Motion Sprint / 100 m?tres ralenti ...
    Video for SLOW MOTION SPRINTINGRight-pointing black triangle 4:00
    Un 100 mètres de Asafa Powell dans un très gros ralenti réalisé avec des Caméra grande vitesse.Tiré du documentaire Secrets d'athlètes sur Arte.

    3 Sep 2009 - Uploaded by Richard
    Un 100 m?tres de Asafa Powell dans un tr?s gros ralenti r?alis? avec des Cam?ra grande vitesse. Tir? du ...

    I recently had some positive feedback on the above from some senior researchers in related fields .
    Does anyone else think the idea has merit ,has it been discussed before or is the idea flawed ?.
    I would love to get some further feedback on this .


    Gerrard Farrell

  • #2
    Re: The mechanics of toe off during running

    Going back to the video of Asafa Powell I noticed that at toe off his heal makes a definite outward movement away from the midline and perhaps this is what causes the judder at the ankle joint immediately after the foot clears the ground . This is very noticeable in seconds 10-15 during a short slow motion video section . For me the question is what causes this and what is its significance ?


    Ps A pop up blocks the view of the left foot in the video so you need to cancel this as soon as it appears .