Foot Height for Rowers
"This may help rowers who have limited ankle mobility but it can be a horrible decision for rowers with limited hip mobility".
Foot Height & Ankle Mobility?
As I reread my book and as I receive comments and questions, I realize I left out a few things, including foot height. Foot height, like foot angle, is another adjustment that can have an impact on your technique and ankle mobility. However, I'm not a fan of adjusting foot height to address limitations in ankle mobility. The reason is that when I adjust the height it effects other aspects of the stroke, specifically relating to the hip. That doesn't mean I never want to adjust the height of my feet, it just means that we should be aware of the potential repercussions.
The Impact of Foot Height
When we lower the feet we're actually increasing the amount of ankle mobility required while we're simultaneously decrease the amount of hip mobility required. This can be great when I'm looking to adjust for an athlete who has limited hip mobility but can actually make things worse for someone who has limited ankles. If you drop the feet too far for the individual you'll also cause them to collapse/flop into their catch. This of course results in checking the boat stroke after stroke.
In contrast, when I raise my feet I'm decreasing the amount of ankle mobility required and increasing the amount of hip mobility required. This may help rowers who have limited ankle mobility but it can be a horrible decision for rowers with limited hip mobility. Raising the feet too high will cause the rower's butt to tuck underneath them as they roll up into the catch. This results in more bending of the lumbar spine which we know leads to extra stress on the spine and discs.
A common adjustment rowers make is adding a butt pad to their seat. This is often for rowers who haven't grown into their bodies yet (longer legs than torso). However, be aware that by adding a butt pad you are essentially lowering your feet. Lowering your feet requires more ankle mobility and less hip mobility. So by adding a butt pad you may be addressing hip mobility limitations but ignoring and exaggerating ankle mobility limitations. Make sure you address both.
What's the Answer?
I am by no means saying to never adjust foot height. I am instead saying, understand what the adjustments do to your rowers. I think it may be a better idea to adjust the footplate angle first, and follow-up with the foot height if a rower has any limitations at the hips. The goal is to always customize the boat to fit each rower so that we are able to harness their abilities and to keep them healthy.
Foot Height Video
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Blake Gourley holds a Masters of Science in Sports Performance Training and has over 12+ years of experience working with rowers. Read more