Point your toes! It seems like its a simple thing to do, right? Well, it took 5 seasons of competition for me to understand that it’s not always that simple. My gymnast was working so hard, but her scores never seemed to reflect that. It was only after the word “prehab” for injury prevention peaked my interest that I discovered that my gymnast couldn’t “point her toes”. Here’s some of what I learned for how to help when your gymnast can’t.
The content in this post is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is merely opinion based on personal research and experience.
Take care of their bodies
Read my post here about our first experience with injury in gymnastics. Wether there is an injury or not, gymnasts feet and ankles take quite the pounding. I prefer to get my gymnasts adjusted regularly with an activator style chiropractor. My gymnasts feel this helps their muscles and joints maintain proper mobility.
Even after chiropractic treatment, at one point Biggs was examining her toe point sitting at rest on the couch. She discovered she wasn’t able to fully point one of her toes even with full concentration. At that point we added in MAT or muscle activation therapy to help all the muscles to fire properly.
In between chiropractic or MAT treatments, we are proactive about proactively treating sore muscles. Some of our favorite treatments are this Deep Blue from Doterra. We keep these bath salts and this Magnesium lotion on hand to use when needed too. Watch for a post soon for our new favorite DIY bath bombs to soothe sore muscles.
Strengthen the right muscles
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I discovered the power of simple targeted strength exercises almost by accident. After our experience with a foot injury, and the intermittent aches and pains in feet and ankles, I decided we needed to be proactive to strengthen this vulnerable joint. We started with some super basic exercises which became known as our stairs circuit. I wanted something quick and easy, so it took minimal effort to incorporate in the day.
The girls worked with me to plot out an exercise for each step to accomplish our goals of ankle strength and also improving leaps and jumps. There were calf raises in multiple positions, pulling and scrunching a thin towel up with the toes, and writing the alphabet with the big toe. More specifics and hopefully a video to come soon.
For the leaps and jumps we did kicks to the front, back, and side, while exploding up with the supporting leg from the step above. As Biggs also already needed to use these Tiger Paws to support her wrists when tumbling and vaulting, sometimes we added in wrist strength too. That is still a work in progress.
Here are our favorite tools to strengthen toe point at home
So many things can be done with zero equipment besides body weight or what you have at home. But here are a few tools we have found helpful, for many purposes. We love this foot roller to loosen up tight foot muscles, which can impact muscle tightness throughout the legs. Everything is connected! Tennis balls work too, and work great to target other areas. Look for more soon on our discovery of upper thoracic mobility related to back walkovers.
Other things, which also helps with the leaps and split jumps are using yoga blocks like these. Just lifting a leg up and over, with special attention to toe point can be so helpful. Doing things in isolation ensures the correct form and muscles are targeted. Another great way to do this is adding just a little bit of resistance. Bands like these can be used to provide resistance for the toes, kicks, and so much more.
What happened after targeted strengthening?
Our stairs circuit was actually created with the thought of improving the leaps and jumps. We included the foot and ankle work more because we thought that protection was smart. But after a month or so of doing the circuit pretty consistently, I started to notice some subtle changes.
Sadly the impact on leaps and jumps wasn’t as pronounced as I hoped, yet. However, check out my post here on how PT made all the difference. What I did notice though was increased beam stability, and that pretty high releve and forced dancers arch. Some of those things that undoubtedly had lost her so many points, and probably cost her medal placements many times were finally there. Check out my post here on factors that may affect your gymnasts ability to improve scores. I only wish I had known how to help her sooner!