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Forging Elite Fitness After 40: The Daily Fix for the Aging Master Athletes

1. Ankle

It is important to first understand what the foot-ankle complex is responsible for before being able to grasp why this seems to plague the masters level athlete. The primary role of our foot and ankle is to slow down our leg as we come in contact with the ground. This means that every time our foot hits the ground when we run or jump, our ankle has to have enough “give” in it to allow gastrocenimus (calf muscle) to stretch out and slow the knee from traveling forward.

Therefore, our knee health is really dependent upon a gasctrocenimius that can fully lengthen. Considering how much we are on our feet and the rigors we put it through during CrossFit WODs, it is no wonder that we need full mobility and stability in this joint. Many master level athletes don’t though.

collapsed arc

“The feet are the windows of human function.”

1.1 The number one reason for injury/pain is a previous injury.

When looking into the history of the masters athlete a common thread is a previous ankle injury. In my experience, most times this means a sprain of varying degrees. This cooperates with the fact one in every six high sports injuries is an ankle sprain. Most Master Level athletes have fallen in love with CrossFit because it has allowed them to rekindle that fire to compete again. It really makes sense that a greater majority of our older athletes have “rolled” an ankle at some point in time during their athletic careers.

This allows us the opportunity to highlight the importance of full recovery from an injury. If acute care isn’t started immediately to the site following the injury then the body will respond by trying to protect itself by laying down scar tissue. This buildup of scar tissue is very similar to the calluses that form on your hand. It is very stiff which can prevent mobility and strength but also be very painful.

Most athletes that I have worked with can re-enact the moment they suffered their sprain. Their story also include to more important facts. Number one, them just getting right back up and putting weight on their other leg to finish the game. Number two, the sound of crickets when asked how they treated it.

So what we end up seeing often is an ankle that is really good at pointing their toe (plantar-flexion) but can’t pull their toes upward (dorsiflex) very well at all. This puts the brain in a position in which it must figure out another way to slow down the knee. As a result this means that the quadriceps (thigh) and the Achilles tendon (connective tissue that connects the calf to the foot) get overly stressed.

RELATED: A CrossFitter’s Guide to Managing Pain, Stiffness and Movement Alteration

With particular regards to the Achilles, this isn’t good. This tendon is supposed to act as anchor for the gastroc to pull on but since the calf has lost it’s elastic qualities the Achilles gets stressed too much. This repetitive stress pulls on the Achilles, which tangles it up and turns the feet (or foot) outwards giving the athlete a “duck stance.”

What to look for:

Duck stance. One of the most common postural deviations that I see in Master’s level athletes is a toed out, flat footed stance. Most of the time it is on the one side only but it can also easily be both.

The daily fix: Start by restoring the soft tissue structures in the arch. Use a golf ball everyday on the bottom of your foot to relax overworked tissue. Continue up the chain, by doing some self-massage on your gastroc complex.  Get yourself some custom made orthotics to prevent over-pronation. Be patient, you can get your arch back, but you will at least seven months of being consistent.

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