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A podiatrist at the University of the West of England has evaluated a foot pressure data collection system which helped prepare the GB scullers for success in the Olympics.
Dr Sue Barnett, a podiatrist and foot pressure expert, and director of the Human Analysis Laboratory (HAL) lab at the Glenside Campus of UWE, tested the Pedar mobile in-shoe system from Novel Gmbh (Munich) on Olympic scullers within the GB Rowing team. The system measures the vertical pressure of the scullers' feet as they are rowing and this information can then be converted into force data. The magnitude of the force going through the foot is crucial to the performance of rowers, and it is important that the force is equal since uneven force can affect the speed and direction of the boat.
Dr Bartnett explains, “In the HAL lab we work with a range of athletes and sports people to measure and record the dynamic data as the foot moves across a special computerised plate – like a doormat - on the floor. The loading patterns are measured by the computer which records the data and draws a dynamic moving 3d image which shows where and when the pressure is under the foot. The software then designs an insole specifically for the individual which will alter the timing and the direction of loading in the foot, which can help enhance their performance.
“Gathering and analysing the moving foot data of rowers presented an extra challenge for us. Rowing shoes are individualised to the person and remain in the boat, so the data recording had to be carried out in situ. We set out on a misty early morning on the Thames with the in-shoe pressure system placed in the rower's shoes, linked to my laptop as I followed along in a second boat recording the vertical foot pressure data of the rower in motion. The key information we were looking for is How big is the force? and How even is the force?
“The data was then analysed and the results discussed with each rower and their support team so that they could make adjustments to the foot beds of their shoes to enable them to get optimum force distribution and magnitude when rowing. Even a small adjustment can make a significant improvement, which on some occasions can result in a better speed being achieved, possibly even moving someone up the medal table.
“This system gave GB Rowing something they didn't have before - they were able to quantify the equality of the force each rower was producing – and the quality of the force is intrinsic to their speed and success. This information can also help to protect athletes against lower limb injury, for example if the foot is rolling in it will affect the knees.”
Dr Barnett has also worked closely wide range of sportsmen and women to carry out bio mechanic assessment of movement including the paralympic table tennis team; rugby, football, tennis, and basketball players, skiers, runners, mountain climbers, bob sleighers, pentathletes, triathletes, horse riders and even martial arts experts, who used expertise on foot pressure even though they don't wear shoes. Even yachts men have been helped – by making their feet more stable.
Dr Barnett says, “The dynamic insoles retrain the way the foot functions. Once the athletes start wearing the insoles this helps to retrain the way they load the weight in the foot. Over time this helps to relieve symptoms caused by uneven foot pressure and muscle misalignment and can help to prevent further injuries. The technology is not unique, but our expertise in interpreting the data is crucial to making this technology useful to the athletes.”
“In the past we used to make insoles by hand from a plaster cast of the foot. But this new software gives us much more information because we know how the foot is being used in motion and how the pressure is being loaded. This enables us to design a much more accurate insole using the computer software.”
As part of a multi-disciplinary team using the technology in the HAL lab Dr Barnett also works with cameras and CGI technology to record the lower limb gait and how the body moves for children with cerebral palsy, along with recording the power and force of their movements through the force platform in the floor. This combined data is useful for surgeons and the whole medical team in making decisions about treatment. The lab also works with road traffic accident victims.
The rowing stroke is a leg-driven action, in which forces developed by the lower limbs provide a large proportion of power delivered to the oars. In terms of both performance and injury, it is important to initiate each stroke with powerful and symmetrical loading of the foot stretchers. The aims of this study were to assess the reliability of foot force measured by footplates developed for the Concept2 indoor ergometer and to examine the magnitude and symmetry of bilateral foot forces in different groups of rowers. Five heavyweight female scullers, six heavyweight female sweep rowers, and six lightweight male (LWM) rowers performed an incremental step test on the Concept2 ergometer. Vertical, horizontal, and resultant forces were recorded bilaterally, and asymmetries were quantified using the absolute symmetry index. Foot force was measured with high consistency (coefficient of multiple determination > 0.976 +/- 0.010). Relative resultant, vertical, and horizontal forces were largest in LWM rowers, whilst average foot forces significantly increased across stroke rates for all three groups of rowers. Asymmetries ranged from 5.3% for average resultant force to 28.9% for timing of peak vertical force. Asymmetries were not sensitive to stroke rate or rowing group, however, large inter-subject variability in asymmetries was evident.
In rowing, the parameters of injury, performance, and technique are all interrelated and in dynamic equilibrium. Whilst rowing requires extreme physical strength and endurance, a high level of skill and technique is essential to enable an effective transfer of power through the rowing sequence. This study aimed to determine discrete aspects of rowing technique, which strongly influence foot force production and asymmetries at the foot-stretchers, as these are biomechanical parameters often associated with performance and injury risk. Twenty elite female rowers performed an incremental rowing test on an instrumented rowing ergometer, which measured force at the handle and foot-stretchers, while three-dimensional kinematic recordings of the ankle, knee, hip, and lumbar-pelvic joints were made. Multiple regression analyses identified hip kinematics as a key predictor of foot force output (R2 = 0.48), whereas knee and lumbar-pelvic kinematics were the main determinants in optimizing the horizontal foot force component (R2 = .41). Bilateral asymmetries of the foot-stretchers were also seen to significantly influence lumbar-pelvic kinematics (R2 = 0.43) and pelvic twisting (R2 = 0.32) during the rowing stroke. These results provide biomechanical evidence toward aspects of technique that can be modified to optimize force output and performance, which can be of direct benefit to coaches and athletes.