Monday, August 06, 2012

Pigeon Toed

Thanks to Doug of Improper Course for this overhead shot of Tom Slingsby sailing to Olympic Gold in the Laser Medal Race today.

I was puzzled by one aspect of his hiking style. Why is he pointing his toes inward?

Is this his normal hiking style? Is there some advantage to this? Do other top sailors do this? Does everybody except me do this?


my2fish said...

I saw a picture from the Sunfish Youth North American's - and one of the youth sailors was hiking with only one leg under the hiking strap.

maybe you need to test the pigeon-toe and one-leg methods of hiking out, and bring us back the results. or make it the next writing project?

Tillerman said...

I found myself thinking a lot about hiking style on the beats this weekend. I'm not convinced I've got the most efficient style and certainly do plan to do a bit of research on what top sailors are doing and try out some variations myself.

One leg under cannot be efficient for very long, although immediately before a tack you are doing that of course. I do know that coaches advise changing position slightly, taking more weight on the front or back leg at times to ease the strain on the muscles. Maybe shifting the angle of the feet is part of that process?

Any other theories?

Chris said...

I don't intentionally hike with my toes pointing inward, but I do notice that my feet just end up positioned in that way after a minute or two of upwind sailing.

Keep Reaching said...

Two theories- 1) a temporary way to relieve some pressure on the calf/achilles tendon if they are hard against the hull? or 2) a better position from which to thrust the body either forward or aft as necessary ? - except this is on close hauled and I would have thought adjusting body position forward and aft is less important than the downwind gymnastics - but then maybe that is what separates these guys from mortals.

Tillerman said...

You could be right KR. Actually, in waves, the upper body is moved backwards and forwards so if this foot position makes that easier it would be helpful. But in my experience the upper body movements can be done just as effectively with straight feet so I doubt the pigeon toe position is for this reason.

Any other theories?

Tillerman said...

Do you hike with your legs as far apart as Tom? If so, why?

I, and I think most people, hike with legs, ankles and feet together so there really isn't any tendency for toes to turn in.

Sloan said...

I could give you a more definitive answer.

When you hike like this you are using the outer quad better known as the Vastus lateralis. It is the big powerful muscle down the outside of thigh.

It is not a good habit to get into Tillerman for a sailor of average fitness, as it will lead to knee problems almost guaranteed.

To hike this way and keep your knee pain free, you have to strengthen your vastus medialis which is the tear drop muscle that is above your knee cap and you need to have nice long hip flexors also.

Some sailors hike pigeon towed because it is easier and gives the other thigh muscles time to rest a bit. Tom also hikes this way because he has his hiking strap really tight and the feet naturally turn inward with a tight strap.

Tighten your strap till it can only move up and down an inch or so and you will see how it is not possible to hike with your feet and legs together and pointed straight. Take care though as you could easily tear something in your ankles and not be sailing for a while.

Having a tight strap and hiking off the outer thigh muscle both locks you onto the deck and gives you access to more power when you need it.

It is harder to stay straight legged when hiking this way.

Try this trick at your desk. Put your legs out straight in front of you and keep your toes pointed straight ahead. Now make them pigeon toed. See how the leg drooped a bit and it felt slightly easier and more relaxed. That is the Vastus lateralis taking up more load.
Now point the toes outward. See how the leg became slightly elevated and it became harder and more painful to hold that position. That is the tear drop muscle doing more work.

If you want to hike pigeon towed do lots of single leg extensions with toes pointed out and squats to keep the knee in balance.

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