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club-footedness. please help.

this is a long post but please bear with me. this is the most knowledgeble group of individuals i have come across concerning strengh/diet/training(even the average joe here has things to say that are worth printing and saving!) and i wanted to lay all of this out as best i could.
thanks for your time,

i was born club footed (i dont know the medical term). basically my feet were twisted in so badly it looked like they were upside down and backwards. apparently i had a world renowned doctor perform surgery on me and the results, i am told, were/are spectacular. most people with this severity of deformity cannot walk in a normal fashion and have to wear corrective gear much of the time if they can.
i was lucky and have always excelled in athletic endeavors. i didnt really notice a problem(?) until i started skateboarding and practicing martial arts. you see, i have limited dorsiflexion in both ankles. my left is far worse than my right( my knee cannot cross in front of the vertical plane of the end of my foot without my heel coming off the ground). this made switch-stance tricks on my skateboard and form symmetry in kata very difficult. i basically had to learn balance for each side of my body as my ankle hardly bends on my left foot.
around the age of 16 i started to notice my skinny calves were not developing as much as my peers. i also noticed my right calf was much larger/more defined than my left. i played football all through highschool and my feet did not hinder me at all (although they did prevent me from joining the military. kind of sucks to be able to run a 4.7 40yd and have some doc tell you you cant join because your feet dont work. any way…)
my senior year in high school i started training in martial arts and lifting seriosly. i immediately notice i had difficulty squatting without a board under my heels and my left heel needed to be elevated more than my right in order for my legs/thighs to move in the same plane).
i soon saw my right leg and calf developing far faster than my left. also my hips/back would twist while squatting; my trunk compensating for lack of flexion in my left foot.
i started lifting seriously again at age 24 (i am 27 now). ive always been lean (6pack) and weighed 165 at 6’1" almost 3 years ago. i now weigh 200 and the same body fat. im happy with my muscle gains (and really happy i found this site!) but still would like to see some improvement in my left calf and leg.
im not a body builder per se. and am really getting into powerlifting and olympic lifts. i solved my squating problem by by widening my stance a bunch and my limited mobility in my left ankle isnt a problem with deads as my best lifting is done with my shins remaining vertical. i do have to have my left foot pointed inward and my right foot slightly ahead of my left, to get my legs working the same. its hard to explain without a pic, but basically for my knees to face forward my right foot points straight ahead(like normal), whereas my left foot must point inward at about 20degrees.
originally i just thought of having tiny calves would be something i could deal with(after all i was strong;deadlifting 500 within my first 8mos of training with them and i will have 600 by november), but i am getting concerned with the imbalances of strength/size in my left leg.
the imbalance is more in size than strength as my calf only has to deal with a limited range of motion. still, i wouldnt mind, at least, getting my left calf caught up to the size of my right. my left calf measures 13.5" my right 16". my family is pretty much genetically gifted with calf and forearm development. i have almost 16" forearms and never train them exclusively. my mom and little sisters on the other hand halv around 16" calves and my brother,uncles and dad halve 18"+ calves(alot of them with no training).
in order to get full contraction in my calf muscles i must roll onto the outside/front of my foot, not onto the ball. i have been having some success with static contraction training; bringing up the strength in my left calf and leg but am still not seeing any development in size.
i will appreciate any feedback at all, be it advice, critique or whatever.
thanks guys for reading through all of that and thanks to t-mag for the great site!

much appreciated,

First off, major congrats for what you’ve accomplished so far. I think most people would just use your condition as an excuse to complain.

Second off, given that the source of your imbalance is a deep and abiding structural difference (which is not the case for most people), I wouldn’t be comfortable recommending any particular course of training until you have it evaluated by a very competent sports doc. The ordinday recommendation would be to do tons of unilateral work and do double or even triple the volume on your left side that you do on your right, but in your case I don’t know if that’s appropriate. Good luck!

There’s a guy in my gym who is club-footed and doesn’t even try - I commend you whole-heartedly for your achievements so far. I have a joint disorder myself that may prevent me from ever being able to put up anything but girly weights. I may have to stay a fatass my whole life because of it, but I ain’t giving up yet either.

My only recommendation (and I’m still a relative noobie) might be to truly prioritize your calves, a-la an Ian King style program. Keep everything else at maintenance and just hit the calves hard from every angle, and do extra reps/set on the lagging calf.

Best of luck!

First off- You have an impressive story there. Those are great numbers for anyone. So, keep up the great work.

Regarding you calf issue I would have to taje the same route as Zev. Go to a sports Doc and see what they say. If you are cool and able to do whatever, then come on back help will be on the way. But until then I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving you an program advice. And you shouldn’t feel comfortable taking program suggestions ,in you case, from anyone but a doctor that has had a chance to check you out.

Good luck.

thanks for the comments/advice.

ive talked with local Md’s and a foot specialist/surgeon. no help there. i have talked with a trainer at school and he said, “its not so much of a hehab issue as you dont have an INJURY.” basically what he and i came to was that if it didnt hurt my knee or back then go ahead and do it. ive been doing toe-raises and 1 legged squats on the smith machine and hip sled. im looking for advice on inducing hypertrophy while using a limited range of motion. i can flex my gastroc. and soleus fully, i just cant stretch them. so, let me have IT. i figured out more on my own than what any docs/sports specialists have told me. they usually end up simply agreeing with me. thats why im asking you guys.

thanks again,

[Ryan, please stop leaving your e-mail address. This is against forum rules. - MOD]

MUCH respect.

Ryan, I also have a structural imbalance, although it’s not anything like what you have. My right leg is about an inch longer than my left. It doesn’t bother me when I run, play sports, etc., but it does play havoc with my leg development. Although I haven’t fully compensated for the problem yet (and I’ve been at this a while - sigh), here are some things you can try:

You mentioned the Smith machine. While the one-legged versions are good, also try two-legged versions while “throwing” your body slightly off to one side to stress that side more.

Get a good pair of orthopedic shoes custom made for each of your feet. Then use them to squat, etc.

Failing that, I also have very bad flexibility in my left ankle due to an old injury, and have to use a board under my heels when I squat. But since the left leg is shorter than the right, what I often do is use a ten-pound plate under my right heel and a 25-pound plate under my left. That helps to straighten things out.

Try doing your calf raises with your legs spread further apart. This was mentioned in an old T-mag article as a way of increasing different areas of muscle activation (as opposed to turning your toes in/out, which was shown not to have any effect), and seems like a good bet in your case.

Try the Luke Sauder calf routine - just on your left leg. A search at T-mag will turn it up.

Definitely, DEFINITELY see a specialist who can tell you something useful. There may not be anyone in your area, but those types DO exist. I’d recommend Southern California as your best chance in this case. Call around, see what people have to offer out there. You might have to travel, but seeing someone who really knows what he’s doing would be well worth it. And SoCal ain’t bad! :wink:

Hope this helps. Good luck.

thanks for the advice/support guys. a few other things: my feet are also about 2 1/2 sizes different. my right foot looks basically like a regular everyday foot(excetpt my ankle is real pointy) and its a size 11 .my left foot on the other hand (the one that turns in / pidgeon toed) is about a size 8 1/2. my left foot also has an extremely high arch whereas my right is nearly flat(slight arch). i was just talking to my mom and apparrently they performed surgery 4 months apart on my feet )3mos and 7mos. old). i wore casts on both legs until i was a year and a half old.
im begginning to get a bit uncomfortable with the “atta boys” im receiving. im not crippled and didnt mean to imply that i was(did i?). i would be if it hadnt of been for the surgeon that did the surgery, but there are alot of people way worse off than me. actually now that im thinking about this , maybe i should have just said" my left ankle doesnt work right".
im just trying to go as far as i can with this. hek, if i didnt lift or skate or run or participate in athletic endeavors i dont think this would give me to much of a problem.

seriously though, thanks for taking the time to respond.


So, you’re not particularly impressed with the medics eh?

Well, as far as exercises/movement goes, I don’t THINK there’s any reason (in YOUR case) why you shouldn’t try a calf-specific program to help boost your lagging side. Seems from your brief resume that you’ve done enough to suggest you’re not gonna fall apart by hitting that weak area a little harder!

However, will it work?? -it seems obvious to me (and you, as you eloquently explained to us) that it is the ability to fully flex and contract that calf that is hindering your progress- ie ROM of the ankle. I would guess that the fibrous connective tissue that built up after the surgery when you were a baby is now severely restricting movement.

If anybody ever saw Arnold working calves, I think he described it as “imitating a ballet dancer”- he placed most of his weight at the tip of his foot/on his toes, getting the maximum possible range of motion from full extension to flexion. That allowed fullest stimulation of the gastrocnemius, soleus, and associated small musculature.

So what I would suggest if you ARE going to try, is doing the prescribed exercises in a calf-specific routine, and then gradually through the sets/workout consciously trying to just stretch out that ankle a little more with each rep/set/workout. Don’t worry too much about weight. In fact bodyweight may well prove just fine initially. Another thing that Arnold performed regularly for his calves was the Donkey calf raise (bent at the waist). This works, because the hamstring and gastrocnemius posterior chain muscles are closely related- stretching 1 will help stretch the other.

My other thought was that perhaps you could incorporate some balance (“wobble”) board work into the routine. Just using that leg’s stability muscles around the ankle may itself help with ROM.

BUT#1…Now comes the part you probably DON’T want to hear( probably SHOULD have come 1st, but you might have stopped reading if it did!): I doubt after 27 years of relative immobility that the prescribed exercise plan will itself prove effective enough for your liking. I would therefore still strongly suggest you see a physio, ART therapist, specialist doc, or preferably all 3. I think for certain you would benefit from some pretty aggressive physio on that ankle, to try and break down some of those long-standing adhesions.

BUT #2… THIS is where the doctor part comes in-
One thing you haven’t explained to us in your otherwise comprehensive history, is exactly what surgery was performed at that early age. In fact (correct me if I’m wrong), you don’t even seem sure yourself.

Tell me, have you had any X-Rays done of the affected ankle recently. What I’m trying to get at is we don’t really know “what lies beneath”. What’s the point in breaking down all that fibrous constricting tissue if an unstable bone structure is under it all? What if that constricting tissue is actually doing a lot of the supporting?? My analogy would be taking all the mortar away from a house of stones, thinking it will make the house more able to “flex” and remain standing if a hurricane blows through.

As you may know, the ankle is a very complex joint. It consists of 3 levels of bones, with several bones in each level. I am wondering if the surgery performed way back when may have actually been to fuse 1 or 2 of these levels together (not all, as the joint wouldn’t work at all then). If fusion has occured, its permanent bone, and you will be unsuccesful in your attempts to increase ROM. If it’s NOT fusion, then there still exists the question of whether your ankle will be dangerously de-stabilised by your attempts to loosen it up.

I won’t go on, as I think you understand where I’m coming from. As mentioned above, there will definately be docs that can help, you’ll just have to search a little harder (and probably pay a little more) for them!

Certainly would be great to get an update and let us know the score. All good luck. SRS

thanks again for all the replies guy and thank for the details, SRS. im actually moving from nebraska, back home to southern california sometime in the next year. as someone mentioned , there are alot of knowledgeable “foot people” out there so that should be good.
i am going to start the program laid out in the latest t-mag issue, but on my left leg/calf only. i am also just starting a “massive eating” routine , so i will post my before pics in a few days. i will make sure and get some good shots of my left calf in particular.

off to battle!


“Best foot (or maybe worst foot?)forward!” :slight_smile: SRS