Special footwork quality improvement method for junior rhythmic gymnasts

Associate Professor, PhD V.V. Borisova1
Associate Professor, PhD A.V. Titova1
Associate Professor, PhD T.A. Shestakova1
1Tula State Lev Tolstoy Pedagogical University, Tula


Keywords: movement culture, rhythmic gymnastics, special footwork training method, educational experiment, classical exercises, footwork quality rates.


Introduction. In rhythmic gymnastics, female athletes’ sport skills are rated based on the level of development of their flexibility, movement coordination, speed-strength abilities and a number of aesthetic components: "sense of posture", beauty of the body lines, movement culture, etc. [2, 4, 5].

Often, when evaluating accuracy in performing this or that element, experts must choose between two or more rivals. Other conditions and characteristics being equal, a judge/ rhythmic gymnastics coach will give his/ her preference to a gymnast with "neater and cleaner footsteps". In other words, in rhythmic gymnastics, the footwork quality is attributed to the significant indicators of sport mastery excellence of female gymnasts, since the technique of performance of almost all exercises without accessories and some exercises with ones implies active participation of their feet. Therefore, gymnasts’ footwork is considered an important component, which requires regular improvement of special physical training of young female athletes [3-6].

Objective of the study was to develop and scientifically substantiate the special footwork quality improvement method for the 11-12 year-old rhythmic gymnasts at the stage of in-depth sports specialization.

Methods and structure of the study. The testing program for the 11-12 year-old female gymnasts at the stage of in-depth sports specialization included special footwork training assessment, which corresponded to the study purposes and objectives. Based on the control standards proposed by O.G. Rumba (2008), we developed the tests to rate the footwork quality in the examined gymnasts [5]. During the tests, all the girls were in standard test conditions: they developed into the same starting position; repeated measurements were taken at the same time.

A series of experiments were conducted from September 2016 through May 2017. The educational experiment was carried out at the premises of Triumph Sport School in Tula city and involved 24 junior gymnasts split up into the Experimental Group (EG, n=12, including several female athletes from France) trained by A.V. Titova, and Reference Group (EG, n=12) trained by T.O. Shinko; with both groups trained 5 times a week for 2 hours and 15 minutes. All coaches were Masters of Sport of the USSR in rhythmic gymnastics.

Results and discussion. The questionnaire survey showed that both coaches and female gymnasts are unanimous in their view that footwork training is relevant and, thus, it is reasonable to develop the footwork training method. Among the means to improve the feet functions, the leading position is occupied by the exercises on bent toes performed on the parterre, choreographic exercises, grasping objects with the foot, as well as object manipulation with the foot, various jumps.

The study revealed that, according to the coaches, it is the integral function of the feet that is the most significant. This is due to the fact that modern requirements for the technique of rhythmic gymnastics exercises are complex and require the realization of absolutely all feet functions. At the same time, some coaches believe that the support function of the foot is more significant compared to others. Two respondents identified the aesthetic function as the leading one.

The interviewed experts attributed exercises aimed to develop the strength of extensor and flexor muscles to the number of the most effective means to improve the feet functions. Among the less significant were exercises aimed to develop flexibility in the ankle and phalangeal metatarsal joints. Such a distribution of the role of training means, in our opinion, is due to the fact that the strength of the flexor (take-off and amortization functions) and extensor (amortization, take-off and manipulation functions) muscles affects primarily the technique of jumps of medium and high complexity, as well as the ability to freely manipulate objects with one foot or both feet.

At the same time, the respondents identified the third most important exercises aimed to prevent flatfoot. This confirms the likelihood of flat-footedness, caused by irrational loading on the feet, the lack of preventive and remedial measures, forced training and excessive complication of the competitive programs for young female gymnasts.

The absence of the effective feet function improvement method in rhythmic gymnastics is confirmed by the opinions of qualified athletes. Their view on the importance of feet functions partially coincides with that of the coaches and indirectly indicates oversaturation of competitive compositions with technically complex elements. The gymnasts identified the supporting and integral functions of the feet as the leading ones being implemented primarily during balancing, as well as performing turns and bends. According to the gymnasts, both the aesthetic and manipulation functions are of equal importance. The aesthetic function is present in all elements of rhythmic gymnastics, but the female athletes agree that the implementation of this function does not cause any significant difficulties. The manipulation function of the feet is realized during their work with objects/ accessories, when the gymnasts, from a wide range of methods of catching, throwing and other foot manipulations, can choose 3-4 ways that suit their individual characteristics best, and allow them to fully demonstrate the mastery of possession of these objects.

Of particular interest are the results of the analysis of the reasons for the ineffective footwork, indicated by the qualified gymnasts. They agreed that the main reasons are as follows: poor warm-up, insufficient special motor training of the feet. The female gymnasts put the problem of ineffective means of recovery and rehabilitation third. The complexity of competitive programs, oversaturation with technically complex elements and related technical errors, as well as the lack of system control over footwork (fourth and fifth places), according to gymnasts, are also among the causes of ineffective load on the feet.  Along with that, the gymnasts noted the following subjective-objective reasons: sports halls that do not meet the standards, including low air temperature, floors, carpets (sixth place), lack of proper trainer's attention to the gymnasts' feet fitness (seventh place). Excessive body weight (eighth grade) in combination with intense loads and inefficient footwork technique when performing exercises without an accessory can cause injuries to the knee, ankle joints, and various parts of the spinal column.

To solve the research problems, we attempted to create such a new method with elements of classical choreography and special points practices geared to excel the footwork and improve the female gymnasts’ physical fitness rates on the whole.

For this purpose, we started with the identification of the most effective classical choreography exercises from the point of view of feet strengthening, and increased the proportion of these exercises during the lesson; secondly, we introduced regular points practices.

The proportion of these exercises during the lesson was significantly increased: with relevé and plié taken as a basis, we designed two 10-min combinations, which were to be performed alternately first facing the bar and then in the center. Also, three obligatory combinations of battement tendu were introduced into the lesson instead of one-two combinations in 32 bar phases lasting 2/4 each (64 counts). All exercises combinations at the barre and in the center included plié and relevé as additional movements. Most elements of both exercises were performed in the one leg half-points balancing position or in plié.

Classical choreography lessons were conducted 3 times a week and lasted 90 minutes each. Alternating two- and three-part classes were used as a basis. Since all 4 fragments of the classical lesson schedule (barre exercise, center exercises, jumping training, points practices) were used regularly, for the sake of convenience we developed 6 options for conducting the lesson and alternated every two weeks.

Conclusions. The data obtained during the conducted empirical research are reliable and substantiated. The special footwork excelling method for junior gymnasts was found beneficial as verified by the EG versus RG progress in the  foot rotation angle, half-points lift rates, half-points balancing skill rates, one-leg balancing and dancing skills with the foot rotation angle and lift rate being maintained, overall footwork quality etc.



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Corresponding author: borisovav5@rambler.ru



The study analyzes, from the viewpoint of the modern ‘movement culture’, a special footwork training method for junior (11-12 year-old) rhythmic gymnasts; and provides an insight into the new method with elements of classical choreography and special points practices geared to excel the footwork and improve the gymnasts’ physical fitness rates on the whole. Benefits of the new training model were tested by a few experiments at Triumph Sport School in Tula city. Sampled for the model testing experiment were 24 junior gymnasts split up into Reference Group (RG, n=12)  trained by A.V. Titova as required by the standard training program and Experimental Group  (EG, n=12)  trained by T.O. Shinko using the new method; with the both groups trained 5 times a week for 2 hours and 15 minutes. The special footwork excelling method for junior gymnasts was found beneficial as verified by the EG versus RG progress in the foot rotation angles, half-points lift rates, half-points balancing skill rates, one-leg balancing and dancing skills with the foot rotation angle and lift rate being maintained, overall footwork quality etc..