THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: WINDLASS POWER

Two factors can prevent a skier from being able to develop a platform under the body of the outside ski on which to stand and balance on during a turn using the same processes used to balance on one foot on solid ground:

  1. The biomechanics of the foot and leg have been compromised by traditional footwear and,
  2. The structures of the ski boot, especially insoles, footbeds, orthotics and form fit liners, are interfering with the foot to pelvic core tensioning of the biokinetic chain that starts in the forefoot.

The torsional stiffening of the ankle and knee joints resulting from fascial tensioning of the biokinetic chain is fundamental to the ability to create a platform under the body of the outside ski by internally rotating the outside leg from the pelvis. It may sound complicated. But it is actually quite simple. Once learned, it can become as intuitive as walking.

The best method I have found to appreciate how ski boots, custom insoles and form fitting liners can affect the function of the feet and even the entire body, is do a series of exercises starting with the short foot. The short foot helps to assess the ability to harness the Windlass Power associated with the big toe. Once proper function has been acquired in the foot and leg, a skier can go through a methodical, step-by-step process to assess the effect of each component of the ski boot on the function of the feet and legs.

The latest edition of Runner’s World (1.) reports on a study done by a team at Brigham Young University that compared the size and strength of the foot’s “instrinsic” muscles in 21 female runners and 13 female gymnasts. Gymnasts train and compete in bare feet.

The researchers found:

Of the four muscles measured with ultrasound, the gymnasts were significantly bigger on average in two of them, with no difference in the other two. The gymnasts were stronger in their ability to flex their big toe, with no difference in the strength of the second, third, and fourth toes.

Although balance is important in all sports, it is especially critical in gymnastics. So it is significant that study found that the big toes of the gymnasts were stronger than the big toes of the runners.

Until recently, I found it much easier to balance on my left leg than my right leg. The big toe on my left foot was noticeably larger than the big toe on my right foot and the big toe on my left foot was aligned straight ahead whereas the big toe on my right foot was angled outward towards my small toes. This misalignment had pushed the ball of my foot towards the inside of my foot causing a bunion to form on the side, a condition known as hallux valgus. I now understand why I could balance better on my left foot than my right foot.

The muscle that presses the big toe down is called the Flexor Hallucis Longis (FHL). It is inserted into the last joint of the big toe where it exerts a pull that is linear with the big toe and ball of the foot. When the arch is maximally compressed in late stance, the Flexor Hallucis Longis is stretched and tensioned causing the big toe to press down. It’s insertion on the upper third of the fibula causes the lower leg to rotate externally (to the outside). When stretched, the FHL acts in combination with the Posterior Tibialis to support the arch. Footwear that prevents the correct alignment of the hallux weakens the arch making it more difficult to balance on one foot; the foot pronates unnaturally.

Going mostly barefoot for the past 10 years and wearing minimal type shoes for the past 6 years, made my feet stronger.  But it had minimal effect in correcting the hallux valgus in my right foot. It was only after doing the exercises in the links that follow, such as the short foot, that the big toe on my right foot became properly aligned and grew in size. It is now the same size as my left toe and I am able to balance equally well on both feet. The problem with ski boots and most footwear, is that they can force the big toe into a hallux valgus position while preventing the forefoot from splaying and spreading naturally weakening the arch and significantly impairing natural balance.

In the early 1970’s, when the then new plastic ski boots were making a presence in skiing, research on human locomotion was in its infancy. Studies of the effects of sports shoes on human performance were virtually nonexistent. The only technology available back then with which to study the biomechanics of athletes was high speed (film) movies. Ski boot design and modification was a process of trial and error. Many of the positions that predominate even today were formed back then.

As methodologies began to develop that enabled the study of the effect of sports shoes on users, biomechanists and medical specialists became convinced that excessive impact forces and excessive pronation were the most important issues affecting performance and causing or contributing to injury. I suspect that biomechanists and medical specialists arrived at this conclusion even though there was little evidence to support it because it seemed logical. Soon, the term, excessive pronation became a household word. The perceived solution? Arch supports, cushioned soles, motion control shoes and a global market for arch supports.  This appears to have precipitated an assumption within the ski industry that the feet of all skiers needed to be supported in ski boots and pronation, greatly restricted, or even prevented altogether. Even though no studies were ever done that I am aware of that demonstrated that pronation was a problem in skiing, support and immobilization became the defacto standard. Custom footbeds, orthotics and form fitted liners became a lucrative market.

As the support and immobilize paradigm was becoming entrenched in skiing, studies were increasingly concluding that, with rare exceptions, excessive pronation, is a non-existent condition with no pathologies associated with it and that the role of impact forces was mis-read. Today, it is increasingly being recognized that interference to natural foot splay and joint alignment of the big toe by the structures of footwear, causes weakness in the foot and lower limbs through interference with the natural processes of sequential fascial tensioning that occurs in the late stance phase. But the makers of footwear and interventions such as arch supports, have been slow to recognize and embrace these findings.

A key indicator of whether a skier has successfully developed a platform under the outside ski with which stand and balance on, is the position and alignment of the knee in relation to the foot and pelvis as the skier enters the fall line from the top of a turn. I discuss this in my post, MIKAELA SHIFFRIN AND THE SIDECUT FACTOR.

Best Surfaces for Training

A good starting point for the short foot and other exercises is Dr.Emily Splichal’s YouTube video, Best Surfaces for Training https://youtu.be/gvJjIi3h1Bs

Although it may seem logical to conclude that soft, cushioned surfaces are best for the feet, the reality is very different. The best surfaces to balance on are hard, textured surfaces. Dr. Splichal has recently introduced the world’s first surface science insoles and yoga mats using a technology she developed called NABOSO which means without shoes in Czech.

The skin on the bottom of the foot plays a critical role in balance, posture, motor control and human locomotion. All footwear – including minimal footwear – to some degree blocks the necessary stimulation of these plantar proprioceptors resulting in a delay in the response of the nervous system which can contribute to joint pain, compensations, loss of balance and inefficient movement patterns. I’ve been testing NABOSO insoles for about a month. I will discuss NABOSO insoles in a future post. In the meantime, you can read about NABOSO at https://naboso-technology.myshopify.com/products/naboso-insoles

Short Foot Activation

 

Short Foot Single Leg Progressions


  1. Here’s the Latest Research on Running Form – May 30, 2017
  2. Biomechanics of Sports Shoes – Benno M. Nigg

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: PRESS AND POINT THE BIG TOE

A widespread perception appears to exist within the skiing community is that the ability to hold a ski on edge by using the leg to exert force against the side of the stiff shaft of a ski boot and staying upright and not falling, equates with good balance. This ingrained perception presents a challenge in terms of communicating how the world’s best skiers create a platform under the body of the outside ski that they can stand and balance on using the same processes that we all use to stand and balance on a hard, flat level surface.

Last ski season, I developed simple cue to help skiers find the right mechanics and biomechanics as the new outside ski goes flat between edge change and then rolls into the turn on its new inside edge.  At ski flat, if a skier has the right stance, they should feel strong pressure under the ball and the big toe. As the skier extends and inclines into the new turn, the outside leg should be rotated into the turn to point the big toe in the direction of the turn. Hence the cue, press and point the big toe.  This pressure under the ball of the foot and big toe should be maintained through the turn phase until it is released by the transfer or weight to the inside (uphill) ski at the start of the transition to the inside. The strong pressure under the ball of the foot and the force that presses the big toe down flat is passively created by a strong stance, not conscious effort.

The Reverse Windlass

The pressure under the big toe is created by what is called the Reverse Windlass Mechanism. This naturally happens in the late phase of stance when walking barefoot. But wearing shoes with raised heels and cushioned insoles makes it impossible for the Reverse Windlass to function. When the Reverse Windlass is lost, it must be re-acquired by being barefoot as much as possible and walking, running and training in zero drop, thin soled minimal shoes. In some cases, people have to learn to walk naturally by rehearsing the action.

There is an excellent YouTube video by Teodoro Vazquez on Blog del Runner  called Windlass Mechanism and Running Biomechanics – https://youtu.be/y_8SrufgmDk. Vazquez describes the 3 phases of the windlass mechanism, Active (Activo), Reverse (Inverso)  and Passive (Pasivo). Although the video is directed at running, the primary concepts have direct application to skiing and ski technique. The reverse windlass is activated by the weight as shown in the graphic below from Vazquez’s YouTube video.
 This tensions the arch of the foot and presses the big toe down.
As the shank angle increases, the soleus muscle goes into isometric contraction and arrests further shank movement. The results in a heel to forefoot rocker action that dramatically increases the down force under the ball of the foot and the big toe. What I call the Spinal Reflex or SR Stance maximizes the down forces.

It is important that when the big toe (aka Hallux) is pressed down flat, the ball of the foot and big toe feel like one. When the big toe is pressed down properly, you should feel your glutes tighten. The leg you are standing on should be straight and the knee pointed straight ahead.

An important muscle in the Reverse Windlass is the Flexor Hallucis Longis or FHL. When the soleus goes into isometric contraction, the FHL is tensioned. This stabilizes the foot and knee by rotating them away from the center line of the body.

Things that prevent the Reverse Windlass

1. A condition called Hallux (big toe) Valgus
2. Narrow shoes and especially shoes with a pointed toe box.
3. Ski boots, especially ski boot liners.
4. Shoes with elevated heels, cushioning and toe spring (toes raised up). Note: A small amount of ramp angle is necessary for the SR Stance.
5. Footbeds and Insoles.
In my next post, I will discuss fixes to enable and/or restore the Reverse Windlass.

INTRODUCING THE FOOT COLLECTIVE

The Skier’s Manifesto places a high priority on foot function and exercises that make feet strong and healthy. (THE IMPORTANCE OF STRONG HEALTHY FEET IN SKIING).  There is a rapidly emerging camp of medical professionals and trainers aligned with this cause who offer excellent articles on this subject. One such group is TheFoot Collective – http://www.thefootcollective.com.

TheFoot Collective has kindly given me permission to repost material from their blog on the Skier’s Manifesto. The graphic below is from the home page of TheFoot Collective.

What is the Foot Collective?

The Foot Collective is a group of Canadian physical therapists giving people back control over the health of their feet through education. Most modern day humans have poorly functioning feet and our mission is to spread the truth about footwear and give people the information needed to independently restore their own feet.

The collective exists to spread awareness of the importance of foot health and to provide quality advice on restoring proper foot function.

Foot problems have reached epidemic levels and the solution is simple: Quality foot health education to help people fix their own feet.

There’s a big problem with modern footwear

The modern shoe is harming the human foot. Footwear companies are creating products to make money, not in the interest of foot health and its slowly killing our feet. We’re here to spread the truth about footwear.

Most footwear today has an elevated heel, narrow forefoot and a slab of foot numbing cushioning between your foot and the ground below you.

Your feet are magically designed body parts with the primary purpose of sending your brainsignals about the ground below you. When they get compressed and are prevented from sensing the ground because of cushioning, they lose their ability to function and create nasty upstream effects for our bodies.


The kind of shoes you wear daily, especially the type of shoe you train in, affects how your body functions in skiing. Cushioning and cushioned insoles are especially bad. This is a recent post on the TheFoot Collective.

THE DANGER OF HEELED FOOTWEAR
👣👣
wearing a shoe with an elevated heel might seem harmless but it has real effects on your posture upstream. These postural changes change how your body moves by making certain muscles more dominant (quads especially) and others weak (glutes)
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Over time, heeled footwear is a big culprit for knee problems and tight ankles so avoid them whenever you can. Finding a zero drop flat shoe can be quite difficult but taking the time to find one makes a massive difference in your joint health and movement patterns
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Most modern day running shoes and dress shoes have this nasty heel lift so beware of the consequences and transition to zero drop barefoot footwear. Your body will thank you
👣👣


I have been testing different brands of minimal shoes; zero drop, thin flexiable, low resilency soles, for the past few months and will posting on this issue soon. For reasons I will explain in future posts, it appears as if a small amount of positive toe down ramp (aka drop) – approximately 2.5 degrees, is important to a strong stance in skiing. But my regular footwear is all minimal, zero drop.

CARVE, MEET BIRDCAGE – BIRDCAGE, MEET CARV

July 1991: Birdcage Research Vehicle – Cost approximately $140,000

Secret  Toshiba Prototype Portable Computer used for Birdcage studies – Value? Priceless!

Birdcage Co-Designer and Team Science Leader, Alex Sochaniwskyj, P. Eng.

After interviewing a number of candidates in the spring of 1991 for the science component of the MACPOD project to develop a ski boot based on anatomical principles, I chose Alex Sochaniwskyj, P. Eng. as the most qualified candidate and one of the most intelligent and creative persons I have ever had the privilege of meeting.

Alex provided the CV that follows in his letter in support of my nomination for the Gold Medal in the categories of Applied Science and Engineering in the 1995 British Columbia Science & Engineering Awards.

Alex Sochaniwskyj, P. Eng.

Alex is a professional engineer with 12 years of biomedical and rehabilitation engineering research experience in the Human Movement and Motor Functions Research Programmes at the Hugh MacMillan Rehabilitation Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The principle aim of these labs is to provide detailed information and objective analysis of movement, dynamics and motor function of persons with various physical disabilities. The information is used to objectively assess the effects of a variety of therapeutic and surgical interventions.

Alex holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Toronto in Human Physiology and a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Toronto. Most recently, Alex has worked with several companies including ADCOM ELectronics Limited in Toronto, where he was responsible for the design and development of video conferencing and multi-media communication systems, and the Arnott Design Group, where he focused on physiological human factors in product system design, prototyping and testing.

Currently, as a principal at designfarm inc., he consults to design and manufacturing firms on the development of programs to evaluate human physiological, biomechanical, ergonomic and environmental response for product and interface design, and the planning of comprehensive technology implementation strategies for the integration of computing, telecommunication and telepresence technologies. Alex is also a Certified Alias Instructor in the Information Technology Design Centre in the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto, where he teaches courses in computer literacy, three-dimensional design, modelling, simulation and animation.

Alex is a member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario (APEO), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and the University of Toronto, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine Ethics Review Committee. He is co-author of numerous publications in refereed medical and engineering journals and has produced several video productions regarding biomedical and rehabilitation engineering.

              – March 24, 1995

Team Birdcage


2000 – Novel Pedar In-Shoe pressure technology used by Synergy Sports Performance Consultants – Cost, approximately $60,000 with 2 Sony VAIO laptop computers

 


2017 – CARV: Cost? Approximately $300 US – See footnote re special price

 

Birdcage to CARV: “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting 26 years for you. Welcome! The future of skiing has arrived.”


FOOTNOTE
CARV is currently taking pre-orders at $249 at 
 http://carv.ai

DIGITAL SALVATION FOR THE SOLE [BACK TO THE FUTURE]

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  – Clarke’s Third Law

Conspicuous hardly begins to describe what I was feeling.  In the early morning rush of skiers grabbing a quick caffeine rush at the Wizard Grill, amid tables full of Ski School twinks waiting to see whether they were going to have any work for the day, an attractive woman was carefully stringing computer cables up the inside legs of my ski pants.  Things like that draw attention even at the base of Blackcomb on a Monday morning.

One end of the cables were attached to pressure sensing insoles in my ski boots, the other to a data recording box I was trying to figure out exactly were to attach.  About the size of an epic Michener paperback, it was just too big to slip into any of my pockets.  Finally clipped to the waist of my pants, it was, in turn, coupled to a high-powered flash unit strapped to my arm, both of which were fired by a button left dangling pretty much nowhere.

Robocop.  I couldn’t get the image out of my head, although at least one person who asked what all the hardware was about accepted my answer that it was a control mechanism to power my artificial leg.

David MacPhail grabbed the digital video camera and we headed up Blackcomb to take some measurements.  Dave — who I’d been working with to document some background on the Rise boot he’s been developing — had only recently launched Synergy Sports Consultants.

I wasn’t clear where exactly he was taking me or what we were going to accomplish, but a more willing guinea pig would have been hard to find.  In the nether world of ski theory, and more particularly in the areas of skiing biomechanics and modeling, Dave MacPhail is riding the cutting edge.  His work with National Team skiers and his understanding of exactly happens to the human body when it straps on a pair of skis has brought him an international reputation as an authority in the field.

On a clear slope under the Solar Coaster, Dave skied ahead to set up the video shot.  Sophie — who’d wired me up — rechecked the cable connections, set a baseline measurement for each of my unloaded feet and told me to point the flash unit down the hill at the camera.

As they signaled their readiness to each other, Sophie fired the flash and told me to ski down toward Dave.

Making my best ski school turns, I skied for the camera.  We repeated the process a few times and then we went back down to the Daylodge to…well, I wasn’t sure to do exactly what.

What, turned out to be mind blowing.  The unit strapped to my waist was a Pedar foot pressure data recorder from the Novel company of Munich, a techy little piece of equipment that, until last year, was the size of a small desk.  On a PCMCIA flash card, the unit was capable of recording about 10 minutes worth of data.  Fed by 80 pressure sensors arrayed throughout the insoles in my boots that each took 50 measurements per second, the Pedar tracked pressure across time as my feet worked to move me like a skier.

Downloaded onto a laptop computer and run through the company’s software, the data could be displayed as images of my left and right foot, colour-coded across the sensing mechanisms to display the changes in foot pressure as I made turns.  With lower pressure readings showing up as black squares and higher pressure lighting up bright pink, the readout was a moving kaleidoscope of colour as it played back my runs down the mountain.


On each colourful foot profile, a small dot traced a red line showing my centre of pressure at any moment in time.  A good skier using foot pressure the way they’re supposed to, would, over the course of a run, track a red line from the ball of their foot back toward their heel.  The track would be true and relatively straight with few variations.  That’s what the tracing on my right foot looked like.  The track of pressure of my left foot looked like someone who had never seen an Etch-A-Sketch grabbed both knobs and started twisting them randomly.

The difficulties showing up in my left foot readout were verified when Sophie explained the graphic display at the top of the screen.  “This line graph shows change in pressure over time for each foot.  When you make a good turn, like you’re doing with your right foot, the graph of pressure shoots up dramatically at the start of the turn, drops down slightly to a plateau, then falls away as you unweight the foot at the beginning of the next turn.  Your left foot comes on very gradually.  Something’s blocking your foot function,” she explained.

The final diagnostic piece of the puzzle — at least as far as the technology end of things went —was put in place when Sophie downloaded the images from the digital video camera and synchronized them with the Pedar display.  There I was, making graceful turns and there was the readout of what my feet were doing — or not doing, as it turned out.

“Neat,” I said.  “Now what?”
“Now you find out what Synergy is all about,” said Dave.

Synergy — small “s” — is about joint action of different substances producing an effect greater than the sum of the effects of all the substances acting separately.

The whole being greater than the sum of the parts. 

In a theological context, synergy is a doctrine that human effort cooperates with divine grace in the salvation of the soul.  I’ve often thought of skiing as a salvation of the frozen Canadian soul and certainly a day in the high alpine making perfect turns in all conditions is as close to divine grace as most of us will ever come.  But it was the more secular meaning of the word Dave had in mind in naming the company.

“The whole concept of Synergy probably came into my mind 25 years ago.  I started thinking about something called bio-integration, bringing people with different important skills together to work holistically on making your body work right.  Five years ago, we couldn’t have launched Synergy because the technology wasn’t quite there.  We needed more sophisticated software and I could see the time coming closer to when we’d reach a point where a lot of things in athletics that are mysteries now were going to be revealed by being able to plug in sensors at key points of interface.  Now, we’re starting to get there.”

But data is just data without something to make it sing.  And that’s where the principals of Synergy begin to make the concept work.  Joanne Younker is Synergy’s president. She’s been working with Dave for 12 years on both the Rise boot and putting together a biomechanical model of how people ski, how joints and muscles and nerves and bones work together to overcome our natural tendency to fall down when the earth starts to slide out from under our feet at an accelerating rate.

Joanne’s a level IV CSIA instructor and a level II CSCF coach and a personal trainer when she’s not on skis.

Sophie Cox and Joanne Younker

She’s been a keen skier since she was fourteen and a student of kinaesthetics since 1989 when she blew her back out squatting improperly in the weight room, an injury leading to temporarily paralysis and a burning desire understand how her body works.

“Working with David, and studying the biomechanics of skiing, I can look at someone skiing and understand what they’re doing wrong and, more importantly, probably why they’re doing it.  That is, what muscles aren’t functioning right or what functions are blocked.  Working with this technology, I can validate my diagnosis with hard data.”

Using a set of dry-land kinaesthetic exercises, Joanne led me through a session designed to help me experience the “feel” of having the right muscles firing and applying pressure with the correct area of my feet.  Once I’d managed to do these correctly, she had me stand on the Pedar’s insoles outside my ski boots.  Connected to the computer, they gave me a real time display of where, in turn, I was applying pressure with each foot. Running me through the exercises again, I could use the display to associate that “feel” with a visual representation of correct pressuring.  There was no guesswork.  When I lit up the right area of the pressure pads, I was having my feet do exactly what they should do to initiate a good turn.

The final step of the exercises was to slip the insoles back into my ski boots and repeat the exercises again.  Within the confines of my boots, I could watch as I pressured the ball of my foot and got my bulk into the right plane of alignment.  I was surprised — as is virtually everyone else who has gone through this exercise — at how far forward I really needed to bring my centre of mass to consistently apply pressure where needed.

All of this might have taken a lot longer to happen if the third member of the Synergy team hadn’t walked into town by accident.  Sophie Cox finished her B.Sc. at the University of Brighton School of Podiatry in, England, in the summer of 1998 and was working in a Podiatry clinic in London.  Her mother brought home a bottle of Whistler spring water  — the same water that gets flushed down toilets in Function Junction, ironically — and she was taken with the idea of goofing off for a year in Whistler.  After some web surfing, she decided to take a job as a bootfitter at Can-Ski and really learn how to ski and party, Whistler style.

A colleague in Boston mentioned the groundbreaking work Dave had been doing in biomechanics and planes of movement associated with skiing to her and she attended a presentation Dave made last March to the Congress of the Canadian Sports Medicine Association.  “After Sophie met David and explained what she’d been doing with the Pedar, he was really excited.  He called me up and said, ‘I’ve met the third person!’ and we went from there,” Joanne explained.

After a summer back in England working , Sophie returned this fall to work with David and Joanne on the biomechanics of skiing and help launch Synergy.  What she brings to the table, in addition to the technology, is an in-depth understanding of the structures and movement of the foot and ankle joints and a wealth of knowledge in diagnosing problems related to feet and lower limbs.

“I look at a skier’s mechanics, what they can and can’t do, and try to decipher why they can’t do it.  Sometimes it’s bad motor skills and that’s Joanne’s part.  But if she’s trying to teach them a skill and they just don’t have the biomechanical capability to do it, that’s where I come in.  I can determine the physiological problem and refer them on to a physio or bootfitter or local podiatrist.”

“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”  Clarke’s Second Law

For me, the proof of what Synergy was offering was back out on the slopes.  I practiced and visualized what Joanne had shown me, let Sophie make a few modifications to my left footbed and got wired up again a few days later.  Back at the computer after two or three runs, I sat in rapt amazement at the difference.

On the Pedar’s readout, the front of my feet were lighting up at the initiation of each turn.  The tracking line of the centre of force had moved inward — indicating a much stronger pronation, getting the ski on its edge — and my left trace looked like something made by a functioning foot instead of a peg leg.

I know what you’re thinking; almost anyone can help me be a better skier.  That’s like crowing about doubling your money when you only have fifty cents to start with.  But what about good skiers?  What can all this do for them?
Funny you should ask.

In the fall of 1991, during dry-land training in Banff, Rob Boyd blew a disc at the L-5, S-1 joint in his back.  An ensuing laminectomy restricted his mobility and left some nerve damage on his right side— although not enough to keep him off the podium from time to time for the next six years.  “I learned to compensate using different muscle patterns,” he said.

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.11.09 PM

Three years off the World Cup Circuit now, and away from the daily coaching, Rob wasn’t happy with the way he was skiing this season, nor was he happy with his finishes in the early Ford Pro Series downhill races.  “I saw Jim DeMarco, M.D. wired up to this thing one day and started thinking maybe Dave — who had done a lot of boot work for Rob in the past — could do some testing on me and help me find some answers.”

Sophie and Joanne ran Rob through a gait test, using the pressure pads inside his running shoes while he walked the treadmill at Meadow Park.  “What we saw,” Sophie related, “was Rob had some blockage in the way his foot was functioning.  He wasn’t pushing off the ball of his foot with any force at all but compensating through other muscle patterns.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.10.31 PM

“Right away, from what we saw on the data, my suspicions were confirmed that my right side wasn’t working well,” Rob added.

What they saw when Rob was hooked up to the Pedar for the first time on the slopes was even more surprising.  His heels lit up like a Christmas tree and he was almost never pressuring the front of his boot.  His left turns were strong and crisp but his right turns were nowhere near the same intensity.  “Yeah, that was surprising to see.  It felt like I was skiing alright and using the balls of my feet but I wasn’t even close,” Rob said.

Dave went to work on Rob’s boots, Sophie made some modifications to his footbeds and Joanne got him started on a series of patterning exercises and visualization techniques.  “I could really feel the difference when I started concentrating on using my foot more.  That and the changes in my boot environment made a big difference.  I could feel it right away at Sugarbush (Vermont).  My skis were gliding on the flats; just floating,” Rob said.  He could also see the results in his times: second on his first run and fourth on his second.

 

“The next step will be to set Rob up with a physiotherapy regimen with Allison MacLean,” Joanne said.

And that’s where the remaining synergy of Synergy comes into play.  The company’s goal is to actively work with bootfitters, physiotherapists, chiropractors and other specialists in the community who can treat the whole person.

Allison is just beginning to work with the Synergy people and is excited about the “integrated approach” they’re trying to bring to problem solving.  “The data gathering and testing they’re doing is interesting,” she told me.  “It’s hard sometimes to know exactly what’s not functioning in the case of lower limb injuries and whether what your treatment is as effective as it could be.  When they send someone to me, we’ve got a pre-treatment set of data we can compare to post-treatment performance to really know whether what we’re doing is effective.”

“Every other person you bring into this adds something to the mix and produces even more beneficial results,” Dave explained.  “Sophie and Joanne and I, working together, have a much greater impact than any one of us could have on our own.  That’s the genesis behind Synergy.  But we want to bring the best resources we can to bear and make it so everybody looks like a hero.”

This obviously includes some of the best bootfitters in town.  George McConkey is sold on the idea.  “What Synergy is doing validates a lot of my own ideas about foot function and bootfitting,” he said.  “I still believe 99% of most peoples’ problems are in their boot and with any luck, what we’re starting to see in the way of data coming out of this will get the manufacturers interested in designing boots that work.”

Scott Humby, one of the owners of Fanatyk Co., isn’t so sure what’s going on is going to shake up the industry, but he sees potential benefit.  “I think what they’re doing can help you by really proving what’s going on in your boots.  If it make you feel better about your skiing; you’ll ski better.  If, as bootfitters, we’ve done all we can for someone and they’re still struggling, we’ll definitely send them on to Synergy because there may be something we’re just not seeing.  There’s a huge benefit in being able to refer someone on to a team of specialists.”

It seems axiomatic that what Synergy is doing is the way sports will go in the future.

The advances in sports in the last 25 years have largely come about because of a refinement in coaching techniques and technological innovations in equipment.  But most of what’s being done on the coaching front still relies on what a coach can see and how he or she interprets that visual data.  The advances in coaching and teaching in the next 25 years will probably be realized through the application of measurement technologies only now being brought into the field.

Some people in town and on the mountains think what Dave’s up to is another bit of high-tech quackery, other’s are true believers.  But whether coaches and instructors and others who guide athletes embrace the kinds of tools is probably more a matter of when, not if.  Elite athletes will demand it; the wired generation coming up will assume its presence. And guys like me who just want to get better and shorten the distance between muscle pattern and muscle memory will embrace it the same way we embraced those shapely new skis we can’t live without.

In the meantime, Arthur C. Clarke’s Law of Revolutionary Ideas is probably apropos:

Every revolutionary idea — in science, politics, art or whatever — evokes three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the three phrases:

1. “It is completely impossible — don’t waste my time.”

2. “It is possible, but it is not worth doing.”

3. “I said it was a good idea all along.”

Watch out for number three.

author- J.D. Maxwell


reprinted with the permission of Whistler Piquenewsmagazine

published on February 18, 2000

STANCE HACK: TUNE UP YOUR FEET

Biohacking Your Body with Barefoot Science

“…… hacking” or finding a way to more efficiently manipulate human biology.  This can include areas of sleep, nutrition, mental health, strength, recovery. (1)
– Dr. Emily Splichal – Evidence Based Fitness Academy

 

Last ski season, I developed some simple cues or hacks to help skiers and racers quickly find the body position and joint angles required to create the pressure under the outside foot with which to impulse load the outside ski and establish a platform on which to stand and balance on through the turn phase –  THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: IMPULSE LOADING

The primary source of information that helped me develop these cues are the exercises developed by Dr. Emily Splichal. Her exercises also helped me to appreciate the extent to which traditional supportive footwear with raised heels and cushioned soles has damaged my feet and deadened the small nerves responsible for maintaining upright balance and the ability to initiate precise movement. Since implementing Dr. Splichal’s evidence based science, I am not only skiing at a level beyond what I considered possible, I am starting to walk naturally for the first time in my life.

The information contained in Dr. Splichal’s videos will challenge everything you know or thought you knew about what we have been conditioned to believe about our feet and the footwear we encase them in. Contrary to what we have been told, cushioning under the feet does not reduce impact forces on the lower limbs and protect them. Instead, it actually increases impact forces while slowing what Dr. Splichal refers to as the time to stabilization; the time required to stabilize, stiffen and maximally protect the joints of lower limb from impact damage – THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: TIMING OF EDGE CHANGE

The Best Surfaces to Train On

A good place to start is to learn which surfaces are best to train on. Again, while it may seem logical and intuitive that surfaces with cushioning are best because they will protect the body from shocks, studies show the exact opposite to be true. Over time, support and cushioning in shoes can diminish the sensitivity of the rich small nerve matrix in the feet that acts as a neural mapping system for balance and movement. In her YouTube video, Best Surfaces to Train On (https://youtu.be/gvJjIi3h1Bs), Dr. Splichal discusses the effects of different surfaces on plantar small nerve proprioception and explains how barefoot training is a form of small nerve proprioceptive training designed to activate the plantar foot. Balance training is best done barefoot.

The Power of Plantar Proprioceptors

Watching Dr, Splichal’s webinar presentation Understanding Surface Science: The Power of Plantar Proprioceptors – https://youtu.be/t5AU-noqMFg will further your appreciation of the power of plantar proprioception.

First Stance Hack – Plantar Foot Release for Optimal Foot Function

Dr. Splichal’s 6 Minute Plantar Foot Release for Optimal Foot Function – https://youtu.be/zyrKgFwsppI will dramatically improve foot function.
Dr Splichal explains how to use RAD rollers (golf ball or other firm balls will also work) to optimize foot function by releasing tissues in the plantar foot by applying pressure to the 6 areas shown in the graphic below.
Dr. Splichal advises to focus on using a pin and hold technique  (not rolling the foot on the balls) to apply pressure to these 6 spots on each foot holding for about 20 seconds on each spot with each of the three different sized rounds for a total time of about 6 minutes. The foot release should be done 2 times and day and prior to each training session.
In my next post I will talk about the second Stance Hack: Pressing Down on the Big Toe to Impulse Load the Ski and Power the Turn

1.  https://barefootstrongblog.com/2017/04/28/biohacking-your-body-with-barefoot-training/

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: IMPULSE LOADING

In this post, I will discuss the role of impulse loading, in the perspective of phases of a turn cycle, in creating a platform under the body of the outside ski on which a skier can stand and balance on.

Impulse Loading

Impulse loading is crucial to the ability to establishing a platform under the body of the outside ski by cantilivering GRF, acting along the running surface of the inside edge, out under the body of the ski to create a stable platform for the skier to stand and balance on.

Maximization of dynamic stability while skating is crucial to achieve high (vertical) plantar force and impulse. (1)

Impulse in particular has been identified as an important performance parameter in sprinting sports as skating. (1)

The preceding statements apply equally to skiing.

The most important aspect of alternating single limb support locomotion is the ability to rapidly develop a stable base of support on the stance or support leg from which to initiate precise movement. Dr. Emily Splichal refers to this process as Time to Stabilization. The ability to balance on the outside ski of a turn is unquestionably the single most important aspect of skiing. Time to Stabilization, especially in GS and SL , is where races are won or lost. Here, the time in which to maximize dynamic stability on the outside foot and leg on the outside ski is in the order of 20 milliseconds (2 one-hundredths of a second); less than a rapid blink of the eye.

The Mid Stance, Ski Stance Theory

The predominant position within the ranks of ski industry is that skiing is a mid stance activity in terms of the stance phases of the gait cycle. In the mid stance phase of the gait cycle, tension in the longitudinal arch (LA) resulting from passive tensioning of the plantar ligaments is minimal and the foot is continuing to pronate. Mid stance, as the assumed basis for ski stance, appears to have served as the rational for the assumed need to support the LA with a custom footbed or orthotic (usually in neutral STJ) and immobilize the joints of the foot with a custom fit liner. Hence, the theory that the foot functions best in skiing when its joints are immobilized. I am not aware of any studies, let alone explanations based on principles of applied science, that supports this theory. To the contrary, the available evidence suggests that immobilizing the joints of the foot, far from making it function best in skiing, has the exact opposite effect.

Wearing ski boots for a few hours can lead to a weakening of the muscles that operate within the ankle joint. This works as though one joint was excluded from the locomotive function.

………. according to Caplan et al. [3], the muscle groups that determine strength and are responsible for the function of stability in the ankle joint are very sensitive to changes caused by immobilisation. They found that immediately after immobilising the ankle joint for a week, the balance parameters were 50% lower than before the immobilisation.

 The problem with the mid stance, ski stance theory, is that impulse loading cannot not occur until late stance when arch compression, fascial stiffening of the forefoot and torsional stiffening of the subtalar and knee joints, is maximal.

One factor that has been shown to reduce arch compression is arch supportive insoles and orthotics. A study done in 2016 (1.) compared the effect of half (HAI) and full insoles (FAI) on compression loading of the arch to compression loading of the arch that occured in a standardized shoe (Shoe-only). Two separate custom insoles were designed for each participant. The first insole was designed to restrict arch compression near-maximally compared to that during shod running (Full Arch Insole; FAI) and the second was designed to restrict compression by approximately 50% during stance (Half Arch Insole; HAI). The Full Insole (black) most closely resembles the type of arch support used in ski boots to support the foot. The bar graph below shows the resulting reduction compression. I have overlain the FAI bar to illustrate how it compares to Shoe Only compression. This kind of study can now be done and should be done in vivo in skiing – during actual ski maneuvers where the effect of insoles and custom fit liners on the physiologic function of the foot and lower limb as a whole can be studied and assessed.

Two pressure studies done in 1998 by a team from the University of Ottawa (2, 3), that used elite skiers as test subjects, found large variations in pressures applied to the ball of the foot observed in the data that suggested some factor, or combination of factors, was limiting the peak force and impulse in terms of the vertical force that skiers were able to apply to the sole of the boot and ski. The researchers suggested a number of potential factors but did not investigate them.

These highest pressures reach up to 30 newtons per square centimetre. Force-time histories reveal that forces of up to 3 times body weight can be attained during high performance recreational skiing (my emphasis added).

Conclusions/Discussion:

It is quite likely that the type of equipment (skis and boots) worn by the subjects had an effect on the values obtained (my emphasis added).

A factor that was not controlled during data collection was the equipment worn by the subjects. The skiers wore different boots, and used different skis, although two of them had the same brand and model of skis and boots. It still has yet to be determined if that factor had any effect on the results. A point that all the skis that the subjects used had in common is that the skis were all sharp side-cut skis (also called shaped skis). Another equipment variation which may have affected in-boot measurements, is that some subjects (n=5) wore custom designed footbeds, while the other did not (my emphasis added).

In 2013 (4), a study presented at the European Congress of Sports Science in Barcelona, Spain that used special hockey skates that I prepared to maximize peak force and impulse using principles described in my blog compared peak and impulse forces of elite skaters in the skates I prepared (NS) to peak and impulse forces seen in their own skates (OS). The skates I prepared were used as a standardized reference similar to the protocols where baseline data obtained barefoot is used to assess the effect of specific footwear on physiologic function. The bar graphs below compare NS (the skates I prepared) to OS (the subjects own skates).

The researchers noted:

Thus, the results of this study show that direct measurement of these dynamic variables may be important indicators in evaluating skating performance in ice hockey as it relates to skate design or skill development.

Peak force and impulse are associated with high peak tension in the LA created by Achilles to forefoot load transfer.

I expect that similar results would be seen in ski boots.

The Phases of a Ski Turn Cycle

In order to appreciate the dynamics of impulse loading in skiing, I have modelled the phases of a turn cycle into 2 main phases with associated sub phases. The graphic below shows the Loading (1 – yellow) and Stance (2 – red) Phases of the outside (left) foot in a turn cycle with sub phases. The actual turn phase starts at the juncture of the traverse and from fall line and ends when the skier starts to extend the inside (right) knee. I will discuss the turn cycle in detail in a future post. My long-held theory, which was partially validated with the 1991 Birdcage studies, is that ski movements should employ the same hard-wired patterns as walking and running and that skiing should as instinctive and transparent.

Locomotion results from intricate dynamic interactions between a central program and feedback mechanisms. The central program relies fundamentally on a genetically determined spinal circuitry (central pattern generator) capable of generating the basic locomotor pattern and on various descending pathways that can trigger, stop, and steer locomotion. (5)

The feedback originates from muscles and skin afferents as well as from special senses (vision, audition, vestibular) and dynamically adapts the locomotor pattern to the requirements of the environment. (5)

 

Peak Force and impulse loading occurs at ski flat between edge change (red circle). This is what I refer to as the Moment of Truth. Moment, in this context, being a moment of force or torque. The manner in which the torque acts in the sequence of events surrounding edge change determines whether GRF is cantilevered under the base of the ski or whether it acts to rotate the ski (invert) it out of the turn.

 

 

In my next post, I will discuss the 2-step rocker impulse mechanism that cantilevers GRF acting along the running inside edge of the outside ski out under the body of the ski.


  1. The Foot’s Arch and the Energetics of Human Locomotion: Sarah M. Stearne, Kirsty A. McDonald, Jacqueline A. Alderson, Ian North, Charles E. Oxnard & Jonas Rubenson
  2. ANALYSIS OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRESSURES UNDER THE FEET OF ELITE ALPINE SKI INSTRUCTORS: Dany Lafontaine, M.Sc., Mario Lamontagne, Ph.D., Daniel Dupuis, M.Sc., Binta Diallo, B.Sc.. Faculty of Health Sciences1, School of Human Kinetics, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Anatomy program, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. 1998
  3. ANALYSIS OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRESSURE UNDER THE FEET OF ELITE ALPINE SKI INSTRUCTORS: Dany Lafontaine, Mario Lamontagne, Daniel Dupuis & Binta Diallo, Laboratory for Research on the Biomechanics of Hockey, University of Ottawa, Canada – Proceedings of the XVI International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports (1998), Konstanz, Germany, p.485.
  4. A Novel Protocol for Assessing Skating Performance in Ice Hockey: Kendall M, Zanetti K, & Hoshizaki TB School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa. Ottawa, Canada – European College of Sports Science
  5. Dynamic Sensorimotor Interactions in Locomotion: SERGE ROSSIGNOL, RE´ JEAN DUBUC, AND JEAN-PIERRE GOSSARD Centre for Research in Neurological Sciences, CIHR Group in Neurological Sciences, Department of Physiology, Universite´ de Montre´al, Montreal, Canada – 2006 the American Physiological Society