INNATE FLOW BALANCE


INNATE: existing in, belonging to, or determined by factors present in an individual from birth : native, inborn <innate behavior> 2 : belonging to the essential nature of something : inherent.

If a characteristic or ability is already present in a person or animal when they are born, it is innate. People have the innate ability to stand erect on one or two feet, walk and run. The brain is hard-wired to do these things. The innate form of movement is one of alternating single-limb support.

After being declared ‘out for the season’ because of an ACL injury suffered 4 months earlier and with almost zero time on snow, at the last minute before the opening race of the 1980-81 World Cup Downhill season at Val D’isere, Steve Podborski decides to race. He places third. Two races later at St. Moritz, on a course so hard and icy that the Austrians threatened to boycott the race, Podborski wins by a convincing margin.

In Portillo Chile, skiing his first run on a new pair of boots, Rob Boyd looks so different on course that his coaches don’t recognize him. A few days later, he comes 3rd on a Super-G course training with the Germans, an event Boyd says he was “never any good at”. A few weeks later, Boyd is on the World Cup podium.

What explains this sudden transformation in technical prowess of these skiers? Why did Boyd suddenly find, ” Everything was so smooth” on the same terrain and snow conditions he had trained on or for weeks?  The answer?  Hyper-speed neural information processing. Podborski and Boyd were in flow states. They were in the zone.

FLOW STATE: A Mental State of High Performance. Sense of time disappears and actions become a seamless, uninterrupted continuous flow.

I was already on pole, then by half a second and then one second and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel. Not only the tunnel under the hotel, but the whole circuit was a tunnel. I was just going and going, more and more and more and more. I was way over the limit, but still able to find even more.
–  Formula One driver, Aryton Senna, after winning the Monaco Grand Prix

The human brain is capable of processing 11 million bits of information per second at a subconscious level, but only 16 to 50 bits per second at a conscious level. To put this into perspective, at the highest possible conscious information processing rate of 50 bits per second, the subconscious brain  is 220,000 times faster. At the lowest conscious information processing rate of 16 bits per second, the subconscious brain is 687,500 times faster. While most tend to believe that everything happens at a conscious level, when it comes to processing information, the conscious brain is considered optional. Some scientists estimate that we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive function. The other 95 percent goes on in the background, beyond our awareness, exerting a huge influence on our lives, beginning with making our lives possible. About a third of the brain is devoted to processing visual input.

 At 30 mph, a speed most skiers easily attain, a skier travels  44 feet in one second. In that one second, the brain can only process 16 to 50 bits of information at a conscious level. At a subconscious level, in that one second, the brain can process 11 million bits of information.  But in order to fully utilize the maximal subconscious bit processing rate for postural responses, the CNS has to be connected to the ground, or a surface like snow that acts like ground. The CNS connects to the ground through its data link in the load transfer points in the soles of the feet. Making this connection requires that the central load-bearing axis do what it is designed to do: tension the monopedal biokinetic chain that runs from the balls of the feet to the pelvis.

In the Burke Mountain Academy YouTube video, Get Over It Drill, Mikaela Shiffrin describes what it feels like to make the skimove at ski flat that connects a skier’s CNS to the snow.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bh7KF49GzOc

Currier’s skiing is textbook SkiMove, some of the best I have seen. And aside from a few technical glitches, like the use of the term ankle roll, Shiffrin’s commentary is right on. Noteworthy is that the second demonstrator, Olivia Gerrard, appears to have some sort of restriction in her boots that prevents her from getting over it. This aside, it is puzzling to me that this superb video has only had a little over 1100 views.

 Here is a short video clip with the key events of start transition and ski flat in freeze frame.

 

At ski flat, demonstrator, Bridget Currier, aligns the resultant force R emanating from COM with W through the proximate centre of the head of the first metatarsal of her outside foot and transfers the load W  from the central load-bearing axis to the inside turn aspect of the ski lever. Extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints at ski flat is necessary to move her COM forward (Get Over It). But it is also necessary to create a gravity like force acting perpendicular (normal) to the slope with which to transfer the load W to the snow and induce pronation. At ski flat, Currier successfully completes the load transfer of W and configures the muscles in her leg in the stretch reflex. A critical event required at ski flat for load transfer induced pronation is coordinated, ankle dorsiflexion and knee and hip flexion. During the turn phase, the shaft of the boot must allow 12 to 14 degrees of free shank movement to provide the CNS with the consistent clean data it needs on the rate of muscle lengthening in order for it to tune the response timing of the stretch reflex that results in isometric contraction that sets the position of the shank.

Bridget connects her CNS to the snow surface (ground) at ski flat through what amounts to a data link in the small nerves in the sole of her foot. This requires the transfer of  W to a contiguous source of GRF under the load bearing points of the foot. This can only be established on the outside foot and ski of a turn and only then when the W and R are aligned. Hyper speed data processing for balance generated by postural responses is not possible when muscles of the long bones of the lower limbs are configured at a conscious level because it interferes with subconscious processing.

Once Currier establishes a platform under her outside foot she uses top down whole leg internal rotation to rotate the ski horizontally across her trajectory. As she rotates the ski she bends forward at the waist to align the resultant  force R through the ball of her foot and from there through the inside turn aspect of the ski lever (DOT: 9) engaging the external forces to drive the lever into the turn and create a cantilevered platform of contiguous GRF on which to stand.

Any event that evokes conscious awareness like a shock from perturbation or even a coach yelling out instructions from the side of a course breaks the flow of subconscious information processing.

Hypothetical question: Assuming comparable athletic conditioning and fitness, would a racer skiing in a subconscious flow state with the brain processing information at 11 million bits of information per second have an advantage over a racer skiing in a conscious state with the brain processing information at 50 bits per second? I think the answer is yes.