Since this is the time of year when racers tend to either make changes to their boots or change to a new boot brand, I will describe the initial steps in the process (and it is a lengthy process) that I follow in setting up ski boots for a racer. Although the process is similar for any skier, it may be less structured and less intensive depending on the desired end result.
As a general rule, the closer a racer’s boots are to creating an optimal functional environment for the feet and legs (lower limbs), the more critical any changes become. Optimal is a moving target in that ski boots have such a significant effect on racer/skier function that the body is constantly making small changes in an effort to maximize performance. In my experience, that the farther a racer/skier’s boots are from optimal, the more unlikely that any changes, even in the wrong direction, will create a noticeable impact on performance. But when the boot/binding/skis system is close to optimal, even small changes can have a large impact. In this situation, changes in boot board ramp angle of a tenth of a degree or changes in the thickness of an insole of a mm are usually readily perceived by an elite racer/skier.
Where to Start? The body
The process starts with a quick visual assessment of the racer’s posture to see if any obvious issue such as significant duck feet (toed out) of one of both feet are present. The ideal Plumb Line Alignment of the major body segments and joints is shown in reference books such as Muscles Function and Testing, Third Edition by Kendell and McCreary. The most mechanically efficient alignment occurs when the gravity line of a plumb bob as viewed from the side falls through the back of the ear lobe and passes through the center of the shoulder joint, just behind the center of the hip joint and just in front of the centers of the knee and ankle joints.
If any structural issues are obvious, I recommend that the racer/skier have alignment and kinesologic assessments done by certified medical professionals. This is especially important if a skier or racer has been injured. Often, full function has not been completely restored.
I am not talking about the static alignment usually done in ski or boot fit shops. I am talking about an assessment process that evaluates and corrects the processes responsible for the maintenance of dynamic alignment, generally referred to as balance. It is superior balance that gives elite racers and skiers the edge over others.
One of the several resources in Whistler that I personally use is Dr. Andrea Bologna, DC, CACCP of the Village Centre Chiropractic & Massage Centre. Dr. Bologna wrote the following as an overview of the process that she uses to assess Body Alignment (Structural).
Body alignment (structural) assessment gives a skier a baseline to determine any deviations from “normal” in terms of positioning and alignment of the structure of the body. Correcting misalignments will give a skier the edge on not only skiing or any other activity pursued by taking stress off of joints and muscles, improving posture and allowing the body to move freely with the correct biomechanics.
The following components make up the Body Alignment (Structural) Assessment
Step 1: A complete history is taken that includes past injuries, activities, etc.
Step 2: Body posture is assessed to determine how the body lives in space.
Assess main postural alterations and compensatory changes.
- The pelvis may show a high ilium on one side and/or rotational component to the sacrum which may stem from changes in the spinal structure or in ankle or knee alignment and biomechanics.
- One shoulder may be elevated and/or a rotational component observed to the rib cage.
- Head tilt and/or a rotational component may be observed.
- An increase or decrease in the lumbar lordosis and/or thoracic kyphosis may be observed.
- Knees may be hyper-extended.
- One or both shoulders may be rolled forwarded.
- Head forward position may be observed.
Step 3: Two computerized spinal scans are performed (thermal and EMG or electromyography) to determine which areas of the spine have nerve irritation or interference and which muscles are working harder or pulled tighter due to physical stress.
Step 4: A 3D digital foot scan is performed to determine changes in the arches of the feet, compensating posture affecting the knees and pelvis, and weight imbalance between the right and left sides of the body.
Step 5: A palpatory spinal assessment will determine spinal misalignments causing altered structure and resulting aberrant biomechanics.
The body evaluation process is key to determine what changes need to be made to correct the body structurally to allow for ideal biomechanics during ski training and racing. The evaluation will determine the most specific way to adjust the spine and related joints for lasting results in the shortest time possible.
Dr. Andrea graduated from Parker University in Dallas Texas with a doctorate of chiropractic in 2005. She completed a 180 hour certification in Chiropractic Pediatrics from The Academy of Chiropractic Family Practice and the Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics. She is Webster Certified through the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association.
Dr. Andrea specializes in pediatrics and pregnancy, and sees a variety of world class athletes as well as weekend warriors. She moved back to BC to work together with her brother Dr. Michael Bologna after living in Texas for 10 years, resides in Whistler, and enjoys downhill and cross country biking.
In addition to body alignment, it is also important to assess foot function. There are many excellent resources that I will discuss in future posts.
In my next post, I will discuss where I start the process of racer boot setup.