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.

2 comments

  1. Dave,

    I have been working on a design for a new AT boot that focuses on enabling the reverse windlass mechanism and allowing for more free motion on the skin track. I would appreciate your input and if you could take a look at the design. Is there any way I can contact you directly?

    1. You can find links to my patents under About Me/Patents Awarded to Me. After the Birdcage tests in 1991 validated my hypothesis that explained how the world’s best skiers create a platform under the body of the outside ski that they can stand and balance on by cantilevering the GRF acting along the running inside edge of the outside ski, I was not optimistic that the ski industry would embrace the science because too many were and still are invested and profiting from a good story. The problem was that I was right. That meant everyone else was wrong. Knowing that my chances of succeeding in attempting to bring a ski boot based on principles of functional anatomy to market was essentially zero, I put all the knowledge I had learned from the Birdcage studies into a series patents starting with US 5,265,350 published in 1993. The Google patent files contain the figures. Start with these. Good luck. You’re going to need it.

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