THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: GLUTE POWER EDGE CONTROL


The New Year started off on a positive note with a great post on preventing sports injuries by Rick Merriam; Engaging Muscles (1.), a new YouTube video by LaGrandNeve (2.) on the importance of the feet in skiing and the long anticipated delivery of the CARV system.

In his post on preventing sports injuries, Merriam, cuts right to the heart of the matter when he states:

Sadly, most professional athletes don’t even know what it feels like to have muscles pulling at the right time.

Said another way, most professional athletes haven’t experienced what it feels like to perform with more stability throughout their chain.

By chain, Merriam is referring to the biokinetic chain.

My consistent finding over the years has been that most skiers, even racers at the World Cup level, don’t know what a stance founded on a strong, stable biokinetic chain should feel like. Even among those who have skied for decades, many have never experienced it. And the role of muscles is rarely, if ever, mentioned in discussions of ski technique or analysis of technique.

In Corso di sci Check Point 2018 – 03 (2.); Piedi cerca spigolo (Feet looking for corner) Valerio Malfatto states:

Contrary to what is believed in the curves with the skis the feet are very important we see how and why.

At about 1’50” into the video, Malfatta begins to draw a series of sketches. The first sketch appears to show how eversion of the foot puts the outside ski on edge by creating a flow of force into the turn. He appears to acknowledge how the ski and foot can either rotate to the outside of a turn (outside foot/ski inverts) or the inside of a turn (outside foot/ski everts). Then he appears to be showing how pressure applied under the ball of the outside foot rotates the ski onto it’s inside edge. Since I understand very little spoken Italian, it would be helpful if a follower of my blog who speaks Italian could post a comment explaining what Malfatto is saying in his video. My apologies to Malfatto if I have misinterpreted his graphics.

The graphic below is a screen shot from Malfatto’s video that shows how the foot and ski have rotated into the turn by pressure applied under the ball of the outside foot.

Although I have seen examples in that suggest rolling the ankles of the feet into a turn will apply edging forces, Malfatto’s video is the first example I have seen that appears to recognize that the outside foot and ski of a turn will tend to invert (rotate downhill) in the load phase under the force applied by the weight of the skier in the absence of a countering eversion torque.

While elite skiers and racers are usually aware of pressure felt under the ball of  the outside foot, it is difficult to replicate the feel in a static environment. So static exercises are often employed in an attempt to demonstrate what the skier is doing.

At about 5’30” into Malfatto’s video there is a dryland demonstration of the outside foot of a turn being rotated into the turn by contracting the muscles that evert the foot while the inside foot is rotated into the turn by contracting the muscles that invert the foot. There are a number of problems associated with attempting to hold skis on edge by contracting the inverter and everter muscles:

  • The muscles are in concentric contraction; i.e. they are physically shortening.
  • Both muscles are extensors of the ankle; i.e. as they shorten, they will plantarflex the ankle. This will shift the weight of the skier back under the heel, pushing the skier into the back seat.
  • The use of muscles to evert and invert the feet require conscious effort in what is called Executive Control. The processing rate of the brain in this mode is limited to about 60 bits per second compared to that of processing in Automaticity (subconscious control) which is about 11 million bits per second.
  • Both muscles are relatively weak compared to the glutes and soleus which are among the most powerful muscles in the human body.
  • Neither the everters or inverters cross the knee joint.

At the time that I wrote United States Patent 5,265,350 in February of 1992, I described the lack of knowledge of the complex biomechanics of the human muscle-skeletal system as it relates to the interaction of the foot with footwear such as skates and ski boots. In consideration of this, I made a concerted effort to provide as much information as possible to those knowledgeable in the field with the objective of advancing the state of knowledge on the subject. Since the writing of my patent my knowledge has evolved and continues to do so.

The following statements are excerpted from my patent.

The most important source of rotational power with which to apply torque to the footwear is the adductor/rotator muscle groups of the hip joint. In order to optimally link this capability to the footwear, there must be a mechanically stable and competent connection originating at the plantar processes of the foot and extending to the hip joint. Further, the balanced position of the skier’s centre of mass, relative to the ski edge, must be maintained during the application of both turning and edging forces applied to the ski. Monopedal function accommodates both these processes.

As a result of the studies done in 1991 with the research vehicle called the Birdcage, I had come to recognize the importance of a mechanically stable and (physically) competent connection extending from the plantar processes of the foot to the hip joint to facilitate the power of the glutes for balance and edge control.

Yet a further problem relates to the efficient transfer of torque from the lower leg and foot to the footwear. When the leg is rotated inwardly relative to the foot by muscular effort, a torsional load is applied to the foot. Present footwear does not adequately provide support or surfaces on and against which the wearer can transfer biomechanically generated forces such as torque to the footwear. Alternatively, the footwear presents sources of resistance which interfere with the movements necessary to initiate such transfer. It is desirable to provide for appropriate movement and such sources of resistance in order to increase the efficiency of this torque transfer and, in so doing, enhance the turning response of the ski.

Precise coupling of the foot to the footwear is possible because the foot, in weight bearing states, but especially in monopedal function, becomes structurally competent to exert forces in the horizontal plane relative to the sole of the footwear at the points of a triangle formed by the posterior aspect and oblique posterior angles of the heel, the head of the first metatarsal and the head of the fifth metatarsal. In terms of transferring horizontal torsional and vertical forces relative to the sole of the footwear, these points of the triangle become the principal points of contact with the bearing surfaces of the footwear.

A control point in the form of a counter set medial to the head of the first metatarsal is used in order to restrain the first metatarsal against medial movement, such as would occur when internal torsional force is applied to the foot.

In skiing, the mechanics of monopedal function provide a down force acting predominantly through the ball of the foot (which is normally almost centred directly over the ski edge). In concert with transverse (into the turn) torque (pronation) arising from weight bearing on the medial aspect of the foot which torque is stabilized by the obligatory internal rotation of the tibia, the combination of these forces results in control of the edge angle of the ski purely as a result of achieving a position of monopedal stance on the outside foot of the turn.

The edge angle can be either increased or decreased in monopedal function by increasing or decreasing the pressure made to bear on the medial aspect of the foot (turntable rotation) through the main contact points at the heel and ball of the foot via the mechanism of pronation. As medial pressure increases (by glute torque), horizontal torque (relative to the ski) increases through an obligatory increase in the intensity of internal rotation of the tibia. Thus, increasing medial pressure on the plantar aspect of the foot tends to render the edge-set more stable. The ski edge-set will not be lost until either the state of balance is broken or the skier relinquishes the state of monopedal function on the outside ski.

The skiers demonstrating the use of the feet to apply edging forces to the skis at 5’30” in the LaGrandNeve video (2.) clearly show the skiers engaging the second rocker by impulse loading the outside foot and ski and then rotating the outside leg into the turn as they exit the fall line and enter the load phase.

The graphic below shows the device I designed and constructed to train skiers and racers in the movement and muscle patterns required to enable the power of the glutes to be engaged to establish a balance platform under the outside ski and control edge angle as described in my post THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: CLOSED CHAIN OUTSIDE LEG ROTATION. Two forces acting together are required to to create the mechanics that rotate the outside ski on it’s inside edge into the turn.

  1. The center of the weight applied by must be under the ball of the foot and,
  2. Rotational force must be applied to the medial (inner) aspect of the ball of the foot in what I described as Rocker TurnTable Rotation (4.).

If the center of the weight of the body W lies on the anatomical center axis of the foot (under the heel), it will act to oppose turntable rotation applied to the foot by the glutes.

In my next post, I hope to have data from CARV showing the loading pattern that enables the use of Glute Power for edge control.


  1. https://www.engagingmuscles.com/2018/01/01/prevent-injuries/
  2. https://youtu.be/aAJSqzcxrS0
  3. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2cC
  4. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2bb

4 comments

  1. Hi David, I know very well Valerio Malfatto.
    In the video “Piede cerca spigolo” he does not mention the fact that the pressure must be on the foot ball. He just talk about a general focus on the feet during the action.
    I this video (english subtitles available)

    he talk about a different focus, on “rotating the thighs” inside the turn. I prefer having focus on the foot rotation instead of the thighs, but maybe focusing on the thighs helps using the glutes to rotate the foot…

    1. Ciao Andrea, thank you for your comment.

      I will speak to the issue of whether it is better to focus on rotating the thigh or to focus rotating the foot in a future post. You must be an elite skier if are aware of these issues. The purpose of my blog is advance the science of skiing through the creation a common platform that explains issues such as you raise with applied science and models validated with data obtained during skiing. If you are able to assist me with comments and suggestions I would greatly appreciate it. Please give my best wishes to Valerio. Ciao, David

  2. David: you need to define “glutes” as to function in this article. The gluteus medius and minimus are internal rotators of the hip and leg which I assume you are referring to in this context. The gluteus maximus is an extensor of the hip which stabilizes the hip, leg and upper body pelvis during the turn.

    1. Thanks Kim. I agree completely. I am trying to proceed one step at a time. The challenge is that the role of muscles is largely ignored in skiing and not part of the official narrative (Ski Speak) that embraces nonsensical concepts such as knee angulation as the source of into the turn torque responsible for edge control.

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