Footwear science posts

THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE – PART 13

The  article that follows was published on June 18, 2010 on an internet group called EPICSKI.  I have revised the article to improve clarity and consistency with the technical terms used in the THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE series of posts.

The Birdcage Experiments

 by David MacPhail

In the summer of 1991 a science team Steve Podborski and I had assembled to develop a new ski boot conducted pioneering studies on the Blackcomb summer glacier with a device we affectionately named the “Birdcage.” The purpose of the studies was to test my hypothesis of the mechanics and biomechanics of platform angle as it pertains to skier dynamic stability and the basic premise of my hypothesis that explains how  GRF acting on the inside edge of the outski is extended out under the platform of the ski. The Birdcage is shown in the photo below.

Birdcage

The Birdcage was fit with 16 sensors each with its own channel as shown in the legend below.

Specific mechanical points of the foot, in particular the ends of the eccentric torque arm, connected to specific points of the rigid structure of the Birdcage while leaving the remaining areas of the foot substantially unconstrained. The object of the experiments was to study the effects of specific forms of constraint applied to key mechanical points of the foot we had previously identified on skier balance as it pertains to steering and edge control. The experiments also included tests that studied the effect of interfering with specific joint actions. The experiments were designed in accordance with a standard scientific protocol; one that standardized conditions from test to test while varying one factor at a time.

For example, to study the effects of cuff forward lean angle on specific muscles, the range of rotation of the cuff was kept the same from test to test while the initial angle at which the cuff was set was varied from test to test. The cuff was fit tightly about the leg so as to reduce to a minimum any effects of movement of the leg within the cuff. Other aspects of the test such as position of the heel and ball of the foot in relation to the centerline and inside edge of the ski were kept the same.

By using such test protocols the firing sequence of specific muscles and their effect on dynamic stabilty could be studied. This data could then be used to determine the sequence of events and relationship steering to edge platform angle control. It was discovered that by varying the conditions that affected the firing and effectiveness of the soleus muscle, it could be played like a musical instrument. For example, if the cuff angle were set too erect the soleus muscle would make multiple attempts at the start of each loading sequence to try and get COG over the head of the first metatarsal.

Our primary tester for the experiments was Olympic bronze medallist and World Cup Downhill Champion Steve Podborski. Steve is shown in the photos below having the Birdcage adjusted to his foot and leg.

The cable coming from the rear of the device is connected to a Toshiba optical drive computer (remember, this is 1991) that Toshiba loaned us in support of our program. The biomedical engineer and the Toshiba computer are shown in the photo below.

Since telemetry was too costly and less positive we used a 1200 ft cable that linked the Birdcage to the Toshiba computer set up in a tent. Although the technician could not see the skiers being studied within a short period of time he could easily analyze their technical competence in real time by assessing the incoming flow of data from the sensors fit to the Birdcage. This was even more remarkable considering that the technician had no background in skiing, ski teaching or coaching.

The testers wore a harness to keep the cable from interfering with their movements. A chase skier ensured that the cable remained behind the testers and did not pull on the testers. Of interest is the fact that I was unable to elicit any interest in the results of the Birdcage study

As far as I know a study of this nature had never been done before and to the best of my knowledge a similar study has never been repeated since the Birdcage experiments. The Birdcage remains one of the most sophisticated analytical sports devices ever conceived even by todays’ standards. The Birdcage research vehicle is the barefoot minimum standard for the ski boot.

THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE: PART 6


In my last post I identified whole leg rotation of the head of the femur at its joint in the pelvis as the source of the rotational force acting 180 degrees to the transverse plane of the platform. In the technical terms of skiing whole leg rotational force is called steering.

When I started skiing in 1970 the ability to hold an edge on hard pistes and especially ice was the exclusive domain of elite skiers. Back then, the majority of skiers and racers were still skiing in low cut leather or plastic boots with the shaft not much higher than the ankle bones.

Debates raged in ski magazines as to the reason why elite skiers were able to easily hold an edge on ice while the majority of skiers struggled. The question was posed as to which came first. Did elite skiers edge first and then turn their skis or did they turn their skis and then edge? The consensus was that the best way to hold an edge and not to slip was to establish edge grip early and not slip when the forces increased. Recovering an edge once a ski started to slip was next to impossible. 

Since holding an edge during a turn involves movement of the skier there was no static way to demonstrate how to hold an edge on ice. The only option was watch an elite skier and try and copy them. This was seldom successful because even elite skiers couldn’t describe what they were doing. Strength and athletic ability and/or level of fitness did not seem to be significant factors.  Even elite hockey players often struggled to hold an edge on skis. I had questions but few answers. Finally a female ski instructor gave me a valuable clue when she told me that she presses down hard on the ball of her outside foot to make her edges hold on hard snow.

Clues such as turning the skis and putting pressure on the ball of the outside foot pointed towards the mechanism of the mechanics of platform angle and dynamic balance. But before the mechanics could be explained the introduction of the high shaft rigid plastic ski boot distracted attention away from the problem. High stiff plastic ski boots made it easy for even a novice to stand, crank their knees into the hill and put their skis on edge. This turned out to be a good marketing tool because it made holding an edge appear easy even for a novice. But using the leg as a lever didn’t work except under ideal conditions.

When I tried using my leg to hold a ski on edge on ice I met with marginal success. Later, when I modelled the mechanics the combination of forces didn’t result in a mechanism that would enable a skier to cut a step into hard pistes so as to create a platform and control its angle.

But the crank the knee into the hill option prevailed and took root. It provided an easy way to demonstrate a complex issue. Once knee angulation became established the ski industry appeared to lose interest in trying to discover the real mechanism responsible for platform mechanics. In spite of a protracted effort I didn’t begin to understand the mechanism until about 1989 after getting some valuable clues from the chapter on the ski boot in the medical text, The Shoe In Sport (see my post – THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT POWER STRAPS). But getting insights on the mechanism entailed making some significant discoveries that have only come to be recognized and studied in the l ast 10 years.

One discovery I made that was fundamental to understanding platform mechanics is that the Achilles tendon is capable of transferring large forces to forefoot as the pelvis moves forward in the stance phase of locomotion.

Steer onto the Platform

Although steering and edging are often discussed together they are typically considered different, but related, skills that are blended together. In fact, they are one and the same. Elite skiers steer their skis onto a platform but only if their equipment, in particular their ski boots, enables the requisite neurobiomechanics. 

The Center of Rotation of the Foot 

The turning effort from the pelvis is applied to the foot at the distal (farther end) of the tibia as shown in the graphic below. In terms of position on the running length of a ski this places the center of rotation on the rear half of the ski. The implications are that the forebody of a ski will rotate more across a skier’s line than the tail of the ski. In my foot, the center of rotation is approximately 12 cm behind the running center of the ski.
The femur has a typical range of rotation of 45 degrees in each direction (total ROM 90 degrees); 45 degrees medial (towards the transverse center of the body) and 45 degrees lateral (away from the transverse center of the body). 

If rotational effort is applied to the foot against a firm vertical surface the rear foot will be forced away from the surface.

The implications for skiing are that as the platform angle of a ski with the plane of the snow increases towards perpendicular (normal) to the slope the turning effort applied to the feet will direct the forebody into the surface of the snow. As a reader commented on a previous post on platform angle mechanics the tips (shovel or forebody) of the ski leads the charge. A carved turn starts at the tip with the edges engaging and cutting a step into the snow for the portion of the edge that follow to track in. The shovel leads the charge and starts the carving action. 

Mechanical Points of Force 

A final point for this post is the two key mechanical points where loads on the foot apply high force to the platform; one under the ball of the great toe (i.e. head of the first metatarsal) and the other under the heel in an area called the tuber calcaneum. These are the primary centres of force in skiing. 

The effect of any rotational force or steering to a ski is significantly affected in the carving or loading phase by where the center of force is located. This will be the subject of my next post.

THE 2018 SOELDEN GS: A LITMUS TEST OF DYNAMIC STABILITY – WILD CARD RESULTS

I found the wild card result in the skate tests discussed in my last post shocking but not unexpected. I had known for decades that ski boots can dramatically impact user performance. But until the skate tests I had no way of confirming my subjective observations, which could be summarily dismissed as nothing more than my opinion. The results of the skate test provided convincing support for my long held assertion that testing the effect of ski boots on the user with a set of realistic performance metrics is absolutely essential.

In the graph below of Peak Force all 5 competitive skaters improved in the NS.

Skater number four went from the skater with lowest Peak Force to the skater with the highest Peak Force. But skater number one, who had the fourth highest Peak Force in their OS, hardly saw any improvement in the NS whereas skater number four realized over a 100% increase in Peak Force!But the real shocker was in Impulse Force. As expected, results varied. But the Impulse Force of skater number one actually decreased slightly in the NS!Without a standardized, validated test protocol there is no way of knowing how their ski boots affected the performance of the competitors in the Soelden GS or any race for that matter. Guessing should not be acceptable.

WHY TRYING TO COPY HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN’S MOVES DOESN’T WORK – PART 3

Superior Dynamic Stability (Equilibrium) has always been the single most important factor responsible for the dominance of the World’s best skiers. It enables racers like Hirscher and Shiffrin to literally free fall, maximally accelerate under gravity then precisely land on and lock up the edges of their outside ski, establish a line and project their body towards the next gate in milliseconds and initiate a new free fall. Maximization of Dynamic Stability is crucial for a skier to set up a dynamically stable foundation in the outside ski to stand and balance on so they can establish the strongest possible position from which to generate the internal forces required to oppose the external forces acting on them.

Both skating and skiing are susceptible transverse instability manifesting as wobble oscillation (chatter) across the pivot formed by the skate blade or inside edge of a ski underfoot that challenges skater/skier Dynamic Stability. A number of quantifiable metrics are reliable indicators of the presence and degree of Dynamic Stability.  A key metric is Peak (maximum) Force.

The graph below shows the peak forces of 4 competitive skaters in the 2012 University of Ottawa skate study in their own skates (OS) and the skates I prepared (NS).I have added green bars for the elite skiers with highest and lowest peak forces from the 1998 University of Ottawa pressure study for comparison purposes.

Of interest is the fact that the peak force of one of the elite ski instructors is almost 3 times the peak force of one of the other elite ski instructors.  Given the small variances in peak Forces of the 4 competitive skaters in their own skates and the significant increase in peak Force seen in the skates I prepared (NS) it is reasonable to assume that some factor or factors are limiting the performance of the competitive skaters and one or more of the elite ski instructors in the 1998 study. The researchers recognized this in the 1998 ski pressure study (1.)

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. 

A 2017 pressure study on giant slalom turns (3.) notes several limitations to the use of pressure analysis technology fit to ski boots to record pressures during skiing.

The compressive force is underestimated from 21% to 54% compared to a force platform, and this underestimation varies depending on the phase of the turn, the skier’s skill level, the pitch of the slope and the skiing mode. 

The use of the term underestimated is out of context. When fit to a ski boot, pressure analysis technology records the plantar pressures imposed on the pressure insole. The researchers clarify this with the statement:

It has been stated this underestimation originates from a significant part of the force actually being transferred through the ski boot’s cuff.

In other words, interference with the application of plantar pressure by the structures of the ski boot is negatively affecting the ability of skier to create a foundation characterized by Dynamic Stability under the outside foot of a turn.

As a result, the CoP trajectory also tends to be underestimated along both the anterior-posterior (A-P) and medial-lateral (M-L) axes compared to force platforms.

As I will show in my next post, CoP trajectory is limited by the structures of a skate or ski boot, not underestimated by the pressure analysis technology which is only the messenger in the scheme of things.

Although a static physical environment is not the same as the dynamic physical environment associated with skating or skiing, pressure data captured on a force platform in a controlled laboratory setting can provide valuable baseline data on L-R symmetry that could explain the asymmetry seen in the large differences in the 1998 ski pressure study (1.) as shown in the table below.

What the pressure data is really showing is a L-R imbalance of Dynamic Stability.

Australian therapist and skier, Tom Gellie, posted on L-R pressure asymmetry on September 30 2018 on his FaceBook page, Functional Body.

Dynamic equilibrium is the most important aspect of skiing. Everything else is subordinated. Every aspect of skiing from equipment to technique should be assessed on its impact on the processes of Dynamic equilibrium. Ski design in particular needs to be analyzed especially as it pertains to sidecut geometry since it dictates the point where ground reaction force occurs and ground reaction force is fundamental to the initiation and maintenance of the processes of Dynamic equilibrium.

– M. Mester: keynote speaker at the first annual science symposium on skiing

……. to be continued in Part 4.


  1. ANALYSIS OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRESSURES UNDER THE FEET OF ELITE ALPINE SKI INSTRUCTORS – Dany Lafontaine, M.Sc.1,2,3, Mario Lamontagne, Ph.D., Daniel Dupuis, M.Sc.1,2, 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
  2. ANALYSIS OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRESSURE UNDER THE FEET OF ELITE ALPINE SKI INSTRUCTORS – Dany Lafontaine, Mario Lamontagne, Daniel Dupuis, Binta Diallo, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada – 1998
  3. Influence of slope steepness, foot position and turn phase on plantar pressure distribution during giant slalom alpine ski racing: Thomas Falda-Buscaiot , Frédérique Hintzy, Patrice Rougier, Patrick Lacouture, Nicolas Coulmy – Published: May 4, 2017 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176975

 

WHY TRYING TO COPY HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN’S MOVES DOESN’T WORK – PART 2

In previous posts I discussed the two studies (1, 2) done by the University of Ottawa in 1998 that analyzed pressure under the feet of elite alpine ski instructors

The pressure data from the study that used 6 elite alpine ski instructors found maximal (peak) force ranged from a high of 1454 Newtons to a low of 522 Newtons. The graph below compares the peak force seen in pressure data captured from the 4 competitive skaters in their own skates from my last post to the highest and lowest peak force seen in pressure data captured from the 6 elite alpine ski instructors used in the 1998 University of Ottawa study.

In consideration of the fact that the researchers commented that force-time histories revealed that forces of up to 3 times body weight can be attained during high performance recreational skiing it is interesting that the peak force of one of the 6 elite alpine ski instructors in the study was less than the lowest peak force of one of the 4 competitive skaters in the 2012 University of Ottawa study while the highest peak force of one of the 6 elite alpine ski instructors in the 1998 study was almost twice the highest peak force of one of the 4 competitive skaters in the 2012 University of Ottawa study.

A significant challenge in attempting to conduct foot pressure studies with alpine skiers is the variability of the slope and environmental and piste conditions. Test conditions and variables, especially ice, can be tightly controlled in the conditioned environment of an indoor skating rink.

Although the studies did not provide pressure data that compared peak and average pressures for different ski instructors, the peak forces from one study reached up to 30 newtons per square centimetre.

In the spring of 2012 I was asked to modify a number of pairs of the same brand and model of a hockey skate for use in a study that would compare metrics derived from pressure data captured from a competitive skater’s own skates to the same metrics from data acquired  from skates I had modified. I saw this as an opportunity to document the effect of modifications made to hockey skates based on the principles of neurobiomechanics described in my patents and this blog. When I speculated that the metrics derived from the pressure data might show improvements as high as 10% (i.e. 110%) I was told that the study was unlikely to result in more than a single digit improvement of approximately 2% or 3%.

I modified the pairs of skates in the shop in the garage of my home near Vancouver. The modifications were general in nature and made without the benefit of data on the feet of the test subjects. No modifications were made after I shipped the hockey skates to the University of Ottawa. I was not involved in the design of the study protocol or the actual study. I was hopeful that the study would produce meaningful results because it would have implications that could be extrapolated to alpine skiing.

The graph below shows the highest peak force in Newtons recorded for each of the 4 competitive skaters in their own hockey skates (blue = OS) and in the hockey skates that I modified (red = NS). The improvement was immediate with little or no run in period in which to adapt. The percentage improvement for each skater is shown at the top of each bar.

The mean (i.e. average) improvement was approximately 190%. The only factor that improvements of this magnitude could be attributed to is improved dynamic stability resulting from an improved functional environment in the skate for the foot and leg of the user.

……. to be continued in Part 3.


  1.  ANALYSIS OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRESSURES UNDER THE FEET OF ELITE ALPINE SKI INSTRUCTORS – Dany Lafontaine, M.Sc.1,2,3, Mario Lamontagne, Ph.D., Daniel Dupuis, M.Sc.1,2, 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.
  2. ANALYSIS OF THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRESSURE UNDER THE FEET OF ELITE ALPINE SKI INSTRUCTORS – Dany Lafontaine, Mario Lamontagne, Daniel Dupuis, Binta Diallo, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

WHY TRYING TO COPY HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN’S MOVES DOESN’T WORK

There appears to be a widely held perception within the ski industry, even among coaches and trainers at the World Cup level, that skiing like Hirscher and Shiffrin is simply a matter of observing and then copying their movements. There also appears to be a widely held perception that strength training and training on BOSU balls, wobble boards, slack lines and thick foam pads will transfer to improved balance on skis.

In a recent article, Nailing the Coffin Shut on Instability Training Ideas (1.), trainer, Bob Alejo, cites 59 papers on the topic of instability training in support of his position that not only are the assumptions about instability training improving balance in a specific activity incorrect, instability training may actually have a negative effect on performance.

As far back as 1980, I had found that an immediate improvement in skier performance after ski boot modifications was a reliable indicator that the modifications were positive. Sometimes this was evident in the first few turns. I had also found that equipment modifications or equipment changes that had a negative effect did not become obvious right away. I didn’t understand the reason for the immediate and sometimes dramatic improvement in skier performance following ski boot modifications. But I suspected it had something to do with improved skier balance.

By 1990, I had hypothesized that elite skiers are able to create a dynamically stable foundation under their outside ski and foot in a turn to balance on by rotating the edged ski against resistance from the sidecut and that this has the effect of extending ground reaction force from the snow out under the body of the ski. But even after the Birdcage studies of 1991 validated my theory, I still didn’t fully understand the reason for the dramatic improvement in skier performance in the Birdcage tests or following modifications made to conventional ski boots. Strain gauges fit to the Birdcage showed forces and the sequence of loading. But the strain gauges could not measure the magnitude of the forces.

It was Dr Emily Splichal’s (2.) that answered my question when she said;

It doesn’t matter how physically strong you are. Without a foundation of stability, you are weak. With a foundation of stability, you are stronger and faster than anyone.

In his article, Nailing the Coffin Shut on Instability Training Ideas (1.), Alejo supports Dr. Splichal’s position:

The predominant theme of the training data analysis under unstable conditions is the striking reduction in force and, subsequently, power. It would be of no surprise then that the speed of motion, as well as the range of motion, were negatively affected under unstable conditions, as cited in the literature.

Reduced Force Outputs Result in Less Power

Essentially, even though both groups improved in some instances, the stable surfaces group outperformed the unstable group in all categories. So much so that it led the authors to conclude that the results of their study affirmed—what was a criticism then and now is fact—that unstable training does not allow for enough loading to create strength and data.

Simply put, athletes can handle heavier weight under stable conditions versus unstable conditions.

Dynamic Stability is critical for a skier or skater to assume a strong position from which to generate force while maintaining control and initiate precise movement from. A key marker of dynamic stability in ice skating and skiing is the magnitude of impulse force, especially peak force.

Impulse

Impulse is a large force applied for a short duration of time. Peak force is the highest force applied during an impulse force.

If superior dynamic stability is the reason for the dominance of racers like Hirscher and Shiffrin then pressure data obtained during skiing should show higher impulse and peak forces than generated their competition. While the technology to measure these forces is readily available I don’t have access to this data even if it does exist. So I’ll use data generated from hockey skate study I was involved in 2012 that compared data captured from competitive skaters performing in their own skates to skates I had modified using principles from my patents and modifications described in this blog.

The first step was to capture baseline data from the test subjects own ice skates (OS). The bar graph below shows the peak force in Newtons applied by each of the four test subjects. Peak force has a very short duration.

Subjects 1 and 3 applied a peak force of approximately 800 Newtons. A pound is 4.45 Newtons. So 800 Newtons is approximately 180 lbs.

Test subjects #1 and #3 are almost identical. But test subject #1 has a very slim edge over test subject #3.

Test subject #2 is 3rd in ranking while test subject #4 is last.

Assuming this was a study of competitive skier test subject #1 appears to have a stability advantage over the other skiers. This would translate into quicker more precise turns (hairpin turns) and less time on their edges.

In my next post I will show what happened when the same test subjects used the skates I prepared.


  1. Nailing the Coffin Shut on Instability Training Ideas – https://simplifaster.com/articles/instability-training/

 

SCHEDULE OF POSTS

The link below will take you to a page with a link to a PDF of all 298 posts I have made since my first post of May 11, 2013.

https://wp.me/P3vZhu-2sM

The schedule lists posts in the order of newest (Jul 10, 2018) to oldest (May 11, 2013). The image below shows what the schedule looks like. The date and time of the post and the views and likes are listed below the title of each post.

 

The top 10 posts to date are shown in the graphic below.

I am in the process of reviewing and analyzing post subjects based on ranking with the objective of better directing my efforts to my readers. If there are any subjects you would like addressed please post them in the comments section.