Footwear science posts

WHY THE OPTIMAL STANCE FOR SKIING STARTS IN THE FEET

In this post, I am going to discuss why the optimal stance for skiing is dependent on the loading sequence of the new outside foot of turn, how this must start in the transition phase and why it is critical to the rocker impulse loading mechanism that engages the shovel and inside edge of the outside ski at edge change. This issue was introduced in THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: TIMING OF EDGE CHANGE. The rocker impulse loading mechanism and the ability to balance on and control the outside ski is dependent on the ability to rapidly tension the biokinetic chain that stiffens the forefoot and torsionally stiffens the ankle and knee joints. This process enables top down, whole leg rotational force, into the turn, to be effectively applied to the foot and ski from the pelvis.

A Middle Ground on Stance

Although there is much discussion in skiing on the subject of stance, it is rare for discussions to include, let alone focus on, the foot.

The red rectangle in the graphic below shows the mid stance phase in the 8 component Gait Cycle.

A common position amongst the various authorities in skiing on stance, is that it is represented by the mid stance phase of the Gait Cycle. The 8 component Gait Cycle is the universal standard for discussion and analysis of gait in human movement. During the turn phase, the sole the outside foot or stance foot is in substantially constant contact with the zeppa or boot board. Since the ski stance does not involve initial heel contact or terminal phases, it was reasonable to conclude that skiing must be a mid stance activity.

Assuming that stance skiing is a mid stance activity also meant that the joints of the foot are mobile and the foot is still pronating and dissipating the shock of impact. The fact that the foot is not yet fully tensioned in mid stance, while still pronating, appears to have led to the conclusion that the foot is unstable and in need of support. Towards this end, form fitting footbeds, liners and, more recently, form-fitted shells were introduced and soon became standard. I described what has become known as the Holy Grail of skiing; a perfect fit of the boot with the foot and leg; one that completely immobilizes the joints of the foot in my post, A CINDERELLA STORY: THE ‘MYTH’ OF THE PERFECT FIT.  This objective, precipitated the premise that forces are best applied to the ski using the shaft of the ski boot as a handle with the leg acting as a lever. In this paradigm, the foot was relegated to a useless appendage.

The Missing Ninth Component – Late Stance

The problem with the assumption that mid stance is the defacto ski stance is that it has only recently been suggested that a critical ninth component, Late Stance, is missing from 8 components of the Gait Cycle.

Although it has been known for decades that the foot undergoes a sequential loading/tensioning process that transforms it from what has been described at initial contact as a loose sack of bones, into a rigid lever in terminal stance for propulsion, the effect of fascial tensioning on late stance has remained largely unexplored until recently when the exclusive focus on the rearfoot began to shift to the forefoot. I discuss this in BOOT-FITTING 101: THE ESSENTIALS – SHELL FIT.

As recently as 2004, Achilles/PA loading of the forefoot was poorly understood. Under Background, a 2004 study (2.) on the role of the plantar aponeurosis in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot states:

The plantar aponeurosis is known to be a major contributor to arch support, but its role in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot remains poorly understood.

The study found:

  • Plantar aponeurosis forces gradually increased during stance and peaked in late stance.
  • There was a good correlation between plantar aponeurosis tension and Achilles tendon force.
  • The plantar aponeurosis transmits large forces between the hindfoot and forefoot during the stance phase of gait.
  • The varying pattern of plantar aponeurosis force and its relationship to Achilles tendon force demonstrates the importance of analyzing the function of the plantar aponeurosis throughout the stance phase of the gait cycle rather than in a static standing position.

Changes in Muscle-tendon unit (MTU) and peak EMG increased significantly with increasing gait velocity for all muscles. This is the first in vivo evidence that the plantar intrinsic foot muscles function in parallel to the plantar aponeurosis, actively regulating the stiffness of the foot in response to the magnitude of forces encountered during locomotion. These muscles may therefore contribute to power absorption and generation at the foot, limit strain on the plantar aponeurosis and facilitate efficient foot to ground force transmission.

Transmits large forces and foot to ground force transmission means large downward forces directed at the ground or to a ski and from there to the snow.

Although I did not understand the esoteric details of fascial tensioning back in 1993, I was sufficiently aware of the relationship between peak tension in the plantar aponeurosis (PA), to be able to construct a simple model that illustrates how peak PA tension results in peak Achilles tension and how this causes the soleus muscle to go into isometric contraction, arresting further forward movement of the shank. I discuss this in detail in my series of posts on the SR Stance.

The photos below shows the simple model I made in 1993. Simple models of this nature are finding increasing use today to model what are called Anatomy Trains.

In late stance, the foot gets shorter in length and the arch gets higher and tighter as intrinsic tension transforms the foot from a mobile adapter in early stance into a rigid lever in late stance so it can apply the high force to the ground necessary for propulsion in the terminal stance phase that occurs at heel separation. The graphic below shows how the arch height h to foot length L ratio increases as the foot is getting shorter and the arch gets higher in late stance.

What has only recently being recognized is that the fascial tension that occurs in stance maximizes balance responses, neuromuscular efficiency and protection of the lower limbs through a process of  foot to core sequencing; one that stiffens the forefoot and torsionally stiffens the joints of the ankle and knee.

Loading/Fascial Tensioning Speed

A 2010 study (4.) found:

Early-stance tension in the PA increased with speed, whereas maximum tension during late stance did not seem to be significantly affected by walking speed. Although, on the one hand, these results give evidence for the existence of a pre-heel-strike, speed-dependent, arch-stiffening mechanism, on the other hand they suggest that augmentation of arch height in late stance is enhanced by higher forces exerted by the intrinsic muscles on the plantar aspect of the foot when walking at faster speeds.

…… or, by more rapid, forceful impulse loading at ski flat – see SUPER PETRA VLHOVA’S EXPLOSIVE IMPULSE LOADING IN ASPEN SLALOM

A 2013 study (3.) found:

Although often showing minimal activity in simple stance, the intrinsic foot muscles are more strongly recruited when additional loads are added to the participant.

A 2015 study (5.) found:

Changes in Muscle-tendon unit (MTU) and peak EMG increased significantly with increasing gait velocity for all muscles. This is the first in vivo evidence that the plantar intrinsic foot muscles function in parallel to the plantar aponeurosis, actively regulating the stiffness of the foot in response to the magnitude of forces encountered during locomotion.

These muscles may therefore contribute to power absorption and generation at the foot, limit strain on the plantar aponeurosis and facilitate efficient (vertical) foot to ground force transmission.

…….. or foot to ski to snow force transmission.

The Optimal Ski Stance is Unique

While the optimal stance for skiing has the greatest similarity to the late phase of stance, I am not aware of any stance that has requirements similar to the ski the stance where a specific loading sequence precedes rocker impulse loading as the outside ski changes edges in the top of a turn.

As with the gait cycle, the movement pattern associated with a turn cycle also involves loading and swing phases.

Time To Cascade

There are two intertwined rocker mechanisms that impulse load the forefoot at ski flat between edge change. These rocker mechanisms rely on what the 3 components of what I refer to as the Time To Cascade which is only possible when the plantar aponeurosis is rapidly fascially tensioned.

  1. Time to Fascial Tension which affects,
  2. Time to Stabilization which affects
  3. Time to Protection which protects the lower limbs 

In my next post, we will Meet the Rockers and continue with the discussion of the mechanics of balance on the outside ski.


  1. http://musculoskeletalkey.com/gait-and-gait-aids/
  2. Dynamic loading of the plantar aponeurosis in walking –Erdemir A1, Hamel AJFauth ARPiazza SJSharkey NA. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2004 Mar;86-A(3):546-52.
  3. Dynamics of longitudinal arch support in relation to walking speed: contribution of the plantar aponeurosis – Paolo Caravaggi, Todd Pataky, Michael Gu¨ nther, Russell Savage and Robin Crompton – Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK – J. Anat. (2010) 217, pp254–261
  4. The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function – Patrick O McKeon1Jay Hertel2Dennis Bramble3Irene Davis4 Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092690
  5. Active regulation of longitudinal arch compression and recoil during walking and running Kelly LA, Lichtwark G, Cresswell AG – J R Soc Interface. 2015 Jan 6;12(102):20141076.

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: TIMING OF EDGE CHANGE

In my US Patent 5,265,350 (November 30, 1993), I stressed the importance of avoiding any structures in the ski boot that would delay or especially prevent, the loading sequence that enables a skier to rapidly assume a position of balance in monopedal stance on the outside ski at ski flat that occurs between edge change. The 2 paragraphs of text below are excerpted from the patent.

The avoidance of any obstruction (in the ski boot) is required in order to ensure that a monopedal stance will be attained without interference or delay. Such interference would be deleterious to the user and is, therefore, undesirable.

In order for the user to enjoy maximum control of the ski, it is important that these forces be transferred as directly as possible and without delay. As previously stated, this is an object of the invention. It is also important that forces exerted by the ski on rigid base 2100 be transferred as directly as possible and without delay to the foot of the user so that appropriate muscle action can be accurately and quickly stimulated which would act to make corrections which influence the relative position of the joints in order to maintain the user’s state of balance.

What I was really referring to is what Dr. Emily Splichal describes as Time to Stabilization.

The window for stabilization for optimal loading and energy transfer is very narrow and occurs as a skier approaches the fall or rise line at the point where a turn will start. The graphic below shows the Stabilization Zone for optimal loading and energy transfer to the outside ski shown circled in pink.

The timing of impulse loading is critical. The loading impulse is applied by a short, rapid knee extension made just as the ski is about to go flat on the snow between edge change in combination with forward movement of CoM in relation to the outside foot. Extending the knee tensions the hamstrings and gastrocnemius. This will cause the ankle extend slightly creating rocker-action impulse loading of the forefoot, especially the 1st MPJ or ball of the foot.

Dr. Splichal has graciously given me permission to republish her recent post. This may well be one of the most important articles ever written pertaining to skiing and ski technique.


 Time To Stabilization & Athlete Injury Risk

by Dr Emily Splichal – Evidence Based Fitness Academy

A majority of my podiatry practice is built around treating athletes and chronic athletic injuries.   From professional dancers to marathon runners all athletes – regardless of sport or art – require the same thing – rapid stabilization for optimal loading and energy transfer.  

dancer

Why is rapid stabilization so important? 

During dynamic movement such as walking, running or jumping (or skiing – my addition), the ability to rapidly load and unload impact forces requires a baseline of stabilization.   With a rate of impact forces coming in at < 50 ms during walking and < 20 ms during running it is no wonder the rate of stabilization must be fast!

To put this a little bit more in perspective.   Our fast twitch muscle fibers don’t reach their  peak contraction till about 50 – 70ms.   So if impact is coming in at rate < 20 ms during running and your hip / knee / ankle and foot are not already stable before you strike the ground – it is too late!     It physiologically is not possible to react to impact and stabilize fast enough.

A client or athlete who is reacting to impact forces will often present with ITB syndrome, runner’s knee, peroneal tendinitis, stress fractures, shin splints – and that’s just naming a few!

Considering Time to Stabilization (TTS)

In my workshops I often say that “we are only as strong as we are stable” or that “stability is the foundation through which strength, force and energy is generated or transferred”.

acle

The precision, accuracy and anticipation of stabilization must be so well programmed into the nervous system that peak stability is happening before contact with the ground.   This is referred to pre-activation and is associated with a faster TTS.

The opposite of pre-activation stabilization is reactive stabilization and is how many – if not most – of my patients or people in general are moving.   When we think of the rate of neuromuscular coordination even a small delay (think milliseconds) will result in tonic (exaggerated) muscle contractions, micro-instability and inefficient loading responses eventually leading to neuromuscular and connective tissue fatigue and injury.

So how can you improve client and athlete TTS?

1. Pre-activate base to center stabilization pathways aka foot to core sequencing

This is THE basis to EBFA Certifications Barefoot Training Specialist and BarefootRx.   With our feet as our base, the activation and engagement of our feet to the ground is key to center or core stabilization.    Fascially, the feet and core are connected through the Deep Front Line and must be integrated and sequenced as part of a proper warm-up or movement prep.

To learn more about foot to core sequencing please view HERE

2. Consider surface science to optimize foot feedback

All surfaces are designed differently with certain surfaces actually blocking and damping the critical proprioceptive input between foot and ground.    When we think of softer surfaces and mats, research has shown a direct correlation between softer surfaces and delayed / prolonged loading responses.

IMG_1753

Harder surfaces.  Surfaces that allow the transmission of vibration.  And surfaces with textures allow more accurate and precise proprioceptive input.   Thus led to the innovation of Naboso Technology by EBFA Founder Dr Emily Splichal

Ideally if Step 1 – pre-activation of our stabilization pathway could be done on a Naboso surface this would be ideal.    More information can be found at www.nabosotechnology.com

3. Footwear to allows optimal feedback and foot function

If we follow Steps 1 & 2  and activate the neuromuscular system barefoot and from the ground up we then want to ensure this carries over as soon as we put on our shoes (or ski boots – my addition) and begin our sport or activity.

Imagine if you activate the proper neuro pathways but then put your client into a thick cushioned shoe (or ski boots – my addition).  This essentially shuts off and defeats the purpose of Step 1 & 2.   We need to ensure a proper shoe is worn to allow this carry over into sport.    So think flexible, minimal cushioning. possible textured insoles (check out Naboso Insoles launching Spring 2017)

IMG_1767

The textured insole in the shoe above is NABOSO technology.


Dr. Emily Splichal, Podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist, is the Founder of the Evidence Based Fitness Academy and Creator of the Barefoot Training Specialist®, BarefootRx® and BARE® Workout Certifications for health and wellness professionals. With over 15 years in the fitness industry, Dr Splichal has dedicated her medical career towards studying postural alignment and human movement as it relates to foot function and barefoot training.

Dr Splichal actively sees patients out of her office in Manhattan, NY with a specialty in sports medicine, biomechanics and forefoot surgery. Dr Splichal takes great pride in approaching all patients through a functional approach with the integration of full biomechanical assessments and movement screens.

Dr Splichal is actively involved in barefoot training research and barefoot education as it relates to athletic performance, injury prevention and movement longevity. Dr Splichal has presented her research and barefoot education both nationally and internationally, with her Barefoot Training Specialist® Program in over 28 countries worldwide and translated into 9 languages.

Due to her unique background Dr Splichal is able to serve as a Consultant for some of the top fitness, footwear and orthotic companies including NIKE Innovations, Trigger Point Performance Therapy, Aetrex Worldwide, Crunch Fitness and Sols.

Degrees/Certifications: Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), Master’s Human Movement (MS), NASM-CES, NASM-PES, NSCA-CPT

 

 

 

REVISIONS TO CORE CONCEPTS

Due to recent interest in CORE CONCEPTS on the HOME page menu (above), I have started to revise it. The current version appears below. Links to a number of pertinent papers and videos by Dr. Emily Splichal (Evidence Based Fitness Academy – EBFA ) have been appended to CORE CONCEPTS.


As bipeds, we propel our bodies forward by moving from one fascially tensioned base of support with foot to core sequencing on one foot to another fascially tensioned base of support with foot to core sequencing.

Skiing uses the same basic pattern. In skiing, we need to establish a fascially tensioned base of support with foot to core sequencing on one foot in order to be able to move with precision to another fascially tensioned base of support with foot to core sequencing on another foot. As far back as the 70’s, the famous French ski technician, Patrick Russell, said that the key to effective skiing is to ‘move from ski to ski’. What Russell was really alluding to is the process of alternating single limb support.

Ever since alpine skiing became formally established, it has been known that the best skiers move from the outside ski of one turn to the outside ski of the next turn. Although this may sound simple enough, the key to being able to effectively move from ski to ski (foot to foot) is the ability to establish a fascially tensioned base of support with foot to core sequencing one foot and then use it to move the body or Centre of Mass to the new outside foot (current uphill ski) of the next turn. Good skiers do this so seamlessly that turns seem to have no beginning or end. The turns just flow together. When viewed in the context of stance and swing phases, the resembles to walking becomes apparent,

How to make skiing as intuitive as walking is what this blog is about. I devoted an entire series of patent to this subject commencing with US Patent No. 5,265,350 and associated international patents on the elements of a minimal ski boot necessary to accommodate the process of establishing a fascially tensioned base of support with foot to core sequencing on one foot and transitioning seamlessly back and forth between bipedal and monopedal stances.

The ability to balance multi-plane torques on the outside leg of a turn is, and continues to be, the secret of the worlds’ best skiers including Toni Sailor, Nancy Greene Raine, Pirmin Zubriggen and, today, Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety to name but a few.


A REVIEW OF GAIT CYCLE AND ITS PARAMETERS – Ashutosh Kharb1, Vipin Saini2 , Y.K Jain3, Surender Dhiman4 – https://ijcem.org/papers72011/72011_14.pdf

Dynamic loading of the plantar aponeurosis in walking – Erdemir A1, Hamel AJFauth ARPiazza SJSharkey NA. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14996881

Active regulation of longitudinal arch compression and recoil during walking and running – Luke A. KellyGlen Lichtwark, and Andrew G. Cresswell – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4277100/

The Foots Arch and the Energetics of Human Locomotion – Sarah M. Stearne, Kirsty A. McDonald, Jacqueline A. Alderson, Ian North, Charles E. Oxnard & Jonas Rubenson – http://www.nature.com/articles/srep19403

Shoes alter the spring-like function of the human foot during running – Kelly LA1, Lichtwark GA2, Farris DJ2, Cresswell A2. – J R Soc Interface. 2016 Jun;13(119). pii: 20160174. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2016.0174. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27307512


The Science of the Human Lever: Internal Fascial Architecture of the Forefoot with Dr. Emily Splichal – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_35cQCoXp9U

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI

In the next series of posts, I am going to focus on the single most important, but least understood, aspect of skiing; skier balance, in particular, the ability to balance perfectly on the outside ski. Given its univerally recognized importance in the ski culture, it is both perplexing and disconcerting that little attention appears to be given to the study and analysis of the mechanics associated with balance on the outside ski.

For decades, the worlds greatest skiers, including Patrick Russell and Marc Giardelli, have stressed the importance of standing on the downhill (outside) ski. Giardelli said that once you can balance perfectly on the outside ski, everything else follows. The ability to stand on the outside ski and balance perfectly on it, implies the same mechanics of balance we engage in when we balance perfectly on one leg when we take a step to move forward in locomotion. Balancing perfectly on one leg requires a stable surface under the entire plantar aspect of the foot to provide a source of GRF. The reason why the ankle-foot complex has a triplanar joint system is so the tripod-like structure of the foot can seek stable ground. This is the classic text book definition of one-footed or monopedal balance and the standard for studies on balance performed on one foot.

The problem is that there is no ground or any form of stable GRF under the outside foot of a turn when the ski is on its inside edge other than the GRF acting along the portion of the edge in contact with the snow surface and a small portion of the base of the ski adjacent the edge. If elite skiers such as Russell and Giardelli really can stand on their outside ski and balance perfectly on it the question is where is the source of GRF coming from that acts to support weight of the body expressed on the plantar foot?

By 1990, I had an explanation in a hypothesis I had articulated. According to my hypothesis, elite skiers extend GRF acting along the portion of the inside edge of their outside ski from the snow to the base of the ski by rotating their outside leg and foot into the turn. This action causes the base of the ski on the outboard side of the inside edge to pivot upward about the portion of inside edge underfoot with sufficient force to support the weight of the body. The Birdcage studies done in 1991 were designed to find out if my hypothesis were right.

Balance on the outside ski is a Two-Step process

Having seen great skiers like Nancy Greene Raine and Toni Sailor ski with ease on pistes that would be difficult, if not impossible, for most skiers to hold an edge on, I was convinced that some skiers really could balance perfectly on their outside ski when it was on its inside edge, the same way that every skier could easily balance on one ski when the base of the ski was fully supported on a firm, stable surface.

I set out to try and figure out how this was possible. It took me about 10 years between 1980 and 1990, to formulate a hypothesis that explained the mechanics. Once I had an explanation, I understood why no one else had been able to figure it out.

Balancing on the outside ski does not adhere to the text book descriptions of single leg balance where a stable source of GRF under the plantar foot is assumed. The ability to stand on the outside ski when on its inside edge and balance perfectly on it, is a Two-Step Process. The key is that the Second Step is dependent on the First Step.  The First Step makes the Second Step possible. Without getting the First Step right within a very short window of opportunity, the Second Step is not possible.

Since my hypothesis predicted that sequence and timing is the critical, it was quite simple to prove my hypothesis with strategically placed strain gauges mounted in the Birdcage on discrete force plates positioned opposite the predicted force transfer points of the foot. The critical nature of the sequence was easily confirmed by preventing the First Step from occurring.

In my next post, I will discuss the Two Steps of the balance process and provide examples using screen shots and video clips from recent World Cup races showing the sequence in a turn where racers such as Mikaela Shiffrin make the two steps to balance on the outside ski.

 

 

BOOT-FITTING 101: THE ESSENTIALS – SHELL FIT

In this post, I am going to discuss the process I follow to assess what I call the essential foot to shell clearances. This is a 2-step process.

Step 1 – Establish the clearances between the structures of the foot and the inner wall of the boot shell required for the foot to function.

Step 2 – Establish the physical connections between discrete restraint force transfer areas of the foot and the inner walls of the boot shell required for the effective force transfer to the ski, for containment of the foot required to support the processes of balance and for the coupling of the foot to specific mechanical references in the boot shell related to the running surface of the ski.

As a prelude to discussing shell fit, it is necessary to point out that a major shift is occuring in the area of focus on the human foot.

Until recently, most discussions on the human foot have focussed almost exclusively on the rearfoot; the ankle complex, the tibial-talar and sub-talar joints, ankle dorsiflexion and plantarflexion, ankle mobility, inversion, eversion, etc. This limited focus has been at the expense of an appreciation and understanding of the role of the forefoot and the complex lever mechanism that enables the first MTP joint to apply large forces to the ground. A study (1) published in 2004 commented:

The plantar aponeurosis (plantar fascia) is known to be a major contributor to arch support, but its role in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot remains poorly understood.

 Fascia is a sheet or band of fibrous tissue such as lies deep to the skin or invests muscles or various body organs.

The most plausible reason why the role of the  plantar aponeurosis in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot is poorly understood is that it has not been given much attention until recently.  

The above cited study concluded:

Plantar aponeurosis forces gradually increased during stance and peaked in late stance.

The almost exclusive focus of attention on the rearfoot has led to assumptions about the function of the foot as a system which are only now being called into question and found to be erroneous or invalid. One result is the erroneous assumption that the arch of the human foot is weak and collapses under the weight of the body. This has spawned a lucrative market for custom made arch supports intended to provide what is perceived as needed support for the arch of the foot.

In boot-fitting, the process of fascial tensioning, in which the height of the arch decreases and the forefoot splays, has been misinterpreted as an indication of a collapsing (implied failure) of the arch due to its inability to support the weight of the superincumbent body during skiing maneuvers. This has led to an almost universal perception and acceptance in skiing of custom arch supports as essential foundations for the foot and the most important part of a ski boot.

The Fascial Tension/SR Stance Connection

Plantar aponeurosis forces peak in late stance in the process of fascial tensioning where they act to maximally stiffen the foot in preparation for the application of propulsive force to the ground. When fascial tensioning of the plantar aponeurosis peaks, forward rotation of the shank is arrested by isometric contraction of the Achilles tendon. This is the shank angle associated with the SR Stance.

Immobilize – Support – Stabilize

Discussions of foot function in the context of the foot to shell clearances necessary for foot function and especially fascial tensioning, tend to be obscured by a consistent, persistent narrative in the ski industry spanning decades that the foot should be supported, stabilized and immobilized in a ski boot. Foot splay, associated with fascial arch tensioning, is viewed as a bad thing. Efforts are made to prevent foot splay with arch supports and custom formed liners in order to the fit the foot in the smallest possible boot size in the name of optimizing support.

In the new paradigm that exists today, the foot is increasingly viewed in the context of a deeply-rooted structure. In the design and fabrication of footwear, attention is now being directed to the accommodation of the  fascial architecture  and the importance of fascial tensioning as it pertains to the science of the human lever mechanism of the foot.

Fascial Tensioning and the Human Foot Lever

Fascial tensioning is critical to the stiffening of the foot for effective force transmission and to foot to core sequencing.

The body perceives impact forces that tend to disturb equilibrium as vibrations. It damps vibration by creating fascial tension in the arches of the foot and the lower limb. Supporting the structures of the foot, especially the arch, diminishes both the degree and speed of fascial tensioning to the detriment of the processes of balance and the ability to protect the tissues of the lower limbs through the process of damping of impact forces.

Dr. Emily Splichal has an excellent webinar on The Science of the Human Lever – Internal Fascial Architecture of the Foot as it pertains to foot to core sequencing – https://youtu.be/_35cQCoXp9U

The DIN Standard is Not a Foot Standard

A major problem for the human foot in a ski boot is the DIN standard toe shape. DIN stands for ‘Deutsches Institut für Normung’ which means ‘German Institute of Standardization’.

The DIN toe shape creates a standard interface for bindings. In a strong, healthy foot, the big toe or hallux should be aligned straight ahead on the center axis of the boot/ski. But as an interface for the human foot, the DIN standard toe shape of a ski boot is the equivalent of a round hole for a wedge-shaped peg.

The graphic below shows a photograph of a foot overlaid over a photograph of the ski boot for the same foot. The outline of the wall of the boot is shown in red. Even though the length of the boot shell is greater than the length of the foot, the big toe will be bent inward by the wall of the shell using the one finger space behind the heel shell length check.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-3-55-38-pm

The Importance of Foot Splay

The progressive fascial tensioning that occurs as CoM advances over the foot transforms foot into a rigid lever that enables the plantar foot to apply force the ground or to a structure underneath the plantar foot such as a ski or skate blade. Forefoot splay is important to the stiffening of the forefoot required for effective plantar to ground force transfer.

Ski boot performance is typically equated with shell last width. Performance boots are classified as narrow. Such boots typically have lasts ranging from 96 mm to 99 mm. Narrow boots are claimed to provide superior sensitivity and quick response, implying superior control of the ski.

The outside bone-to-bone width shown in the photo below is not quite 109 mm. The boot shell has been expanded. The 2 red arrows show the 5th and 1st toe joints (metatarsophalangeal joint or MTP joint). A prime hot spot in less than adequate shell width in the forefoot, is the 5th MTP joint. Even a minimal liner will narrow the boot shell width by 3 to 4 mm.

mt-width

Shell Check: Start Point 

I start with a skier standing in both boot shells with the insole in place from the liner then have them claw each foot forward in the shells using their toes until they can just feel the wall of the shell with the outside (medial) aspect of the big toe when they wiggle the toe up and down. If there is a finger space behind the heel, the shell is in the ball park.

A second check is made with the skier standing on one foot. Some allowance for the correct alignment of the big toe  can be made by grinding the inside of the shell where it is forcing the big toe inward. When fully weighted, a fascially tensioned forefoot will splay approximately 3 mm for a female and 5 mm for a male.  The ball shaped protrusion of the 5th MTP joint is typically almost directly below the toe buckle of a 4 – buckle boot.

Once a skier can stand on one foot in each shell with adequate space for normal foot splay, the rear foot can be checked for clearance. The usual sources of problems are the inside ankle bone (medial malleolus) and the navicular and/or the medial tarsal bone. A good way to locate the prime areas of contact is to apply a thick face cream or even toothpaste to the inside ankle bones then carefully insert the foot into the boot shell, stand on it to make contact with the shell, then carefully remove the foot. The cream will leave tell tale smears on the boot shell which can then be marked with a felt pen.

Getting Step 1 successfully completed can involve alternating back and forth between forefoot and rearfoot clearance. Until, both areas are right, full normal foot splay may not occur. Step 2 is done in conjunction with liner modifications which can be a process in itself and is often the most problematic aspect of creating an environment in a ski boot that accommodates and supports foot function especially fascial tensioning.


  1. Dynamic loading of the plantar aponeurosis in walking – Erdemir A1, Hamel AJ, Fauth AR, Piazza SJ, Sharkey NA  – J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2004 Mar;86-A(3):546-52.

THE PURPOSE OF THE SKI BOOT

As a prelude to discussing the objectives of my work with Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Pro, Matt, it is important to establish the position of various authorities on the purpose of the ski boot from the perspective of skier function.

Here is what the authorities cited below said in 1987

From a technical (skiing) point of view, the ski boot must represent an interface between the human body and the ski. This implies first of all an exchange of steering function, i.e., the skier must be able to steer as well as possible, but must also have a direct (neural) feedback from the ski and from the ground (snow). In this way, the skier can adapt to the requirements of the skiing surface and snow conditions. These conditions can be met if the height, stiffness, angle  and functions (rotational axes, ankle joint (AJ)/shaft) of the shaft are adapted, as well as possible  to the individual skier.

The modern ski boot must be designed from a functional point of view, i.e., the design must take into consideration the realities of functional anatomy (axes etc.). It (the design) should not make compromises at the expense of other joints (length of shaft, flexibility and positioning). It (the ski boot) must represent the ideal connecting link between man and ski (steering and feedback).

Biomechanical Considerations of the Ski Boot (Alpine) Dr. E. Stussi,  Member of GOTS –

Chief of Biomechanical Laboratory ETH, Zurich, Switzerland – 1987

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The ski boot and it’s shaft must be adapted to the technical skill of the skier, and the technical skills of the skier must be adapted to the preexisting biomechanical functions of the leg and the foot. The medical requirements with respect to sports should not be construed as criticism of the boot industry. It is hoped that they are contribution to the development of a ski boot designed along anatomical principles. This goal has not yet been achieved.

Kinematics of the Foot in the Ski Boot – Professor  Dr. M. Pfeiffer – Institute for the Athletic Science, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria

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The lack of proper technique seem so often is not due to a lack of ability, but to an unsatisfactory functional configuration of the shaft in so may ski boots. This is particularly true in models designed for children, adolescent and women. In the future, ski boots will be designed rationally and according to the increasing requirements of the ski performance target groups.

Ski-Specific Injuries and Overload Problems – Orthopedic Design of the Ski Boot –  Dr. med. H.W. Bar, Orthopedics-Sportsmedicine, member of GOTS, Murnau, West Germany

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Here is what I said in 1992

The interaction between the foot and the footwear necessary to elicit optimum response from the medium to which it is attached is not well understood. Skis, ice skate blades, roller skate wheels and the like represent a medium designed to produce specific performance characteristics when interacting with an appropriate surface. The performance of such mediums is largely dependent on the ability of the user to accurately and consistently apply forces to them as required to produce the desired effect. 

In addition, in situations where the user must interact with external forces, for example gravity, the footwear must restrain movements of the user’s foot and leg in a manner which maintains the biomechanical references with the medium with which it is interacting.

It is proposed that in such circumstances, the footwear must serve as both an adaptive and a linking device in connecting the biomechanics of the user to a specific medium, such as a ski, for example. This connective function is in addition to any type of fixation employed, in this instance, to secure the footwear to the ski. 
Alpine ski boots, ice skate footwear and cycling shoes are among the many types of sports footwear known. As with all sports footwear, the objectives in design and construction are to facilitate and enhance performance in the particular sport and to provide comfort to the wearer.

US Patent No 5,265, 350 February 1992 – MacPhail, David Michael

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After the skier, the most important piece of equipment in the skier/ski equipment system is the ski boot. The conventional ski boot has the biggest influence on who rises to the top technically. Those who are able to connect with the snow through their feet so as to enable the use of their natural  mechanisms of balance are unlikely to lose the resulting kinaesthetic association. When these skiers try on a new boot, they usually know within seconds whether it will work for them or not without even having to go on snow. But for nine out of ten never-evers, the initial skiing experience involves such a severe disconnect from familiar sensations, especially a compromise of balance, that is so unsettling that their first day on skis is also their last day.

It is for this very reason that the consensus of the previously cited authorities is that a ski boot should be adapted to the functional requirements of the user and not the other way around. It is particularly important that the ski boot not incur functional compromises on the part of the user. A properly designed ski boot should enable the user to utilize mechanisms of ski control that are complimentary to and consistent with, their innate mechanisms of balance.

In my next post, I will  use video clips and annotated screen shots to describe how Matt’s ski boots were compromising his function and the process by which his boots were modified so as to adapt them to Matt’s functional functional requirements.

 

THE SKIER BALANCE ‘SIGNATURE’

Since the number of followers of my blog with a technical background is increasing, it is timely for me to review the studies done 1991 with the Birdcage research vehicle and the content and purpose of the subsequent patents awarded to me based on the findings of those studies.

For those who are not aware of the Birdcage, it was a sophisticated research vehicle I designed with a biomedical engineer. The Birdcage replaced the conventional ski boot and allowed studies to be done during actual ski maneuvers that controlled variables. Most important, the Birdcage minimized ‘spurious background neural noise’ resulting from interference with the physiological function of the lower limbs caused by the ‘indiscriminate envelopment’ of the structures of the foot and leg by the constraining structures of the conventional ski boot. This spurious background neural noise makes it impossible to state with any degree of certainty how a ski boot affects the physiologic function of a user, let alone arrive at any meaningful conclusions. For this reason,  ‘neural noise’ makes it impossible to state with any degree of certainty how custom insoles or boot-fitting interventions such form fitting-constraint systems affect the physiologic function of the user during actual ski maneuvers. This issue was recognized by University of Ottawa foot pressure studies which acknowledged that equipment variations such as ski boot differences and the fact that some subjects wore custom designed footbeds, while the other did not, may have affected in-boot measurements.

Those who attempt to perform studies of physiologic function during actual ski maneuvers or develop technologies designed to coordinate the physiologic events associated with sound ski technique, will be frustrated by the presence of spurious background neural noise. My hypothesis, that the Birdcage studies were designed to validate or invalidate, was that under certain conditions of constraint, a specific sequence of events representing what amounts to the Balance Signature seen in gait studies would be observed and that the resulting Balance Signature could be formulated and applied to technologies such as training software. The findings of the Birdcage studies indicated that, within certain limits, the CNS could successfully negotiate a balance-solution with source of GRF supplied by the snow (GRF). The problem is that the structures of the conventional ski boot intentionally interfere with this process.

A recent study (1) on the arch spring serves to illustrate how the use of a novel insole technique can study the effects of arch supports and prescription orthotics on the energy sparing mechanism of the intrinsic spring of the arch.

In anticipation  that there would be little or no interest in the Birdcages studies, I embedded the findings in US Patent 5,265,350 when I wrote it in 1992. My intent was to create a historical record in the public domain in the hope that the knowledge contained in the document would be found and put into practice in the future. Once the legalese is extracted, the patent presents a detailed road map describing the constraining environment in which the physiologic function associated with the Balance Signature can occur.

An editable version of text of the US Patent 5,265,350 can be downloaded from the US Patent Office web site. The patent document, with figures, can be downloaded from the Google Patent site.


  1. The Foot’s Arch and the Energetics of Human Locomotion – http://www.nature.com/articles/srep19403