Ski Technique posts

EDGE CHANGE INERTIA + ROCKER ROTATION INERTIA

As I was in the process of writing this post, a FaceBook group on skiing posted a link to an article From PSIA: Examining Transitions. The article is based on a presentation last fall by US Ski Team Head Men’s Coach, Sasha Rearick, in which he shed new light on transitions (1.).  While Rearick did shed light on some events associated with transitions, as with previous efforts by others on this subject, Rearick failed to shed light on the mechanics and physics associated with edge change.

As I explained in my last post, transferring the weight from the outside foot and ski of a turn to the inside foot and ski in the transition phase sets in motion what I call the Eversion/Internal Rotation Cascade that rotates the base of the ski into a transient moment of full contact with the surface of the snow between changing to the new (downhill) edge.

At the start of the transition leading up to ski flat between edge change, the center of pressure (COP) of the weight of the body applied by the sole of the inside foot will be under the heel where it is aligned on the proximate center of the ski. In this configuration, the force applied to the ski by the skier is working with gravity to rotate the ski.

The post left off by showing how rotational inertia will tend to make the ski continue rotating about the uphill edge past ski flat and penetrate into the snow surface on its downhill aspect as shown in the graphic below.

Rotational inertia will tend to make the inside edge of the new outside ski automatically rotate into the turn except for the fact that the force FW applied by the skier is on the wrong side of the new edge.

The graphic below has a dashed red reference that is parallel with the snow surface.

If the force FW applied by the skier is still aligned on the transverse center of the ski, it act will act to oppose edge change as shown in the graphic below. When the axis of rotation of the body of the ski changes with a change in edges, the transverse aspect of the base of the ski and the platform under the skier’s foot will tend to accelerate into an eversion translation. But this can only happen if the associated biomechanics are not interfered with by the structures of the ski boot.

The graphic below shows the change in the mechanics of rotation associated with edge change.

At the start of the transition, movement of the mass of the skier’s upper body is in phase with the downhill rotation of the ski and the force FW applied to it. But when the ski changes pivots at edge change and the mass of the skier continues to move downhill, the force FW applied to the ski will tend to rotate it back to ski flat; i.e out of the turn, unless the point of application of force FW changes during ski flat as shown in the graphic below and COM of the skier is aligned with force FW.

………. the angle between the platform and force you apply to it, the platform angle, must be 90 degrees or smaller.  – page 19, The Ski’s Platform Angle, Ultimate skiing; Le Master

The shift in center of pressure from the heel to the ball of the foot in a turn sequence seen in pressure studies of expert skiers is well documented (2., 3., 4). What the studies are really confirming is the use by expert skiers of the Two Phase Second Rocker mechanism to rock (tip) the outside ski on edge and control the edge angle during the load phase of a turn sequence.

Since the limit of the position of the application of force by the foot in relation to the inside edge of the outside ski is the center of the ball of the foot the effect of ski width underfoot and stand height should be obvious. Both rotational inertia and torque will increase as the width of a ski underfoot (profile width) is reduced and stand height increased. When Ligey says he creates pressure, he is creating far more than just pressure.

While LeMaster appears to recognize the importance of a platform angle less than 90° for edge control and, to some degree, the effect of stand height, the explanation offered for superior edging is that this can be attributed to waist width and stand height making skis more like ice skates.In my next post, I will discuss the role of Turntable Rotation in setting up a platform under the body of the outside ski for a skier to stand and balance on while maintaining edge angle.


  1. http://eliteskiing.com/2017/03/31/from-psia-examining-transitions/
  2. WHAT THE TWO HIGH PRESSURE COPS IN THE UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA STUDIES MEAN – https://wp.me/p3vZhu-1fV
  3. IMPLICATIONS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA PRESSURE STUDIES –https://wp.me/p3vZhu-1e2
  4. AN INDEPENDENT STUDY IN SUPPORT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA FINDINGS – https://wp.me/p3vZhu-1gR

 

EDGE CHANGE INERTIA: WHY THE TRANSITION PHASE MATTERS

One of the most important events in the turn sequence is edge change. Yet, it is rarely mentioned in technical discussions. One of the few references I was able to find on edge change is in the CSIA Technical Reference which states:

Edge Change = Balance Change: Changing edges requires a change of balance.

Edge change occurs during an unbalanced, controlled fall in the transition phase that leads to the development of a balanced position on the outside ski as it crosses the fall line in the bottom of a turn. Properly executed, edge change leads to the development of a platform under the outside ski for the skier to stand and balance on.

The edge change sequence starts in the transition phase when a skier begins to transfer weight from the outside (downhill) ski to the inside (uphill ski). At the start of the transition, the edges of the inside ski are uphill and on the lateral (little toe) side of the foot. From a perspective of the gait cycle, the base of the ski is inverted (turned inward towards the center of the body). This is the normal configuration when the foot is unweighted in the gait cycle. The foot strikes the ground on the lateral (little toe) side and rotates about it’s long axis in the direction of eversion to bring the three points of the tripod of the foot into contact with the ground. As the foot everts, the leg rotates internally through torque coupling in the subtalar joint. The normal kinetic flow from foot strike to the support phase in mid to late stance is one of inversion of the foot/external rotation of the leg to eversion of the foot/internal rotation of the leg. Put another way, the human lower limbs will naturally rotate into a turn so long as the biomechanics are not interfered with.

At the start of the transition leading up to ski flat between edge change, the center of pressure (COP) of the weight of the body applied by the sole of the inside foot will be under the heel where it is aligned on the proximate center of the ski.

The Eversion/Internal Rotation Cascade

Transferring the weight from the outside foot and ski to the inside foot and ski in the transition phase sets in motion what I call the  Eversion/Internal Rotation Cascade. When the cascade starts, the force F W applied to the ski by the foot  by the weight of the body will impart rotational inertia as the ski rotates about the pivot point formed by its inside edge.

For the sake of simplicity, the stack of equipment between the sole of the skier’s foot and the snow is represented by a rectangle in a 3:2 ratio where the stand height is 50% higher than the width (FIS maximum stand height = 93 mm – maximum profile width = 63 mm). Sidecut is also not shown.

The following graphics show the sequence of the Eversion Cascade. Note: Internal rotation of the leg is not shown in this sequence.

The first graphic below shows the moment or torque arm ma that is set up by the offset that exists between GRF from the firm piste acting at the inside edge and the point where the center of pressure of the weight of the body acts in the plane of the base of the ski. The large red arc shows the radius of rotation. The small red arc shows the radius of the moment of force. In this sequence, the ski is rotating downhill away from the pivot at the uphill edge.

When the base of the ski comes into full contact with the surface of the snow, rotational inertia, will make it want to continue rotating about the uphill edge and penetrate into the snow surface on the downhill aspect. If the force FW applied by the weight of the body is still aligned on the transverse center of the ski, it will oppose edge change.

In my next post I will discuss how the Second Rocker affects the mechanics of edge change at ski flat.

 

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: CLOSED CHAIN OUTSIDE LEG ROTATION

A recently published study on foot pressure data acquired during skiing (1.) recognized that compressive force pressure data acquired in skiing is underestimated by 21% to 54% compared to pressure data acquired on a force platform in a controlled environment.  The underestimation varies depending on the phase of the turn, the skier’s skill level, the pitch of the slope and the skiing mode. The paper states that other studies have stated that this underestimation originates from a significant part of the force actually being transferred through the ski boot’s cuff (to the ski). 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.

In conclusion, these studies have highlighted a major contribution of different factors to the nGRF applied throughout a turn, such as the foot’s position during a turn (inside vs. outside), the CoP A-P (front to back) displacement, or precise loading of different foot sole regions.  Unfortunately, these results have been studied separately.

There is a lack of continuity across the various positions in skiing and, in particular, a lack of a model with which to explain mechanisms such as balance on the outside ski and open and closed chain internal rotation of the leg and foot in conjunction with progressive inclination and G force loading on it as the skier crosses the fall line in the bottom of a turn. The associated mechanics and biomechanics represent a new paradigm requiring new thinking and new insights. Existing text-book explanations are not sufficient to explain these mechanisms.

Open Chain Whole Leg Rotation vs. Closed Chain Rotation

Rotation of an unloaded (non-weight bearing) lower limb is relatively straight forward when there is a small angle at the knee. As resistance to rotation of the foot is progressively introduced with increasing weight imposed on it, the kinetic chain begins to close. As it closes, the points at which the foot transfers torque to the walls of rigid shell footwear such as ice skates and ski boots starts to emerge as an issue as does the loading of the foot created by the weight of the body imposed on it and the position of COM in relation to the foot.

In order to tension the biokinetic chain and trigger the two-phase Second Rocker, COM must be aligned over the foot as shown in the grahic below.  This alignment requires that the leg adduct (move towards the center of the body) approximately 6.5 degrees. To bring the 3 points of the tripod of the foot into contact with the ground, the foot must evert (sole turn outward) the same amount. Eversion is accompanied by a corresponding torque coupled 6.5 degrees of internal rotation of the leg as shown in the left hand figure in the graphic below (see my post – OUTSIDE SKI BALANCE BASICS: STEP-BY-STEP). The bipedal figure on the right shows adduction, eversion and internal rotation as 0.0 – 0.0 – 0.0 for reference. The monopedal figure on the left shows the changes in adduction, eversion and internal rotation as 6.5 – 6.5 – 6.5.

 

The alignment of COM with the foot can be achieved by moving COM laterally as shown by the arrow emanating from COM in the Monopedal figure or by moving the foot medially as shown by the white arrow or through a combination of the two movements.  The act of positioning COM over the outside foot (Getting Over It), sets in motion internal rotation of the outside leg and eversion of foot into the turn. This engages an over-centre mechanism between the platform of the ski and the inside edge underfoot.

The over-centre mechanism results in an alignment of the resultant force R forming an angle with the transverse aspect of base of the ski that is slightly less than 90 degrees. In order to Get (COM) Over It (the foot), it is essential that the outside leg is not only able to adduct and rotate internally as the foot everts, but to achieve this configuration without delay in order to set up the over-center mechanism. The problem for the majority of skiers is that the objective of most boot fit systems and boot-fitting procedures is to support the foot in a neutral configuration. Eversion of the foot is a component of pronation. Impeding or preventing pronation, restricts or even prevents the required amount of eversion.

Closing the Kinetic Chain on Whole Leg Rotation

Open kinetic chain leg/foot rotation with the foot unloaded (not bearing weight) is relatively simple. But the mechanics and biomechanics begin to get complicated when resistance is progressively introduced that starts to close the kinetic chain as happens when the outside ski is rotated across the path of the skier in the fall line in the bottom of a turn.
The graphic below shows a foot supported on a platform with 2 points of resistance (FR) applied to the platform opposite the 2 points of application of the moments of force, ML (green) and MM (red). The forces tangent to the arc of the moments of rotation are shown as FT.
When the weight of the body is progressively shifted to one foot (i.e. Monopedal Stance) and the foot everts, the talus (shown in gray in the graphic above) moves inward towards the center of the body and shifts slightly rearward as evidenced by the corresponding movement of the inside ankle bone.  This is easily seen when moving from bipedal to monopedal stance on a hard, flat surface while barefoot.In order to effectively transfer torque from the foot to the platform, the forefoot and ankle and knee joints must be fascially tensioned. This requires that the big toe (Hallux) be aligned on the anatomical axis (dashed line) and the forefoot fully splayed. This stabilizes the heel and head of the 1st metatarsal (ball of the foot).  Torque from internal rotation of the leg will be transferred to two discrete points adjacent the Load Counters mounted on the resistance platform.

Removing the resistance force FR from the inner (big toe) aspect of the platform provides insights to what I refer to as the Turntable Effect that is associated with internal rotation of the leg and eversion of the foot that creates an over-center mechanism. The turntable rotation is shown in light yellow. The effect will vary for different structures of the foot depending on the location of the center of rotation of the platform under the foot.

The location of the blade of an ice skate on the anatomical center of the foot has been used to explain why it is easier to cut into a hard ice surface with a skate compared to the edges of a ski. But the real reason it is easier is because ice skaters use the Second Rocker, Over-Center, Turn Table Mechanisms as shown in the graphic below. The skate is positioned under COM. It can be readily seen that the skater is not using the inner aspect of the shaft of the skate to hold the skate on edge.

In my next post, I will discuss the progress of emerging CARV and NABOSO technologies after which I will continue with my discussion of the Mechanics of Balance on the Outside Ski.


  1. Influence of slope steepness, foot position and turn phase on plantar pressure distribution during giant slalom alpine ski racing: Published: May 4, 2017  – Thomas Falda-Buscaiot, Frédérique Hintzy, Patrice Rougier, Patrick Lacouture, Nicolas Coulmy
  2. http://wp.me/p3vZhu-29n

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: THE TURNTABLE EFFECT

Neither the Two Phase Second Rocker (heel to ball of foot rocker) described in THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: HEEL/FOREFOOT ROCKER (1.) or the Rotating Turntable Effect described in THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: THE ROCKER/TURNTABLE EFFECT (2.) are new. They have been the trademark technique of the world’s best skiers for decades. But the ability to engage the associated mechanics and biomechanics requires what amounts to a perfect storm that typically occurs early in the development of a young skier. More than raw athletic talent, discipline and dedication, the ski boot appears to be the critical factor that determines who acquires the ability to engage these effects.

In working with skiers and racers who are gifted natural athletes, it has been my consistent finding that a change in ski boots that compromises neuromuscular function will result in the body adopting compensatory mechanisms that can reduce competence on skis to survival reactions. Given sufficient time, the survival mechanism will become imprinted until a point is reached where it is accepted as normal by the body. Even after the cause is corrected, it can take years of retraining to erase and replace survival motor patterns. A good example of this is what happened to Mikaela Shiffrin at the start of the 2014-2015 World Cup after changes were made to her boots in the fall of 2014. Fortunately, she was able to revert to her previous boots over Christmas and quickly restore her former competitive competence.

Four synergistic mechanisms associated with the mechanics of edge change result in the creation of a platform under the outside ski that a skier can stand and balance on. These are:

  1. The Two Phase Second Rocker (heel to ball of foot rocker) Mechanism
  2. Impulse rocker loading that occurs at edge change
  3. The Over-Center mechanism, and
  4. Open and Closed Chain Whole Leg Rotation; The Rotating Turntable Effect.

The most critical and seemingly least appreciated and understood mechanism in skiing is the mechanics and biomechanics of whole leg rotation.

LeMaster recognized the role of whole leg rotation in skiing in his book Ultimate Skiing when he stated under Twisting Actions (p 13) that torques play important roles in turning skis and holding them on edge. In Chapter 7, Turning the Skis (p 107), LeMaster states, Rotating the leg inward generally rolls the ski on its edge, too, combining the increase in the edge and platform angles—often a desirable combination while acknowledging that leg rotation is powerful and can produce large torques through the whole turn. But LeMaster does not describe the mechanics associated with whole leg rotation in this context.

The Center of Rotation

Whole leg rotational force is applied to the femur primarily by the gluteus medius.

The most important source of rotational power with which to apply torque to the footwear (ski boot) is the adductor/rotator muscle groups of the hip joint. – US Patent 5,265,350 MacPhail

Rotation of the femur is transferred through the tibia where it is applied through its lower or distal aspect to the talus that forms the ankle joint with the tibia.

The graphic below shows a skeleton of the foot aligned on a fixed reference axis (dashed line).The graphic below shows the same skeleton of the foot rotated 15° medially (towards the center of the body) against the fixed reference axis (dashed line).

The graphic below shows the relative displacement of the heel and forefoot in relation to the fixed reference axis (dashed line).

The graphic below compares the displacements of the heel and limit of the forefoot at the end of the second toe with horizontal lines in the center of the graphic. The lines show that the end of the second toe displaces almost 4 times as much as the rearmost end of the center of the heel during whole leg rotation of the foot. Hence the advice in my post, THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: PRESS AND POINT THE BIG TOE (3.), to point the big toe in the direction you want to go.

Open Chain Rotation vs Closed Chain Rotation

  • Open Chain Rotation – occurs when the foot can rotate in the horizontal plane in conjunction with the rotation of the whole leg from pelvis. In ski technique, this is referred to as steering.
  • Closed Chain Rotation – occurs when the foot is fixed on its long axis and whole leg rotational force is applied to the foot from pelvis.

Open Chain whole leg rotation acting about the axis of the ankle joint in combination with a Two Phase Second Rocker induced Over Centre mechanism are prerequisites to the application of Closed Chain Rotation. The emerging profile created by the steering angle of the outside ski as it crosses the fall line below a gate yields important clues as to the technique of a racer.

In my next post, I will discuss Closed Chain Rotation applied to the outside ski in a turn and the transfer path of torques applied to the foot by the leg through the boot-binding interface to the ski.


  1. http://wp.me/p3vZhu-2at
  2. http://wp.me/p3vZhu-2bb
  3. http://wp.me/p3vZhu-25W

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: THE ROCKER/TURNTABLE EFFECT

The Two Phase Second Rocker (Heel to Ball of Foot) described in the previous post is dependent on inertia impulse loading. A good discussion of the basics of inertia and momentum is found in Inertia, Momentum, Impulse and Kinetic Energy (1.)

Limitations of Pressure Insoles used in Skiing

A paper published on May 4, 2017 called Pressure Influence of slope steepness, foot position and turn phase on plantar pressure distribution during giant slalom alpine ski racing by Falda-Buscaiot T, Hintzy F, Rougier P, Lacouture P, Coulmy N. while noting that:

Pressure insoles are a useful measurement system to assess kinetic parameters during posture, gait or dynamic activities in field situations, since they have a minimal influence on the subject’s skill.

acknowledge limitations in pressure insoles:

However, several limitations should be pointed out. 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.

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

Forces transferred through the cuff of a ski boot to the ski can limit or even prevent the inertia impulse loading associated with the Two Phase Second Rocker/Turntable Effect. In addition, forces transferred through the cuff of a ski boot to the ski intercept forces that would otherwise be transferred to a supportive footbed or orthotic.

Rocker Roll Over

In his comment to my post, OUTSIDE SKI BALANCE BASICS: STEP-BY-STEP, Robert Colborne said:

In the absence of this internal rotation movement, the center of pressure remains somewhere in the middle of the forefoot, which is some distance from the medial edge of the ski, where it is needed.

Rock n’ Roll

To show how the Two Phase Second Rocker rocks and then rolls the inside ski onto its inside edge at ski flat during edge change, I constructed a simple simulator. The simulator is hinged so as to tip inward when the Two Phase Second Rocker shifts the center of pressure (COP) from under the heel, on the proximate center of a ski, diagonally, to the ball of the foot.

The red ball in the photo below indicates the center of gravity (COG) of the subject. When COP shifts from the proximate center to the inside edge aspect, the platform will tilt and the point of COP will drop with the COG in an over-center mechanism.


A sideways (medial) translation of the structures of the foot away from the COG will also occur as shown in the graphic below. The black lines indicate the COP center configuration of the foot. The medial translation of the foot imparts rotational inertia on the platform under the foot.

Two Phase Second Rocker: The Movie

The video below shows the Two Phase Second Rocker.

Click on the X on the right side of the lower menu bar of the video to enter full screen.

The graphic below shows to Dual Plane Turntable Effect that initiates whole leg rotation from the pelvis applying multi-plane torque to the ski platform cantilevering reaction force acting along the running edge of the outside ski out under the body of the ski. A combination of over-center mechanics and internal (medial or into the turn) application of rotation of the leg from the pelvis, counters torques resulting from external forces.


  1. http://learn.parallax.com/tutorials/robot/elev-8/understanding-physics-multirotor-flight/inertia-momentum-impulse-and-kinetic
  2. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0176975

 

 

 

 

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: WINDLASS POWER

Two factors can prevent a skier from being able to develop a platform under the body of the outside ski on which to stand and balance on during a turn using the same processes used to balance on one foot on solid ground:

  1. The biomechanics of the foot and leg have been compromised by traditional footwear and,
  2. The structures of the ski boot, especially insoles, footbeds, orthotics and form fit liners, are interfering with the foot to pelvic core tensioning of the biokinetic chain that starts in the forefoot.

The torsional stiffening of the ankle and knee joints resulting from fascial tensioning of the biokinetic chain is fundamental to the ability to create a platform under the body of the outside ski by internally rotating the outside leg from the pelvis. It may sound complicated. But it is actually quite simple. Once learned, it can become as intuitive as walking.

The best method I have found to appreciate how ski boots, custom insoles and form fitting liners can affect the function of the feet and even the entire body, is do a series of exercises starting with the short foot. The short foot helps to assess the ability to harness the Windlass Power associated with the big toe. Once proper function has been acquired in the foot and leg, a skier can go through a methodical, step-by-step process to assess the effect of each component of the ski boot on the function of the feet and legs.

The latest edition of Runner’s World (1.) reports on a study done by a team at Brigham Young University that compared the size and strength of the foot’s “instrinsic” muscles in 21 female runners and 13 female gymnasts. Gymnasts train and compete in bare feet.

The researchers found:

Of the four muscles measured with ultrasound, the gymnasts were significantly bigger on average in two of them, with no difference in the other two. The gymnasts were stronger in their ability to flex their big toe, with no difference in the strength of the second, third, and fourth toes.

Although balance is important in all sports, it is especially critical in gymnastics. So it is significant that study found that the big toes of the gymnasts were stronger than the big toes of the runners.

Until recently, I found it much easier to balance on my left leg than my right leg. The big toe on my left foot was noticeably larger than the big toe on my right foot and the big toe on my left foot was aligned straight ahead whereas the big toe on my right foot was angled outward towards my small toes. This misalignment had pushed the ball of my foot towards the inside of my foot causing a bunion to form on the side, a condition known as hallux valgus. I now understand why I could balance better on my left foot than my right foot.

The muscle that presses the big toe down is called the Flexor Hallucis Longis (FHL). It is inserted into the last joint of the big toe where it exerts a pull that is linear with the big toe and ball of the foot. When the arch is maximally compressed in late stance, the Flexor Hallucis Longis is stretched and tensioned causing the big toe to press down. It’s insertion on the upper third of the fibula causes the lower leg to rotate externally (to the outside). When stretched, the FHL acts in combination with the Posterior Tibialis to support the arch. Footwear that prevents the correct alignment of the hallux weakens the arch making it more difficult to balance on one foot; the foot pronates unnaturally.

Going mostly barefoot for the past 10 years and wearing minimal type shoes for the past 6 years, made my feet stronger.  But it had minimal effect in correcting the hallux valgus in my right foot. It was only after doing the exercises in the links that follow, such as the short foot, that the big toe on my right foot became properly aligned and grew in size. It is now the same size as my left toe and I am able to balance equally well on both feet. The problem with ski boots and most footwear, is that they can force the big toe into a hallux valgus position while preventing the forefoot from splaying and spreading naturally weakening the arch and significantly impairing natural balance.

In the early 1970’s, when the then new plastic ski boots were making a presence in skiing, research on human locomotion was in its infancy. Studies of the effects of sports shoes on human performance were virtually nonexistent. The only technology available back then with which to study the biomechanics of athletes was high speed (film) movies. Ski boot design and modification was a process of trial and error. Many of the positions that predominate even today were formed back then.

As methodologies began to develop that enabled the study of the effect of sports shoes on users, biomechanists and medical specialists became convinced that excessive impact forces and excessive pronation were the most important issues affecting performance and causing or contributing to injury. I suspect that biomechanists and medical specialists arrived at this conclusion even though there was little evidence to support it because it seemed logical. Soon, the term, excessive pronation became a household word. The perceived solution? Arch supports, cushioned soles, motion control shoes and a global market for arch supports.  This appears to have precipitated an assumption within the ski industry that the feet of all skiers needed to be supported in ski boots and pronation, greatly restricted, or even prevented altogether. Even though no studies were ever done that I am aware of that demonstrated that pronation was a problem in skiing, support and immobilization became the defacto standard. Custom footbeds, orthotics and form fitted liners became a lucrative market.

As the support and immobilize paradigm was becoming entrenched in skiing, studies were increasingly concluding that, with rare exceptions, excessive pronation, is a non-existent condition with no pathologies associated with it and that the role of impact forces was mis-read. Today, it is increasingly being recognized that interference to natural foot splay and joint alignment of the big toe by the structures of footwear, causes weakness in the foot and lower limbs through interference with the natural processes of sequential fascial tensioning that occurs in the late stance phase. But the makers of footwear and interventions such as arch supports, have been slow to recognize and embrace these findings.

A key indicator of whether a skier has successfully developed a platform under the outside ski with which stand and balance on, is the position and alignment of the knee in relation to the foot and pelvis as the skier enters the fall line from the top of a turn. I discuss this in my post, MIKAELA SHIFFRIN AND THE SIDECUT FACTOR.

Best Surfaces for Training

A good starting point for the short foot and other exercises is Dr.Emily Splichal’s YouTube video, Best Surfaces for Training https://youtu.be/gvJjIi3h1Bs

Although it may seem logical to conclude that soft, cushioned surfaces are best for the feet, the reality is very different. The best surfaces to balance on are hard, textured surfaces. Dr. Splichal has recently introduced the world’s first surface science insoles and yoga mats using a technology she developed called NABOSO which means without shoes in Czech.

The skin on the bottom of the foot plays a critical role in balance, posture, motor control and human locomotion. All footwear – including minimal footwear – to some degree blocks the necessary stimulation of these plantar proprioceptors resulting in a delay in the response of the nervous system which can contribute to joint pain, compensations, loss of balance and inefficient movement patterns. I’ve been testing NABOSO insoles for about a month. I will discuss NABOSO insoles in a future post. In the meantime, you can read about NABOSO at https://naboso-technology.myshopify.com/products/naboso-insoles

Short Foot Activation

 

Short Foot Single Leg Progressions


  1. Here’s the Latest Research on Running Form – May 30, 2017
  2. Biomechanics of Sports Shoes – Benno M. Nigg

DIGITAL SALVATION FOR THE SOLE [BACK TO THE FUTURE]

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  – Clarke’s Third Law

Conspicuous hardly begins to describe what I was feeling.  In the early morning rush of skiers grabbing a quick caffeine rush at the Wizard Grill, amid tables full of Ski School twinks waiting to see whether they were going to have any work for the day, an attractive woman was carefully stringing computer cables up the inside legs of my ski pants.  Things like that draw attention even at the base of Blackcomb on a Monday morning.

One end of the cables were attached to pressure sensing insoles in my ski boots, the other to a data recording box I was trying to figure out exactly were to attach.  About the size of an epic Michener paperback, it was just too big to slip into any of my pockets.  Finally clipped to the waist of my pants, it was, in turn, coupled to a high-powered flash unit strapped to my arm, both of which were fired by a button left dangling pretty much nowhere.

Robocop.  I couldn’t get the image out of my head, although at least one person who asked what all the hardware was about accepted my answer that it was a control mechanism to power my artificial leg.

David MacPhail grabbed the digital video camera and we headed up Blackcomb to take some measurements.  Dave — who I’d been working with to document some background on the Rise boot he’s been developing — had only recently launched Synergy Sports Consultants.

I wasn’t clear where exactly he was taking me or what we were going to accomplish, but a more willing guinea pig would have been hard to find.  In the nether world of ski theory, and more particularly in the areas of skiing biomechanics and modeling, Dave MacPhail is riding the cutting edge.  His work with National Team skiers and his understanding of exactly happens to the human body when it straps on a pair of skis has brought him an international reputation as an authority in the field.

On a clear slope under the Solar Coaster, Dave skied ahead to set up the video shot.  Sophie — who’d wired me up — rechecked the cable connections, set a baseline measurement for each of my unloaded feet and told me to point the flash unit down the hill at the camera.

As they signaled their readiness to each other, Sophie fired the flash and told me to ski down toward Dave.

Making my best ski school turns, I skied for the camera.  We repeated the process a few times and then we went back down to the Daylodge to…well, I wasn’t sure to do exactly what.

What, turned out to be mind blowing.  The unit strapped to my waist was a Pedar foot pressure data recorder from the Novel company of Munich, a techy little piece of equipment that, until last year, was the size of a small desk.  On a PCMCIA flash card, the unit was capable of recording about 10 minutes worth of data.  Fed by 80 pressure sensors arrayed throughout the insoles in my boots that each took 50 measurements per second, the Pedar tracked pressure across time as my feet worked to move me like a skier.

Downloaded onto a laptop computer and run through the company’s software, the data could be displayed as images of my left and right foot, colour-coded across the sensing mechanisms to display the changes in foot pressure as I made turns.  With lower pressure readings showing up as black squares and higher pressure lighting up bright pink, the readout was a moving kaleidoscope of colour as it played back my runs down the mountain.


On each colourful foot profile, a small dot traced a red line showing my centre of pressure at any moment in time.  A good skier using foot pressure the way they’re supposed to, would, over the course of a run, track a red line from the ball of their foot back toward their heel.  The track would be true and relatively straight with few variations.  That’s what the tracing on my right foot looked like.  The track of pressure of my left foot looked like someone who had never seen an Etch-A-Sketch grabbed both knobs and started twisting them randomly.

The difficulties showing up in my left foot readout were verified when Sophie explained the graphic display at the top of the screen.  “This line graph shows change in pressure over time for each foot.  When you make a good turn, like you’re doing with your right foot, the graph of pressure shoots up dramatically at the start of the turn, drops down slightly to a plateau, then falls away as you unweight the foot at the beginning of the next turn.  Your left foot comes on very gradually.  Something’s blocking your foot function,” she explained.

The final diagnostic piece of the puzzle — at least as far as the technology end of things went —was put in place when Sophie downloaded the images from the digital video camera and synchronized them with the Pedar display.  There I was, making graceful turns and there was the readout of what my feet were doing — or not doing, as it turned out.

“Neat,” I said.  “Now what?”
“Now you find out what Synergy is all about,” said Dave.

Synergy — small “s” — is about joint action of different substances producing an effect greater than the sum of the effects of all the substances acting separately.

The whole being greater than the sum of the parts. 

In a theological context, synergy is a doctrine that human effort cooperates with divine grace in the salvation of the soul.  I’ve often thought of skiing as a salvation of the frozen Canadian soul and certainly a day in the high alpine making perfect turns in all conditions is as close to divine grace as most of us will ever come.  But it was the more secular meaning of the word Dave had in mind in naming the company.

“The whole concept of Synergy probably came into my mind 25 years ago.  I started thinking about something called bio-integration, bringing people with different important skills together to work holistically on making your body work right.  Five years ago, we couldn’t have launched Synergy because the technology wasn’t quite there.  We needed more sophisticated software and I could see the time coming closer to when we’d reach a point where a lot of things in athletics that are mysteries now were going to be revealed by being able to plug in sensors at key points of interface.  Now, we’re starting to get there.”

But data is just data without something to make it sing.  And that’s where the principals of Synergy begin to make the concept work.  Joanne Younker is Synergy’s president. She’s been working with Dave for 12 years on both the Rise boot and putting together a biomechanical model of how people ski, how joints and muscles and nerves and bones work together to overcome our natural tendency to fall down when the earth starts to slide out from under our feet at an accelerating rate.

Joanne’s a level IV CSIA instructor and a level II CSCF coach and a personal trainer when she’s not on skis.

Sophie Cox and Joanne Younker

She’s been a keen skier since she was fourteen and a student of kinaesthetics since 1989 when she blew her back out squatting improperly in the weight room, an injury leading to temporarily paralysis and a burning desire understand how her body works.

“Working with David, and studying the biomechanics of skiing, I can look at someone skiing and understand what they’re doing wrong and, more importantly, probably why they’re doing it.  That is, what muscles aren’t functioning right or what functions are blocked.  Working with this technology, I can validate my diagnosis with hard data.”

Using a set of dry-land kinaesthetic exercises, Joanne led me through a session designed to help me experience the “feel” of having the right muscles firing and applying pressure with the correct area of my feet.  Once I’d managed to do these correctly, she had me stand on the Pedar’s insoles outside my ski boots.  Connected to the computer, they gave me a real time display of where, in turn, I was applying pressure with each foot. Running me through the exercises again, I could use the display to associate that “feel” with a visual representation of correct pressuring.  There was no guesswork.  When I lit up the right area of the pressure pads, I was having my feet do exactly what they should do to initiate a good turn.

The final step of the exercises was to slip the insoles back into my ski boots and repeat the exercises again.  Within the confines of my boots, I could watch as I pressured the ball of my foot and got my bulk into the right plane of alignment.  I was surprised — as is virtually everyone else who has gone through this exercise — at how far forward I really needed to bring my centre of mass to consistently apply pressure where needed.

All of this might have taken a lot longer to happen if the third member of the Synergy team hadn’t walked into town by accident.  Sophie Cox finished her B.Sc. at the University of Brighton School of Podiatry in, England, in the summer of 1998 and was working in a Podiatry clinic in London.  Her mother brought home a bottle of Whistler spring water  — the same water that gets flushed down toilets in Function Junction, ironically — and she was taken with the idea of goofing off for a year in Whistler.  After some web surfing, she decided to take a job as a bootfitter at Can-Ski and really learn how to ski and party, Whistler style.

A colleague in Boston mentioned the groundbreaking work Dave had been doing in biomechanics and planes of movement associated with skiing to her and she attended a presentation Dave made last March to the Congress of the Canadian Sports Medicine Association.  “After Sophie met David and explained what she’d been doing with the Pedar, he was really excited.  He called me up and said, ‘I’ve met the third person!’ and we went from there,” Joanne explained.

After a summer back in England working , Sophie returned this fall to work with David and Joanne on the biomechanics of skiing and help launch Synergy.  What she brings to the table, in addition to the technology, is an in-depth understanding of the structures and movement of the foot and ankle joints and a wealth of knowledge in diagnosing problems related to feet and lower limbs.

“I look at a skier’s mechanics, what they can and can’t do, and try to decipher why they can’t do it.  Sometimes it’s bad motor skills and that’s Joanne’s part.  But if she’s trying to teach them a skill and they just don’t have the biomechanical capability to do it, that’s where I come in.  I can determine the physiological problem and refer them on to a physio or bootfitter or local podiatrist.”

“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”  Clarke’s Second Law

For me, the proof of what Synergy was offering was back out on the slopes.  I practiced and visualized what Joanne had shown me, let Sophie make a few modifications to my left footbed and got wired up again a few days later.  Back at the computer after two or three runs, I sat in rapt amazement at the difference.

On the Pedar’s readout, the front of my feet were lighting up at the initiation of each turn.  The tracking line of the centre of force had moved inward — indicating a much stronger pronation, getting the ski on its edge — and my left trace looked like something made by a functioning foot instead of a peg leg.

I know what you’re thinking; almost anyone can help me be a better skier.  That’s like crowing about doubling your money when you only have fifty cents to start with.  But what about good skiers?  What can all this do for them?
Funny you should ask.

In the fall of 1991, during dry-land training in Banff, Rob Boyd blew a disc at the L-5, S-1 joint in his back.  An ensuing laminectomy restricted his mobility and left some nerve damage on his right side— although not enough to keep him off the podium from time to time for the next six years.  “I learned to compensate using different muscle patterns,” he said.

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.11.09 PM

Three years off the World Cup Circuit now, and away from the daily coaching, Rob wasn’t happy with the way he was skiing this season, nor was he happy with his finishes in the early Ford Pro Series downhill races.  “I saw Jim DeMarco, M.D. wired up to this thing one day and started thinking maybe Dave — who had done a lot of boot work for Rob in the past — could do some testing on me and help me find some answers.”

Sophie and Joanne ran Rob through a gait test, using the pressure pads inside his running shoes while he walked the treadmill at Meadow Park.  “What we saw,” Sophie related, “was Rob had some blockage in the way his foot was functioning.  He wasn’t pushing off the ball of his foot with any force at all but compensating through other muscle patterns.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.10.31 PM

“Right away, from what we saw on the data, my suspicions were confirmed that my right side wasn’t working well,” Rob added.

What they saw when Rob was hooked up to the Pedar for the first time on the slopes was even more surprising.  His heels lit up like a Christmas tree and he was almost never pressuring the front of his boot.  His left turns were strong and crisp but his right turns were nowhere near the same intensity.  “Yeah, that was surprising to see.  It felt like I was skiing alright and using the balls of my feet but I wasn’t even close,” Rob said.

Dave went to work on Rob’s boots, Sophie made some modifications to his footbeds and Joanne got him started on a series of patterning exercises and visualization techniques.  “I could really feel the difference when I started concentrating on using my foot more.  That and the changes in my boot environment made a big difference.  I could feel it right away at Sugarbush (Vermont).  My skis were gliding on the flats; just floating,” Rob said.  He could also see the results in his times: second on his first run and fourth on his second.

 

“The next step will be to set Rob up with a physiotherapy regimen with Allison MacLean,” Joanne said.

And that’s where the remaining synergy of Synergy comes into play.  The company’s goal is to actively work with bootfitters, physiotherapists, chiropractors and other specialists in the community who can treat the whole person.

Allison is just beginning to work with the Synergy people and is excited about the “integrated approach” they’re trying to bring to problem solving.  “The data gathering and testing they’re doing is interesting,” she told me.  “It’s hard sometimes to know exactly what’s not functioning in the case of lower limb injuries and whether what your treatment is as effective as it could be.  When they send someone to me, we’ve got a pre-treatment set of data we can compare to post-treatment performance to really know whether what we’re doing is effective.”

“Every other person you bring into this adds something to the mix and produces even more beneficial results,” Dave explained.  “Sophie and Joanne and I, working together, have a much greater impact than any one of us could have on our own.  That’s the genesis behind Synergy.  But we want to bring the best resources we can to bear and make it so everybody looks like a hero.”

This obviously includes some of the best bootfitters in town.  George McConkey is sold on the idea.  “What Synergy is doing validates a lot of my own ideas about foot function and bootfitting,” he said.  “I still believe 99% of most peoples’ problems are in their boot and with any luck, what we’re starting to see in the way of data coming out of this will get the manufacturers interested in designing boots that work.”

Scott Humby, one of the owners of Fanatyk Co., isn’t so sure what’s going on is going to shake up the industry, but he sees potential benefit.  “I think what they’re doing can help you by really proving what’s going on in your boots.  If it make you feel better about your skiing; you’ll ski better.  If, as bootfitters, we’ve done all we can for someone and they’re still struggling, we’ll definitely send them on to Synergy because there may be something we’re just not seeing.  There’s a huge benefit in being able to refer someone on to a team of specialists.”

It seems axiomatic that what Synergy is doing is the way sports will go in the future.

The advances in sports in the last 25 years have largely come about because of a refinement in coaching techniques and technological innovations in equipment.  But most of what’s being done on the coaching front still relies on what a coach can see and how he or she interprets that visual data.  The advances in coaching and teaching in the next 25 years will probably be realized through the application of measurement technologies only now being brought into the field.

Some people in town and on the mountains think what Dave’s up to is another bit of high-tech quackery, other’s are true believers.  But whether coaches and instructors and others who guide athletes embrace the kinds of tools is probably more a matter of when, not if.  Elite athletes will demand it; the wired generation coming up will assume its presence. And guys like me who just want to get better and shorten the distance between muscle pattern and muscle memory will embrace it the same way we embraced those shapely new skis we can’t live without.

In the meantime, Arthur C. Clarke’s Law of Revolutionary Ideas is probably apropos:

Every revolutionary idea — in science, politics, art or whatever — evokes three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the three phrases:

1. “It is completely impossible — don’t waste my time.”

2. “It is possible, but it is not worth doing.”

3. “I said it was a good idea all along.”

Watch out for number three.

author- J.D. Maxwell


reprinted with the permission of Whistler Piquenewsmagazine

published on February 18, 2000