Skier Balance posts

WHO NEEDS FOOTBEDS? NO ONE

There are some who can benefit from footbeds or orthotics and some who do actually need them. But these groups are the rare exception. And they are unlikely to be skiers.

Orthotics. The pros / cons of orthotics in today’s society!

In a recent YouTube video (1.), Podiatrist & Human Movement Specialist, Dr Emily Splichal, explores the concept of orthotics and their role in today’s society. Dr. Splichal doesn’t pull any punches when she says:

“…..I have been through the conventional podiatric school and been fed pretty much the bullshit from podiatry of how every single person needs to be in orthotics, that our foot is not able to support itself without orthotics……if we do not use orthotics our foot is going to completely collapse  and you are going to lose your arch…….”

“……Our foot is designed to support itself. If we actually needed orthotics, we would be born…..we would come out of the womb, with orthotics on our feet.”

Meantime, The Foot Collective  asks (2.) Are you promoting weak feet?

  • Anything you use for artificial support at the feet (footwear with arch support & orthotics) your brain takes into account and accommodates for it.
  • That means if you provide your foot support your brain shuts down the natural arch supporters to reduce un-necessary energy expenditure.
  • Stop using support to help with pronation and understand why your feet pronate in the first place – because they are weak.
  • Strong feet = strong foundation = strong body.

The Real Source of Support for the Arch

Ray McClanahan, D.P.M. offers a perspective on the issue of Arch Support in his post on the CorrectToes blog (3.)

Are Custom Footbeds and Orthotics better than stock insoles?

In his post of August 20, 2017, Custom Foot Orthotics; No Better Than Stock Insoles (4.), Rick Merriam, of Engaging Muscles, explores the issue of orthotics in depth.

Prior to being told that supportive insoles are the way to go, I think it’s safe to say that all of those people didn’t know what they didn’t know.

The erroneous assumption that every skier needs footbeds or orthotics was made at a time when little  was known about the function of the foot and lower limb, especially in late stance. I was one of those who didn’t know what I didn’t know when initially when down the ‘the foot needs to be supported in skiing’ road up until I realized what I didn’t know and took steps to acquire the requisite knowledge.

Footbeds; is anyone checking what they do?

In 2000, I formed a company called Synergy Sports Performance Consultants (5). Synergys’ product was high quality information. One of my partners, UK Podiatrist, Sophie Cox, was trained by Novel of Germany and was one of the few experts in the world at that time on the Pedar system. Synergy did not make and/or sell footbeds or orthotics. Instead, we checked the effect of footbeds on skier performance. We performed a quick footbed check for a minimal fee of $20 using the sophisticated Novel Pedar pressure analysis technology.

Synergy was one of the first companies in the world to use the Novel Pedar pressure analysis system synchronized to video to acquire data on skier performance and analyze the captured data.  The Synergy team with diverse expertise studied the effect of ski boots and custom insoles on skier performance and identified functional issues in the body that needed to be addressed. It was a common finding that custom footbeds were significantly compromising skier performance, especially the ability to create the necessary platform under the foot on which to stand and balance on the outside ski.

Synergy offered a comprehensive 5 Step Performance Program that started with a footbed check. A key component was item 2., the Biomechanical Check.

With increasing recognition of the negative effect of most footwear on the user and criticism of the unproven claims made for footbeds and orthotics coming hard and fast, credibility in skiing is rapidly going downhill. It is time for proponents of custom insoles for ski boots to support their claims with solid evidence, especially evidence supported with data acquired during actual ski maneuvers. The technology to do this has existed since at least the year 2000.


  1. https://youtu.be/CIRf9WHmMXI
  2. http://www.thefootcollective.com
  3. https://www.correcttoes.com/foot-help/articles-studies/arch-support/
  4. http://www.engagingmuscles.com/2017/08/20/custom-foot-orthotics/
  5. DIGITAL SALVATION FOR THE SOLE [BACK TO THE FUTURE] –  http://wp.me/p3vZhu-24g

THE MECHANICS OF EDGE CHANGE

Comments made by followers of my blog suggest that significant confusion exists 0n the meaning of terms and representations of mechanics, biomechanics and physics used in typical explanations of ski technique and ski mechanics. In particular, there appears to be confusion between pressure and the representation of point forces.

Pressure is a physical force applied to an object that is distributed over the surface of the object.

Center of Pressure or COP is the point center of ground reaction force opposing a corresponding center of applied force acting on a object supported on the ground or a stable surface that acts in the capacity of ground in terms of providing a source of reaction force.

Torque or Moment of Force results from an offset between the centers of opposing physical forces acting on either side of an object.  This offset results in a torque or moment arm that tends ti create rotation about a center. When one force has a greater magnitude than the other force, rotation of the object will occur around the point of rotation.

Why typical balance explanations of skier balance are wrong

Balance in skiing is often depicted as a simple alignment of opposing point forces, usually a resultant force R acting in opposition to a snow reaction force S. The mechanics that make the edges of a ski grip are often shown as a simple alignment of opposing forces acting a single point on the edge. Explanations of this nature are physically impossible. What the authorities in skiing seem to conveniently be ignoring is the fact that pressure is applied by the snow along the entire running surface of the edge in contact with the the snow while an opposing area of pressure applied by the weight of the skier is acting on the body of the ski with an offset between the two centers of pressure. The authorities in skiing also seem to conveniently ignore what is arguably the key even in establishing a platform under the outside ski for the skier to stand and balance on, edge change.

Mikaela Shiffrin’s Get Over It drill on the Burke Mountain YouTube site makes a good segue to an explanation of the Mechanics of Edge change in the my next post – https://youtu.be/Bh7KF49GzOc

Bridget Currier is the model every skier should aspire to. She perfectly executes what I call the skimove. The skimove engages the external forces at ski-flat/edge-change to drive multi-plane torques acting about her outside ski into the turn while setting up a solid platform under her outside foot for her to stand on. Magnificent! This video should have at least a million views.

My comment from 2 years ago

Note carefully Currier’s stance in balance on her new outside ski, in particular, the angle of her torso with the snow. This is key to loading the ball of her outside foot.

Note carefully Shiffrin’s comment to move forward onto her new ski and how she used to think the movement was a lateral (sideways) move.

Most important of all – Patient Initiation. The reason? Shiffrin and Currier, don’t tip their outside ski on edge. They rock it on edge with a rocker impulse loading mechanism. The sequence is Rock, Roll n’ Rotate then Rotate the outside leg.

ERROR IN LAST POST ON EVERSION

In my last post, I erroneously stated that the sole turns inward, towards the center of the body, in eversion. I meant to state that the sole turns outward, away from the center of the body, in eversion.

I have revised the paragraph in my post so it reads correctly.

In order for the torso and Center of Mass to stack vertically over the ball of the foot, the sole of the foot must turn outward, away from the center the the body. This is called eversion. It is enabled by the joint that lies below the ankle called the sub-talar joint. The sub-talar joint is tied to the tibia where it acts as a torque converter. When the foot everts or inverts, the sub-talar joint translates this on an approximately 1:1 ratio into internal or external vertical axial rotation of the leg.

I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

OUTSIDE SKI BALANCE BASICS: STEP-BY-STEP

In view of the positive response to my recent posts and comments I have received, I have decided to take a step-by-step approach to explaining the mechanics and biomechanics of balance on the outside ski.

I am going to start the process by comparing balance on one foot to balance on two feet. I refer to balance on one foot as monopedal stance (one foot) and balance on two feet as bipedal stance (two foot). The graphics are for illustrating general principles only.

The graphic below shows monopedal stance on the left and bipedal stance on the right. Orange hash marks delineate the alignment of major body segments. Black reference lines on the right leg of both figures show the angle of the leg in relation to the ground.

In order to transition from a balanced position in bipedal stance to a balanced position in monopedal stance, either the foot must move towards the L-R center of the torso or the torso must move towards the foot that will become the stance foot, or a combination of the 2 movements must occur. The central issue is the amount of inertia acting on the torso. In skiing, due to the degree of inertia, the new outside foot of a turn is normally guided into position under the torso as the skier or racer approaches the fall line in the top of a turn.

Moving the foot into position under the Centre of Mass so it stacks in line with the ball of the foot usually takes an inward movement (adduction) of the leg from the pelvis of 6 to 7 degrees. In the upper left figure in monopedal stance, the leg is adducted 6.5 degrees and has formed a varus or outward leaning angle with the ground.

If the leg only adducted, then the sole of the foot would end up at an angle of 6.5 degrees with the ground and the figure would end up on the outer edge of the foot; on the little toe side. In order for the torso and Center of Mass to stack vertically over the ball of the foot, the sole of the foot must turn outward, away from the center the the body. This is called eversion. It is enabled by the joint that lies below the ankle called the sub-talar joint. The sub-talar joint is tied to the tibia where it acts as a torque converter. When the foot everts or inverts, the sub-talar joint translates this on an approximately 1:1 ratio into internal or external vertical axial rotation of the leg.

When the foot everts, the subtalar joint rotates the vertical axis of the leg towards the center of the body an equivalent amount; in the subject case, 6.5 degrees.

The combination of eversion/internal vertical axial rotation of the leg is called pronation. If either of these actions is interfered with, or worse, prevented, it is impossible to create the alignment necessary to stack the torso and Center of Mass over the ball of the support foot.

The consistently stated objective of footbeds is either to limit or even prevent pronation. Put another way, the whole idea of footbeds is to make it difficult or even impossible to balance on the outside foot and ski.

If this issue is not crystal clear, please post comments as to what is needed.

ADDENDUM TO THE ORIGINS OF KNEE ANGULATION

The intent of my last post was to create an awareness of the lower limb alignment indicative of stability and how a lack of stability, whether intrinsic or caused by footwear, especially ski boots, will cause a skier to default to the use of knee angulation in what will be a failed attempt to hold the edge of the outside ski.

A skier will be unable to develop the requisite biomechanics to balance on their outside ski if they lack stability in barefoot monopedal stance under the minimal challenges associated with a flat, level unperturbed surface. If they lack lower limb/pelvic stability, there could endless combinations of causes which is why I listed a number of resources to help address this deficiency.

If a skier/racer exhibits good to excellent  stability under this basic test and they become unstable with the addition of any form of footwear, it suggests, but does not unequivocally prove, that the footwear is the cause. In more 4 decades of working with skiers and racers at all levels, I have consistently found that I can turn monopedal stability off and on at will. That I can do this without limitation, is indicative of cause and effect. In the 2 world class racers I am presently working with, even a small change in a liner or the over-tensioning of a shaft buckle or power strap has an immediate and noticeable effect on outside limb/pelvic stability and balance.

A key exercise I like to use with racers and elite skies I am working with is the vertical stacking exercise shown in the graphic below. This exercise is performed by starting from bipedal stance with the feet stacked under the heads of the femurs and the head and torso vertical and then making fluid arcing movement of the COM over the ball of the big toe while keeping the torso and head stacked vertically and the pelvis and shoulders horizontal as indicated by orange vertical and horizontal references in the graphic below. The torso should be aligned with the transverse or frontal plane, square with the foot.

A lack of stability in the biokinetic chain is typically evidenced by a drop of the opposite side of the pelvis and a leaning in the opposite direction of the torso and/or the head or both. While this reduces the load on the pelvis side of the  leg it creates a myriad of issues. Inside hip drop will cause the inside leg of a turn to assume the load as the skier inclines thus creating further instability on the outside leg.

Elite skiers and racers like Shiffrin are able to get over it (find stability on their outside foot and ski) in milliseconds. This enables them to retract the inside foot and ski with knee flexion as they incline into a turn similar to the mechanics cyclists use when they corner; outside leg extends, inside leg retracts.

The vertical stacking exercise is best performed in front of a mirror.

THE ORIGINS OF KNEE ANGULATION

A recent post on the Foot Collective Facebook page titled, Are you stable on 1 leg?, advises that if  you stand on one leg and look like the top row of pictures in the graphic below (red X), you have a foot & hip that are dysfunctional. This test is best done barefoot on a hard, flat, level surface.

Graphic with permission of Correct Toes

The lower photo (green checkmark) shows the alignment of a leg that is torsionally balanced (stiffened) in the ankle and knee joints. The foot and knee cap align straight ahead and square with the pelvis while the alignment of the knee with the foot, leg and thigh is substantially linear. If you can move to single limb support from two feet, easily achieve this alignment with minimal effort, sustain it for 30 seconds or more, and achieve similar alignment on both left and right legs, you probably have good stability in single limb support.

If you look like the upper photo (red x), it indicates dysfunction and especially a lack of torsional stability in the support limb. The problem is usually caused by constrictive, supportive, cushioned footwear and/or arch supports that, over time, deform feet and weaken the arches. Ski boots are one of the worst offenders in this regard.

If you and when you can achieve good stability in single limb support, you are ready to test the effect of footwear, especially your ski boots. Start by putting on your day to day footwear. Then do the same test on the same surface with each pair of shoes. Work your way up to your ski boots. Adjust the closures of your ski boots to the tension you normally set for skiing. If you are not able to quickly and easily assume the stable position shown in the lower photo (green checkmark), then you know that cause  is the footwear. You can then test the effects of insoles, including ski boot footbeds by removing them from the footwear, placing them on the test surface and moving to single leg support. While not perfect, these tests will help determine the cause of single support limb instability.

In skiing, an unstable outside support leg is characteristics of most skiers and even racers at the World Cup level. It is typically caused by ski boots interfering with the physiological processes that fascially tension the arches and forefoot that create the triplanar torsional stability of the ankle and knee joints of the biokinetic chain necessary to set up a platform under the outside ski to stand and balance on. But instead of addressing the underlying cause, the ski industry invented the term, knee angulation. Knee angulation is indicative of unbalanced torques acting about the uphill edges of the skis, especially the outside ski. When unbalanced torques are present about the edges of a skis or skis, unbalanced torques will also be present across the joints of the lower limb; not a good thing.

The alignment of the knee illustrated in the lower image (green checkmark) is seem as skier or racer enters the fall or rise line with outside leg extended, confirms the existence of a platform under the outside foot on which the skier or racer is balancing on with dynamic balance of torques across the joints of the ankle foot complex and knee. See my post MIKAELA SHIFFRIN AND THE SIDECUT FACTOR – http://wp.me/p3vZhu-1Uu

There is an abundance of information on programs to correct foot deformities,  muscle weakness and imbalances on web sites, YouTube and FaceBook groups such as The Foot Collective, Correct Toes, Feet Freex and the Evidence Based Fitness Academy – EBFA (Dr. Emily Splichal).

The Foot Collective web site has a series of posts on An Introduction to Feet and Footwear (1.) as well as a series of Foot-Casts (2.)

Meantime, a post on a web site called Rewire Me (3.) has an interview with Dr. Emily Splichal called No Shoes Allowed in which she discusses the importance of sensory information entering the body and the need to be able to process this information and handle the load and impact. Dr. Splichal suggests starting the process by getting the body and foot accustomed to sensory information without shoes acting as a barrier.

An excellent free paper with great graphics is The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function (4.)


  1. http://www.thefootcollective.com/an-introduction-to-feet-and-footwear/
  2. http://www.thefootcollective.com/footcast/
  3. https://www.rewireme.com/roses-blog/shoes-allowed/
  4. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/5/290.full#xref-ref-39-1

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