Skier Balance

IS DYNAMIC SKIING A FORM OF WALKING?

The text below is from a sub page I put up on the home page in 2014 in which I posited that elite skiers use the same hard-wired processes as walking.

It was only recently after I connected pelvic alignment with the ball of the outside foot of a turn achieved by steering the foot into position with COM to create an alignment with the fall or gravity line did I finally put the last piece of the puzzle in place.


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.

Dynamic 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 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 resemblance to walking becomes apparent

How to make skiing as intuitive as walking is what this blog is about. I devoted an entire series of patents 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 AJ, Fauth AR, Piazza SJ, Sharkey NA. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14996881

Active regulation of longitudinal arch compression and recoil during walking and running – Luke A. Kelly, Glen 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 ELEMENTS OF FLUID SKIING

A recent paper, Dynamics of carving runs in alpine skiing. The centrifugal pendulum by S.S. Komissarov, provided me with insights as to the differences between elite and lesser skiers.

Komissarov clarifies that the context of proficient skiers being well-balanced simply describes the observation that the skiers do not appear to be in danger of falling. The signature of good skiers is that they move effortlessly from turn to turn in a smooth, continuous rhythmic manner much like a metronome or inverted pendulum.

A key point is Komissarov’s comment that elite skiers somehow manage to ski faster than the theory of ideal carving predicts. He also states that the fluidity of the pendulum action of the elite skier does not actually require a forceful participation from the skier and that the skier has to make sure that they do not inhibit this natural process but just “get on board and enjoy the ride!”.

The reference to fluid skiing being a natural process requiring no forceful (conscious) participation from the skier in terms of the associated neurobiomechanics responsible for the pendulum action is one reason why I am shifting the focus of my blog away from ski technique (which is consciously mediated process) to the elements of fluid skiing and especially factors that interfere with the natural processes that enable humans to ski as easily as they walk so that analyses can focus on the why not the what.

 

THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE – PART 12

At this point my discussion of the mechanics and biomechanics of platform angle is at what I can appropriately call the moment of truth. Moment in the context of the mechanics and biomechanics of platform angle means moment of force or torque; platform angle involves the ability of the CNS of a skier to control torques across the inside edge of the outside ski so the skier can stand and balance on the platform.

What is Balance?

That balance is the single most important factor in human movement, especially movement associated with athletic performance, is undisputed. In complex activities like skiing that involve movement in 3 dimensional space in a dynamic physical environment, optimal balance is critical. But what constitutes balance? In order to know if a skier is has optimal balance or is even in balance one has to know what balance is and what factors enable or compromise balance (i.e. postural) responses and  especially the factors that enable optimal balance.

The Balance Zone

A skier is in balance when the CNS is able to maintain the position of a skiers’ COG within the limits of a narrow band close to the inside edge of the outside ski during the load phase of a turn. The load phase of a turn occurs in the bottom of a turn when the force exerted on the platform by the COM of a skier must be balanced against the external resultant force of gravity and centrifugal force. In the load phase, the CNS must maintain COG within the forward limit of the Balance Zone within close proximity to the ball of the foot. When balance is challenged COG must not exceed the rearmost limit of the Balance Zone that lies just in front of the ankle joint. The Balance Zone and its limits are shown in the graphic below. If COG exceeds the limits of the Balance Zone shown in pink, the skier will lose their state of balance and with it dynamic control of the platform underfoot.  They will also suffer a lose of dynamic stability in the joint system of the lower limb.

The Balance Plane

In the ski system platform the plantar plane under the plantar aspect (sole) of the foot is the interface of CNS mediated balance activity. When the coordinated, concurrent forces are applied at the main force transfer point of the foot that I call the Center of Control, shown in the preceding graphic, the applied forces will manifest in more than one plane as shown in the graphic below.Force Fa applied under the head of the first metatarsal will be distributed over an area around its center.  When the force applied in the plantar plane is transferred through the structure of the platform to the base plane the center of force will maintain its position. But when the force area of distribution will increase as shown in the pink zones under the head of the first metataral and the base plane. In free rotation of the ski, resistance from the force of friction Ff will be minimal as will any force applied in the torque arm plane by the eccentric torque arm. Rotational force will be largely confined to the base plane.

The Missing Force Factor: Sidecut

In the free rotation, the effect of the sidecut of a ski is not a significant factor in terms of a source of resistance. But as the transverse aspect of the base plane of the ski acquires an angular relation with surface of the snow the resistance created by GRF acting at the  limit of sidecut at the shovel sets up an interaction between the rotational force applied to the inner wall of the boot shell adjacent the medial aspect of the head of the first metatarsal with the resistance created by GRF at the limit of sidecut at the shovel. In the graphic below I have connected the  2 dots of the platform ground effect problem with a line drawn between the two points.The graphic below shows a schematic of the mechanical aspects of the opposing moment or torque arms between the two dots that I connected in the preceding graphic. The inside edge below the head of the first metatarsal acts as a pivot in conjunction with the Center of Force applied 90 degrees to the transverse aspect of the base plane for the plaform to rotate about as the ski goes on edge.

As the base plane of a ski acquires an angular relationship with the snow the torque arm rotating the ski goes into what cane best be described as turbo torque boost. Whole leg rotational force continues to rotate the whole ski but the eccentric torque arm engages and applies a high torsional load that winds the body of the platform about the shovel. This mechanism has to be considered in the perspective of the of the inertia from the movement of the skier driving the cutting action of the shovel.  The graphic below shows the opposing how opposing torsional forces at the limit of sidecut and applied by the application of for by eccentic torque arm to the vertical shell wall by the medial aspect of the head of the first metarasal act to apply a upward force that extends to the outboard end of the plantar plane of the platform.  This is the mechanism that enables elite skiers to balance on their outside ski and initiate precise movement from from a dynamically stable platform.I first solved basic mechanics and biomechanics of the outside ski balance problem 30 years ago. The degree of difficulty was not great. Solving the problem took diligence and persistence in researching all the relevant aspects and identifying all significant forces and associated planes.

I’ll let the readers ponder the informaton in this for a while after which I will be happy to respond to questions and comments.

THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE – PART 11

In my preceding post I said that after a thorough investigation and analysis of the forces associated with platform angle mechanics I reached the conclusion that rotational (steering) force should be applied to an isolated area of the inner shell wall of the ski boot by the medial aspect of the head of the first metatarsal. The reason I conducted a thorough investigation and analysis of the forces is that as a problem solver this is my standard protocol. Protocol aside, the need for a thorough investigation of every aspect affecting athletic (skier) performance was known as far back as 1983.

….. quality teaching – coaching of neuromuscular skills in physical education should always be preceded by an analytical process where the professional physical educator synthesizes observations and theory from scientific and technical perspectives……

There are many sports skills which require that sports objects, implements, equipments, and apparatus be utilized. (implements such as ski boots and skis)

All factors must be studied in terms of the skill objective. If problems are noted in the performance of the skill, where did they originate? Within the performer? Within the sport object? Both? What precise changes must be made to obtain the skill objectives?

The directions for improvement given to the performer must be based on scientific and technical analysis of the total skill.

Analysis of Sport Motion (May 1, 1983): John W. Northrip

Planes of Forces

The ability to conduct a thorough investigation and analysis of the forces associated with platform angle mechanics and biomechanics requires as a minimum, a basic understanding of the engineering aspects of the associated forces. In the case of platform mechanics and biomechanics, knowing the plane or planes in which a force or combination of forces are acting is essential.

The Force Plane in the Perfect Fit

The objective of achieving a perfect fit of the foot and leg of a skier is create a perfect envelopment of the foot and leg of a skier with the rigid shell wall of a ski boot so that force is applied evenly to the entire surface of the foot and leg to create a unified mass with the ski so that the slightest movement of the leg will produce edging and steering forces. In this format force(s) applied to the base plane by the leg will be distributed to a broad area with limited ability to apply coordinated forces to a specific area of the ski. Sensory input is also limited by the uniform force applied to all apects of the foot by the perfect fit format creating what amounts to the skiing equivalent of the Bird Box.

Platform Planes

In the mechanics and biomechanics of platform angle there are potentially three horizontal planes in which forces can be applied as shown in the graphic below. The left hand image shows the rotational force applied to a torque arm plane elevated about the base and plantar planes. In the perfect fit format in the right hand image the leg is shown as a rigid strut extending to the base plane where rotational force is applied.When the foot and leg of a skier are perfectly fit within to the rigid shell of a ski boot any force applied by the leg can only applied to the base plane of the ski where the force is distributed over a broad area. Steering and edging forces applied to the ski by the leg lack precision because they cannot be applied to specific areas or applied in a coordinated manner.

In the above graphic the whole leg rotational effort applied to the base plane by foot in the two examples is shown with no resistance. In my next post I will discuss what happens when resistance is added that opposes the rotational force applied to the base plane.

THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE: PART 10 – SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION


Because of the complex issues I am about to start discussing in the next series of posts I am providing supplemental reference information to assist the reader in understanding the issues associated with platform angle mechanics and biomechanics and underlying process of dynamic stability.

Background of events leading up to the outside ski platform ground balance solution

In late 1989, after gaining valuable insights from the medical textbook, The Shoe In Sport, I had formulated a hypothetical model that explained the macro details of the mechanics and biomechanics of platform angle and the mechanism of user CNS postural balance control.

Insights from The Shoe in Sport:

Correct positioning of the foot is more important than forced constraint and “squeezing” the foot.

Forward sliding of the foot should not be possible. 

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). 

The comment about the importance of correct positioning of the foot and the ski boot  representing an interface between the human body and the ski gave me insights that led to the discovery of key mechanical of the foot whose position in relation to the inside edge and X-Y axes of the ski affects the transfer and control of steering and platform forces to the ski and control.

When I wrote the application for US Patent No 5,265,350 in late 1991 and early 1992 I described the mechanics and biomechanics of plantar angle in great detail knowing this information would be freely available to the entire world to use once the patent was published. The only exception was the information covered by claims. Known mechanics and biomechanics are not in themselves patentable.

Patents and Research

It is important to note that patents, even when granted, do not apply to the use of a patented device for the purpose of pure research. Knowing this at the time I wrote the patent, I described the Birdcage research vehicle in sufficient detail with many figures to enable the device to be constructed at minimal cost so research could be conducted by others as soon as possible for the purpose of advancing the knowledge base and science of alpine skiing.

The following unedited text is excerpted from the patent.

……. the teaching of this (patent) application is that force must be applied and maintained only to specific areas of the foot and leg of the user while allowing for unrestricted movement of other areas.

The performance of such mediums (skate blades and skis) 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.

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

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

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

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

The edge angle can be either increased or decreased in monopedal function by increasing or decreasing the pressure made to bear on the medial aspect of the foot through the main contact points at the heel and ball of the foot via the mechanism of pronation. As medial pressure increases, horizontal torque (relative to the ski) increases through an obligatory increase in the intensity of internal rotation of the tibia. Thus, increasing medial pressure on the plantar aspect of the foot tends to render the edge-set more stable.

There are many figures that illustrate the concepts expressed in the above text which I will include in future posts.

The photo below shows the strain gauges (black disks) fit to the 1991 research vehicle. These gauges recorded first metatarsal forces under and to its inner or medial aspect and the outer and rearmost aspects of the heel bone.

I’ve learned a lot since the above information was made public after the patent was issued on November 30, 1993.

In Part 10, I will discuss the mechanism by which forces applied by the ball of the foot to what I call the Control Center of the platform provide quasi ground under the outside foot and leg in the load phase of a turn for a skier to stand and balance on.

A SKI PRO DEMONSTRATES BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI

I have long maintained that the main reason skiers and racers ascend through the ranks to the elite is because they are able to stand and balance on their outside ski using the same natural processes of balance we were born with. My theory leading up to the Birdcage studies in 1991, was that those who are able to stand and balance on their outside ski do so by creating what amounts to solid ground under their outside foot through the application of a combination of rotational forces to the ski. It is the combination of these forces that has the effect of cantilevering the ground acting along the running length of the inside edge of the outside ski, out under the base of the ski underfoot.

I have also maintained that skiers who can stand and balance on their outside ski, don’t fully understand how and why they can do this.  So they can’t explain what they do, let alone teach it. It’s also why they don’t understand why other skiers have trouble balancing on their outside ski, something they can easily do.  Thus, Ted Ligety talks about ‘creating pressure’ while Mikaela Shiffrin talks about ‘getting over it’. This may be all they need to know. But it doesn’t help those who want to know.

Yesterday, I found an excellent YouTube video demonstration of the movement and timing associated with balance on the outside ski (1) by Big White Mountain Ski Pro, Josh Foster. Foster provides a real life visual example that most skiers can relate to. His demonstration also provides a reference I can use for future posts. To date, this is the only description I have come across that accurately describes some of the main elements. 

While Foster misses a key point, he gets the role of rotation of the outside leg in combination with edge angle, right.

His comments from various parts of the video appear below. The number preceding each comment is the number of seconds into the video. The link to Fosters YouTube video is at the end of the post (1).

  • 0.25 – For any structure to be in balance, it starts with a really strong platform. Skiing is no different than that. I need a strong platform.
  • 0.43 – So, I need a good strong platform from the snow up so that I am balanced. 
  • 1:04 – But here’s how I create this platform or this foundation that I want to ski on.
  • 1:11 – But it comes with a turning of the lower body. Watch how I turn my leg here. That  combination of turning also puts my ski up on its edge. So when my ski is on its edge and I turn my leg, that’s what creates that solid platform or that foundation that I am looking for.
  • 1:53 – I need that platform first so I can be better balanced all the way through the turn.
  • 2:14 – We do it with turning the lower body and getting balanced on those edges.

The 3 frames below are from Fosters’ video.

In the first frame below, he is approaching what I refer to as the moment of truth. This is the point where the new outside ski goes flat on the snow between edge change.

In the frame below, Foster’s new outside ski is flat on the snow. Notice the quick extension he has made in the knees since his stance in the first frame. This move is the most important part of the sequence that sets up balance on the outside ski. The move, which I will describe in the next post, is an impulse heel-rocker-forefoot loading move. This move must be made just as the outside ski is going flat on the snow. If you watch carefully, you will see all good World Cup racers make this move as they approach the rise line above a gate.

The fact that Foster does not even mention this impulse move suggests that he may not even be aware he is making it. Some ski pros and coaches confuse this move as unweighting. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It is a high impulse loading move. It tensions the forefoot and loads the inside edge under the ball of the foot. The high impulse load tips the ski on edge and causes the shovel to hook into the turn. It also starts the outside leg passively rotating internally (into the turn), from the foot up. You can see the rotation starting in the Fosters left leg.

In the frame below, Foster’s leg has switched gears and is actively rotating the outside leg from the pelvis down. This is the action that cantilevers the GRF acting along the running surface of the inside edge out under the base of the ski. This is possible because the internal rotator muscles of the pelvis have different origins of insertions on the pelvis than the hamstrings. The two muscle groups are complimentary while having a synergistic effect on balance and edge control.

In my next post, I will discuss impulse heel-rocker-forefoot loading.


  1. Ski Tips: Josh Foster – Strong Platform   https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=a8b5HRupcoA

You can reduce the speed on YouTube videos to 0.5 or 0.25 from Normal using the Speed menu item shown below. Slower speeds will allow you to see the timing of Fosters extension impulse loading move.

SKIER BALANCE: EDGE ANGLE

In his book, Ultimate Skiing, Ron LeMaster says  that once the forces of skiing are understood, everything else makes sense. I would qualify this statement and say that until the forces of skiing are understood, nothing makes sense and any assumptions are nothing less than wild guesses.

In his book, Le Master says 2 things that I believe  are fundamental to skiing:

1. Most of the expert skiers’ weight is balanced over the outside ski and,

2. The edge angle of the ski with the applied force must be 90 degrees or smaller.

In point 2, it is my position that the angle must be less than 90 degrees. Although he doesn’t appear to say so, I am assuming that LeMaster is referring to the edge angle of the outside ski of a turn.

On page 20 of his book, FIGURE 2.3, a and b show two different alignments of opposing forces, R and S. In Figure a the angle of the transverse aspect of the base of the ski with the snow reaction force S is 90 degrees. In Figure b the angle of the transverse aspect of the base of the ski with the snow reaction force S is greater than 90 degrees.  LeMaster doesn’t provide details on what force R represents. As explained my my last post, in order to assess balance in skiing as it pertains to a dynamically balance base of support one needs to know the relationship of Centre of Mass (CoM) and Centre of Pressure (CoP) with the Snow Reaction Force. One also needs to know where the ball of the foot and centre axis of the foot are positioned in relation to the inside edge of the outside ski.

While all of the above are relevant, the key issue, which neither LeMaster’s book or any other literature I have read on ski technique doesn’t touch on, is the nature of the forces associated with a dynamically balanced base of support that would act to cause the transverse aspect of the ski base to assume  an angle with the applied force that is less than 90 degrees. Here LeMaster provides all kinds of clues that he is standing on the answer, but not seeing it. For example, on page 44 (Janica Kostelic) he describes how one of Kostelic’s strengths was her ability to maintain contact with the snow through the transition (from one turn to another) with perfect flexion moves so she could get pressure on the edge early in the turn. He goes on to say that Kostelic also knew when and how to use her inside ski to advantage. LeMaster is so close, yet so far.

As I will explain in future posts, Kostelic and all the other great skiers including Mikaela Shiffrin and Ted Ligety, more than simply getting pressure on the new outside ski early in the turn, apply forces to the new outside ski (current inside ski) that sets up and over-centre mechanism that allows them to use external forces acting on them to drive 3-dimensional forces into the new turn. They set this mechanism up in the transition from the current outside ski to the new outside ski, before they apply steering forces to the ski .


References: Ultimate Skiing – Ron LeMaster