IS ‘SUBTALAR NEUTRAL’ SKIINGS’ HOUSE OF CARDS?

If you purchased custom footbeds for your ski boots or had your ski boots custom fit you may have been told that your foot was placed in subtalar neutral and that this created the strongest position of the bones of the foot and leg for skiing. Neutral in this context refers to a neutral configuration of the subtalar joint of the ankle/foot complex.

As best I can recall, the term subtalar neutral began to emerge in the ski industry about 1978. The authoritarian manner in which it was presented and promoted suggested that it was science-based and supported with evidence that conclusively demonstrated superior performance. But I never saw or heard any explanation as to how subtalar neutral could create the strongest position for skiing of the bones of the foot and leg and I have still not seen such an explanation.

Back in 1978, I didn’t even know what the subtalar joint was. I couldn’t envision how the bones of the foot and leg could be maintained in a specific configuration while foam was injected into a liner around the foot and leg or through some other custom fit system. But in spite of the lack of even a theory to support the premise of subtalar neutral as creating ideal biomechanical alignment of the bones of the foot and leg for skiing the premise seemed to be readily accepted as fact and quickly became mainstream. By the time The Shoe in Sport (which questioned the principles on which the plastic ski boot is based) was published in 1989 (1987 in German), neutral subtalar was firmly entrenched in the narrative of skiing.

In my US Patent 4,534,122 (filed on December 1, 2013) for a dorsal support system that I called the Dorthotic, I had unkowingly tried to fix the subtalar joint in a static position as evidenced by the excerpt below from the patent:

The system of the invention applies significant pressure to the dorsal (upper) surface of the foot over the instep, including the medial and lateral aspects thereof, and hence to the bones of the mid-foot to substantially prevent these bones from moving relative to each other.

Note: The prior art refers to the current paradigm in existence.

The objective of the dorsal support system was to immobilize the joints of the bones below the ankle in conjunction with the joints of the bones of the midfoot while allowing unrestricted dorsi-plantarflexion of the ankle joint within it’s normal range of motion. But the significant medial (inner) pressure applied by the  system to the bones of Podborski’s foot below his ankle made it difficult for him to stand and balance on one foot with the system in a ski boot shell even on the concrete floor of my workshop. Removing the offending structure from the dorsal support system quickly resolved the issue by allowing his foot to pronate. This made me aware that structures that impede supination did not appear to create issues. This insight raised the possibility of a fit system based on selective constraint applied to specific aspects of the foot and leg as opposed to what I termed indiscriminate (general) constraint.

Even though at the time that I wrote my US Patent No, 5,265,350 in February of 1992 I still did not comprehend the mechanism behind the claimed superior performance associated subtalar neutral, I knew enough to know that attempting to fix the subtalar joint in any configuration in a ski boot would interfere with, or even prevent, a skier from balancing on one foot.

Here is what I said in the patent:

The prior art refers to the importance of a “neutral sub-talar joint”. The sub-talar joint is a joint with rotational capability which underlies and supports the ankle joint.

………………….the prior art which teaches, in an indirect manner, that the ideal function for skiing will result from fixing the architecture of the foot in a position closely resembling that of bipedal function, thus preventing monopedal function (balance on one foot on the outside ski).

I later discovered that the above statement came close to the truth.

I also discussed the issue of subtalar neutral in my post NO NEUTRAL GROUND (2.) published on September 1, 2014. But I did not learn about the origins of subtatar neutral and especially the intense controversy surrounding it in professional circles until recently when I came across a discussion on Root and his subtalar neutral theory in an online podiatry forum.

The Origin of Subtalar Neutral

Merton’s Root’s subtalar joint neutral theory was first described in the textbooks, Biomechanical Examination of the Foot, Volume 1. – 1971 (Root, Orien, Weed and Hughes) and Normal and Abnormal Function of the Foot – 1977 (Root, Orien, Weed). The basic premise of Root’s subtalar neutral theory is that a neutral position of the subtalar joint (which Root defined as existing when the foot was neither supinated or pronated), is the ideal position of function in static (two-footed bipedal, erect) stance and in gait where the subtalar neutral theory posited that the foot was pronated in the first half of the stance phase then transitioned through neutral in mid stance to become supinated in the latter half of the stance phase.

Root’s paradigm proposes that the human foot functions ideally around the subtalar joint’s neutral position and that deviations from this ideal position are deformities.

What Root really said

Root and his associates never stated that the joints of the foot should be immobilized in subtalar neutral. The reference to static in subtalar neutral as the ideal position of function in static stance pertained to a subject standing in place in an erect bipedal stance on a flat, level, stable surface with the weight apportioned between the two feet. In this static stance the Root subtalar neutral theory posited that the subtalar joint should rest in neutral. Root and his associates never stated, implied or suggested that the joints of the foot should be configured and immobilized in subtalar neutral. Further, Root and his associates made no reference, of which I am aware, to the application of subtalar neutral to activities other than static stance and gait. Critrics have asserted that a subtalar neutral position in static stance is neither normal or ideal. In defining subtalar joint neutral as normal, Root’s theory implied the existence of abnormal pathologies in the feet of the majority of the world’s population.

The lack of evidence

Critics of Root and his associates “Eight Biophysical Criteria for Normalcy” claim the criteria was nothing more than hunches, that these conjectures were accepted as fact, when, in reality, there was no experimental data or research to support them and that the eight criteria were neither normal or ideal.

 The STJ neutral position problem

One of the early critics of Root and his associates was Kevin Kirby, DPM. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor within the Department of Applied Biomechanics at the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt College in Oakland, Ca.

Kirby observed a large error range in determining STJ neutral position on the same foot from one examiner to another. In unpublished studies done during his Biomechanics Fellowship at the California College of Podiatric Medicine, Kirby found that the Biomechanics Professors were +/- 2 degrees (a 4 degree spread) and the podiatry students were +/- 5 degrees (a 10 degree spread)  in determining STJ neutral position.

Subtalar neutral appears to be what amounts to a knife edge between pronation and supination where neutral is the border or transition point between the two states. Unless the subtalar neutral position can be precisely and consistently identified, it is impossible to know whether the subtalar joint is pronated or supinated.

The future of subtalar neutral in skiing

Too many times theories of how the human foot functions and therefore how mechanically inducted foot problems are treated have been presented as if they were facts. The dogmatic adherence that sometimes ensues from such an approach has frequently stifled the evolution of foot mechanics. This has been particularly apparent in the field of podiatry which has been dominated by the Root paradigm. (4.)

The long standing controversy and growing challenges mounted against the credibily of Root’s subtalar neutral theory has significant implications for the continued promotion of subtalar neutral in skiing as providing the strongest position of the bones of the foot and leg.

It may eventually be shown to be unfortunate that Root’s influential textbooks were published at a time when the ski industry was attempting to come to terms with the skier/boot interface issues associated with the new paradigm created by the rigid shell plastic ski boot.

In my next post, I will discuss what a ski boot should do for the user or perhaps, more a case of what a ski boot shouldn’t do.


  1. Root ML, Orien WP, Weed JH, RJ Hughes: Biomechanical Examination of the Foot, Volume 1. Clinical Biomechanics Corporation, Los Angeles, 1971
  2. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-Bv
  3. Are Root Biomechanics Dying: Podiatry Today, March 27, 2009
  4. Foot biomechanics- emerging paradigms: Stephen F Albert, 4th Congress of the International Foot and Ankle Biomechanics (i-FAB) Community Busan, Korea. 8-11 April 2014

 

IN THE BEGINNING: HOW I GOT STARTED IN SKI BOOT MODIFICATIONS

I originally published this post on May 12, 2013. This is a revised and edited version.


Before I started ‘tinkering’ with ski boots in 1973, I didn’t just read everything I could find on the subject of fitting boots, I devoured every bit of information I could find on the subject. The assumption I made at that time was that the experts in the field not only knew what they were talking about, but that they also had the requisite knowledge and understanding of the underlying principles to back up their positions with applied science and/or research. Based on this assumption, I started modifying ski boots by doing all the things the experts recommended such as padding the ankle to ‘support’ and ‘stabilize’ it in the boot shell and cuff and adding cants between the soles of the boots and the skis to make the skis sit flat on the snow. But the big breakthrough for me came when I started making footbeds to support the foot.

Within a year I had gained expertise in my craft to the point that skiers from all over Canada were starting to seek out my services. In  response, I started a company called Anatomic Concepts. Soon, I was spending most of my free time working on ski boots. But while I was helping a lot of skiers ski better, none of what I was learning or doing was helping my own skiing. I was still struggling after switching from low-cut leather boots to the new stiff, all plastic boots.

The (Un)Holy Grail

Despite the inability to solve my own problems, my thinking remained aligned with conventional thinking right up until my experience with Mur and the ‘Holy Grail’ of ski boots; the perfect fit of the boot with the foot and leg of the skier.

In 1977, Roger McCarthy (head of the Whistler Ski Patrol), whose boots I had worked, on introduced me to Nancy Greene Raine in the Roundhouse on top of Whistler Mountain. The timing was perfect. Racers on our National Ski Team were having boot problems. They needed help. It was a classic case of me being in the right place at the right time. Nancy recruited me, flew me to Calgary at her expense and introduced me to the National Team and Dave Murray. She set up a working arrangement with the team, one in which I was completely independent. Nancy also introduced me to Glen Wurtele, head coach of the BC Ski Team. At Wurtele’s request, I began working on the boots of members of the team.

I started working on the boots of NAST (National Alpine Ski Team) racers with Dave Murray; ‘Mur’ as he was affectionately known. My thinking at that time vis-a-vis the need to immobilize the foot and achieve a ‘perfect fit’ of the boot with the foot was aligned with the approach of the  ‘experts’ in the  field. Mur didn’t live far from me. When I was working on his boots, he seemed to spend more time at our home than his. Because of my ready access to Mur, I saw an opportunity to achieve the Holy Grail of skiing with a fit of the boot with the foot so perfect that the foot was for all intents and purposes rendered rigid and immobile and united with the structures of the ski boot.

To achieve this lofty goal I spent the better part of 2 weeks working for hours every night carefully crafting a matrix of heat formable 1 mm thick vinyl around Mur’s foot and leg and the shells of his boots with my inserts inside the liners of the boot. When Mur finally confirmed he was ‘loaded, locked and ready’ he went skiing to test the results. I waited for the inevitable confirmation of success and certain celebration that would follow. But after what seemed like an eternity, instead of the expected good news, Mur called to tell me that he could barely ski with my perfect fit. He had little or no balance or control. The Holy Grail had reduced a world class skier to a struggling beginner. I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that the industry had to be way off track especially in view of the recent publication of Professor Verne T. Inman’s seminal book, The Joints of the Ankle.

After this experience I knew that there was way more going on than I understood. I started learning about human physiology, in particular, about the mechanics, neuralbiomechanics and physics of skiing. I started asking hard questions that no one in the industry seemed to have answers for. And I started going off in a very different direction from the one the industry was acquiring increasing momentum in. If the perfect fit could impose what amounts to a severe disability on one of the world’s best skiers I could only imagine what such indiscriminate constraint was doing to the average recreational skier. It could not be good. For me it certainly wasn’t.

A major turning point came for me in 1988 when a husband and wife radiology team who had heard about my efforts to try and develop a ski boot based on anatomical principles presented me with a copy of a medical text called The Shoe in Sport published in German in 1987. This seminal work contains an entire chapter dedicated to The Ski Boot. I discuss the issues raised about the design and fabrication of ski boots by international experts in the articles in chapter on The Ski Boot in my most viewed post to date; THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT POWER STRAPS (1.)

The Root of Misinformation

Unfortunately for skiing, the relevance and significance of the knowledge contained in The Shoe in Sport was overshadowed by the publication in 1971 of the book, the Biomechanical Examination of the Foot, Volume 1 by Drs. Merton Root, William Orien, John Weed and Robert Hughes. The book lists what the authors call their “Eight Biophysical Criteria for Normalcy”. These criteria, which have since been challenged and shown to be largely invalid,  were claimed to represent the “ideal physical relationship of the boney segments of the foot and leg for the production of maximum efficiency during static stance or locomotion”.

A key component of the biophysical criteria was that a bisection  of the lower third of the leg be perpendicular to the ground and the subtalar joint rest in neutral. Root described neutral as occuring when the subtalar joint was neither supinated or pronated.

In order to be considered normal, a foot had to meet all eight biophysical criteria. The effect of this criteria, which was arbitrary, was to render the majority of the feet of the world’s population abnormal and candidates for corrective interventions. Although Root never stated, implied or suggested it, his neutral sub-talar theory appears to have been misinterpretated in the ski industry to mean that the foot functions best in static ski stance when its joints are immobilized in neutral (sub talar).

In recent years, Root’s Sub-Talar Neutral Theory has come under increasing challenge with calls to discontinue its use (2.).

Conclusions
Taken as part of a wider body of evidence, the results of this study have profound implications for clinical foot health practice. We believe that the assessment protocol advocated by the Root model is no longer a suitable basis for professional practice. We recommend that clinicians stop using sub-talar neutral position during clinical assessments and stop assessing the non-weight bearing range of ankle dorsiflexion, first ray position and forefoot alignments and movement as a means of defining the associated foot deformities. The results question the relevance of the Root assessments in the prescription of foot orthoses.

The results of the wider body of evidence have the potential to have profound implications for skiing in terms of the application of Root’s Subtalar Neutral Theory as putting the foot in the most functional position for skiing by supporting and immobilizing it in neutral (subtalar).


  1. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-UB
  2. https://jfootankleres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13047-017-0189-2

IS SHIFFRIN ON THE LEVEL?

By on the level, I am suggesting that Shiffrin may have a much lower zeppa-delta ramp angle than her competition.

Here are some screen shots from the March 18, 2018 Are Slalom where Shiffrin won by  1.58 seconds. She is on and off her edges in milliseconds as she just seems to pop from turn to turn – Total Domination From Shiffrin (1.)

Compare the angles of Shiffrin’s ankle, knee and hip in the photo below to those of her competition in the second and third photos below.

Notice how extended Shiffrin’s lower body is as she exits the rise line and enters the bottom of the turn in the photo below from a training session earlier in the year.

Extended in the Are Slalom.

Out of the start her knees and ankles are almost straight!

In my next post I will explain what I think is happening and why.


  1. https://youtu.be/gQu-LkyfsRQ?list=PLo6mlcgIm9mzWPBpeXnH2CpFOXrWhBiEB

ZEPPA-DELTA ANGLE EXTENDER

The problem associated with measuring boot board (zeppa) and/or binding (delta) ramp angle as individual components is that the resulting angle may not accurately reflect the actual angle between the plane of the base of the upper surface of the boot board and the base of the ski in the boot/binding/ski system. Boot boards of the same zeppa angle may not necessarily have the same zeppa angle with the base of the boot shell due to design and/or manufacturing variances.

A level inserted into a ski boot shell with the boot board in place can be difficult to read. With the liner in place, this is not a viable option. A better option is to extend the angle of the boot board up above the top of the shaft of the boot so it can be accurately and easily read.

A simple device for this purpose can be made for about $25 with basic hand tools and a few screws using 2 – 8 in (20 cm) x 12 in (30 cm) x 1/8 in (3 mm) thick steel carpenter’s squares.

Place the long arms of the squares over each other as shown in the photo below and clamp them securely together. Two-sided tape can be used to help secure the alignment. Then drill a hole  at one point on the vertical leg and screw the 2 squares together.

Check the parallelness of the 2 opposite arms on a level surface with a digital level. If good, secure the 2 levels together with a second screw. Then affix a section of 3/4 in (2 cm) x 3/4 in (2 cm) square or L-bar bar on the top of the extender to rest the level on.

To use the extender, place a boot shell on a hard, flat, level surface. If the surface is not level it should be leveled before the extender is used.

The photo below shows the extender being used to measure the zeppa angle of an old Salomon SX-90 shell. I didn’t have the electronic level for the photo. So I used a small torpedo level.

Insert the lower arm of the device into the shell as shown in the right hand image and place the lower arm firmly on the boot board. Place the level on the top arm and read the angle.

The photo below shows the same process as above. But in this example, the liner is in place. If an insole is in the liner, it should be flat with no arch form. I highlighted the square bar with pink to make it easily visible.

A check of the zeppa-delta angle of the boot-binding-ski system can be done by mounting the boot in the binding of the ski that is part of the system and clamping the ski to a flat surface with sufficient force to ensure the camber is removed and the running surface of the base is in full contact with the supporting surface. A strap wrapped over the front of the boot shell and under and around the supporting surface then tensioned will help ensure that the toe plate of the binding is loaded.

The Zeppa-Delta Angle Extender provides the user with a fast accurate way to know their total number. What’s yours?

 

RAMPING UP THE POWER OF YOUR STANCE

Note to the reader

The post that follows was originally published on March 1, 2016. At the time that I wrote it, I was trying to identify the optimal net (total) ramp angle or NRA using fixed angle ramps. But I found the process to be inconclusive for reasons I give in my recent posts on the dynamic ramp assessment device. I am reposting this older post because many of the concepts expressed are even more relevant in view of the results seen with the dynamic ramp assessment device and boot boards altered to the same ramp angle identified in dynamic testing.


RAMPING UP THE POWER OF YOUR STANCE

The foundation of a strong technique is a strong stance. But what makes a strong stance? The angle of the combined ramps of the binding and boot board or zeppa in relation to the base of the ski. If the net ramp angle weren’t important, binding and boot makers would make their products with no ramp. If ramp angle doesn’t make a difference, why bother? But not only does net ramp angle make a difference, it has a significant effect on stance.  Stance affects balance and muscle power, especially the ability of eccentric gastrocnemius-soleus complex muscle contraction to absorb shocks that would otherwise be transmitted up the leg to the knees and back. I discussed some of these issues in WHAT’S YOUR ANGLE? – : https://skimoves.me/2014/03/29/ski-boots-whats-your-angle/ ‎

If there were a problem, and there is, the ski industry is all over the place especially when in comes to binding ramp. There doesn’t appear to be any industry standards and especially any continuity between products. Worse, most skiers assume that their ski boots are putting them in the optimal stance. Without a reference they have no way of knowing. The Stance Ramp can give them that reference especially when it comes to how much ramp is enough, how much ramp is too much and how much ramp is too little.

Note Added March 19, 2018 – Having a kinesthetic sense of a stance based on tensegrity gives a skier a valuable tool that when used in a structured process can help them assess the effect of zeppa-delta ramp angle and the constraint imposed on their feet and legs by the structures of a ski boot.

In 1978, when I was building boots for female racers with small feet, I noticed that they were skiing like they were wearing high heel shoes. When I started checking their bindings and boot board ramps, I found out why. Some had 10 or 12 degrees or more of net ramp angle. After I started doing stance training with racers on a ramped board I discovered through empirical experiments that about 3 degrees of ramp angle seemed to give skiers the strongest stance.

Note Added March 19, 2018 – It now appears as if 3 degrees is the upper limit of the zone of stability. This explains why skiers started to ski better when the net ramp angle approached 3 degrees.

I didn’t really understand why until much later. Was the process scientific? No, not at all. Do studies of this critical issue need to be done? Absolutely. If I figured out that ramp angle was a critical issue almost 40 years ago, why is it that no studies appear to have done in the intervening years to determine the affects of ramp angle and identity the optimal angle?

With input from skiers in different parts of the world over the past two years, I have narrowed the ideal ramp angle down to about 2.7 degrees. This seems to be something of a standard in World Cup. Through experiments over the past few months, I have found that changes of 0.1 degrees can make a significant and easily perceivable difference. Optimal ramp angle isn’t just critical for World Cup racers, it is critical for all skiers. The easiest way to convince yourself of the importance of optimal ramp angle is for you to experience the effects of ramp angle through experimentation. How? With a Stance Ramp set to a base reference angle of 2.5 degrees.

The Stance Ramp lets skiers stand in their ski stance (barefoot is best) on a flat, level, surface then assume the same stance on the Stance Ramp, compare the kinaesthetic sense and judge whether they feel stronger of weaker. The angle of the Stance Ramp can be predictably increased or decreased by inserting shims at either end between the ramp and the surface it is supported on. When the ramp angle that makes the stance feel the strongest is arrived at, it can compared to the ramp angle of the ski boot board by having one foot on the Stance Ramp and the other in the ski boot.

The best part? The Stance Ramp is easy and inexpensive to make with readily available materials. I made mine out of some scraps of plywood I had lying around. Here’s what the Stance Ramp I made looks like. You stand with one foot on either side of the stiffener in the center with your heels at the high end (left end in the photo below).

IMG_6304

Here’s a top (plan) view. It is a good idea to check the surface the ramp will sit on to make sure it is very close to level.

IMG_6302

Here’s the underside of the Stance Ramp showing the element at the rear that gives the ramp its 2.5 degree angle. The stiffener in the center is important to ensure the ramp doesn’t flex under your weight.

IMG_6309

The sketch below is a basic plan for a Stance Ramp. The only critical details are the height or thickness of the element that lifts the rear aspect of the ramp to achieve and 2.5 degree angle (angle A) and the distance the lift element is placed from the front edge of the ramp. The stiffening element in the center of my ramp is 8 cm wide. The ramp has to be big enough to stand with the feet under the hips and long enough to accommodate the length of the feet.

Stance Ramp

An online right angle calculator such as the one at cleavebooks.co.uk can be used to calculate the spacing of the lift element from the low end (front edge) of the ramp based on its thickness.

SR calculate

Once the optimal ramp angle is arrived at, the Stance Ramp can be used in combination with the ski boot shell to confirm that the boot board is at the same angle.

IMG_6307

In my next post, I will discuss what I call the Resistive Shank Angle that is the base to build  a strong stance on.

WHY STANCE TRAINING IS ESSENTIAL

When readers click on my blog address at skimoves.me, analytics give me a hierarchy of the countries with the most views and the most popular posts in ascending order. This helps me identify which content resonates most strongly with viewers and which content draws a blank.

As I write this post, the top five countries are the US followed by Croatia, the United Kingdom, Slovakia and France.

The most viewed post today is THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT POWER STRAPS; far and away the most popular post I have published to date. But the most important posts by far that I have ever written, A DEVICE TO DETERMINE OPTIMAL PERSONAL RAMP ANGLE and STANCE MUSCLE TENSIONING SEQUENCE EXERCISE barely sputtered in comparison. This strongly suggests that far from just some small gaps in the knowledge base skiing is founded on, massive craters exist.

Arguably the most important aspect of skiing is a strong stance. Any variance in the fore-aft angle of  the plane of support under the feet and the plane of the base of the ski has significant impact on stance. Yet these subjects are barely blips on the Doppler Radar of the ski industry.

Since I started the dynamic ramp angle assessment project a few weeks ago I have found that when asked to do so, it is rare for a skier of any ability to be able to assume a strong ski stance in an off the ski hill environment. Even when a skier  skis with a relatively strong stance, they seem to lack a sense of what a strong stance feels like. Because of this, they lack the ability to consciously replicate a strong stance. If asked to do so, they would be unable to coach a skier in the sequence of events that I described in my last post

In the dynamic ramp angle assessment project, I  have also observed that skiers with with a boot/binding ramp angle greater than 2.8 degrees appear to have become accustomed to the associated unstable, dysfunctional feeling and identify with it as ‘normal’. Before I can test them, I have to spend time coaching them into the correct stance because it feels unnatural to them.

When I go back and forth between a strong functional stance on a flat, hard level surface to a stance on the dynamic ramp angle device set to an angle of 4 degrees, I can get close to the same angles of ankle, knee and hip. But when I do, I feel strong tension, stiffness and even pain in my mid to lower back which is  common in some skiers and even racers.

Based on results to date with the dynamic ramp angle device, it appears as if strong skiers ski best with ramp angles close to zero. But depending on their sense of balance and athletic ability, they may have a wide range in which they sense little difference on the effect of ramp angle until they approach the upper limit of stability. While they may be able to ski well with a ramp angle close to the maximum limit of stability, ramp angles much above 1.2 to 1.5 degrees may not offer any benefits. This can only be tested on skis where balance is tested by dynamic forces which cannot be replicated in a static setting.

Issues affecting skier stance were discussed in detail in my post, THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT POWER STRAPS. Here are the excerpts I posted from the chapter on The Ski Boot in the book, The Shoe in Sport (1989), published in German in 1987 as Der Schuh Im Sport– ISNB 0-8151-7814-X

“If flexion resistance stays the same over the entire range of flexion of the ski boot, the resulting flexion on the tibia will be decreased. With respect to the safety of the knee, however, this is a very poor solution. The increasing stiffness of the flexion joint of the boot decreases the ability of the ankle to compensate for the load and places the entire load on the knee”. – Biomechanical Considerations of the Ski Boot (Alpine) – Dr. E. Stussi,  Member of GOTS – Chief of Biomechanical Laboratory ETH, Zurich, Switzerland

“The shaft of the boot should provide the leg with good support, but not with great resistance for about two thirds of the possible arc, i.e., (14 degrees) 20 to 22 degrees. Up to that point, the normal, physiologic function of the ankle should not be impeded”.

“Previous misconceptions concerning its role in absorbing energy must be replaced by the realization that shaft pressure generates impulses affecting the motion patterns of the upper body, which in turn profoundly affect acceleration and balance.

“When the lateral stability of the shaft (the leg) is properly maintained, the forces acting in the sagittal direction should not be merely passive but should be the result of active muscle participation and tonic muscular tension. If muscular function is inhibited in the ankle area, greater loads will be placed on the knee”. – Kinematics of the Foot in the Ski Boot – Professor  Dr. M. Pfeiffer – Institute for the Athletic Science, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria

It has been over 40 years since international authorities on sports science and safety raised red flags concerning the adverse effects of ski boots design and construction on skier stance, balance and the potential to cause or contribute to injury. It is time that their concerns were taken seriously and acted on. Research on stance and the effect of such things as zeppa and delta ramp angles is urgently needed.

 

STANCE MUSCLE TENSIONING SEQUENCE EXERCISE

Tensegrity

Tens(ion) + (Int)egrity 

The optimal ramp angle, as determined by the dynamic ramp device, is based on a stance predicated on the principles of tensegrity.

Fascial continuity suggests that the myofascia acts like an adjustable tensegrity around the skeleton – a continuous inward pulling tensional network like the elastics, with the bones acting like the struts in the tensegrity model, pushing out against the restricting ‘rubber bands: Tom Myers, Anatomy Trains (1.)

A ski stance based on the principles of tensegrity must be learned and rehearsed in a step-by-step process. It is neither natural or intuitive although elite skiers and racers such as Shiffrin and Hirscher appear to have acquired the elements of tensegrity. Assuming a group of racers of equal athletic ability, the odds will favour those whose stance is based on tensegrity.

In a ski stance base on tensegrity, tension in the arches of the feet will extend to the palms of the hands holding the poles.

  1. Start by standing barefoot on a hard flat floor or surface in a controlled environment such as your home. Where possible, use the same surface and place to rehearse the stance. If you have constructed a dynamic ramp assessment device, use this with the top plate set to level.
  2. Stand upright at attention. You should feel most of the weight under your  heels and less weight across the balls of your feet. This is normal. The fore-aft weight distribution is actually 50-50 heel to forefoot. But because the weight of the body is spread across the balls of the feet and along the outer aspect behind the small toes, more weight is sensed under the heels. Stand so your weight is distributed equally between both feet.
  3. Relax your hamstrings (in your thighs) and let your torso drop towards the floor.  Your knees move forward as they flex and your ankles will dorsiflex. Your ankles should stop dorsiflexing on their own when the front of your knee caps are aligned approximately over the balls of your feet. This is the point where the tension in your soleus (calf muscle) peaks with the tension in your arches. You should feel about the same pressure under the balls of your feet as you feel under your heels. But it should feel as if the circle of pressure under your heels has gotten bigger and your feet should feel more connected or integrated with the floor. I call this ‘rooted’ because it should feel as if your feet have sunk into the floor.
  4. While keeping your upper body erect, move slightly forward in the hips. You will quickly reach a point where you start to become unstable and feel as if you would fall forward onto your face if you move farther forward in the hips. When you get to this point your big toes should press down on the floor on their own to try stabilize you. This is the forward limit of stability.
  5. Now move rearward in the hips until you start to feel the same instability. This is the rearmost limit of stability.
  6. Now bend forward from the waist. Do not curl your back. Bend from the hip sockets for the thigh. The movement is actually thigh flexion. Lift your thigh to get the right feeling. As you bend forward from the waist, let your buttocks move rearward.  Your ankles and knees straighten. Allow your buttocks to drop towards the floor until you feel your body settling onto your feet. As this happens, reach forward with your arms as if you were going to hug a large barrel in front of you. Make sure the palms of your hands are facing each other with fingers curled and pointing towards each other. Find the place where your arms and head feel neutral to your spine. As your arms come into position you should feel your abdominal core and muscles in your back acquire tension.
  7. Experiment by increasing the amount of flexion at the waist while keeping solid pressure under your heels and balls of your feet as you straighten your knees slightly. As you increase the forward bend at the waist, pressure should increase under the balls of your feet. But you should not feel unstable. If anything, you should feel stronger and more stable. Make sure to keep solid pressure under your heels as you increase the pressure under the balls of your feet. You should feel as if the weight of your head and shoulders is pressing your feet down into the floor.
  8. Increase the bend at your waist while keeping the pressure on the balls of your feet and heels until the top of your head is down by your knees. You should still feel very strong and stable in the feet. The is the lowermost limit of waist flexion.

Once you have acquired a kinesthetic sense of the integrity of foot to hand tension, a sense of stability while pulsing the torso vertically up and down over the feet confirms a state of tensegrity.

The photo below is of simple model I designed and constructed in 1993 to illustrate the basic concept of bottom up tensegrity and how the degree of tension in the arches of the feet and the vertical biokinetic chain is driven by the weight of COM stacked over the foot.

The graphic below shows the continuum of tension from the balls of the feet to the opposite shoulders through the mechanism of the transverse posterior sling.

In my next post I will discuss what I term the NABOSO Effect.


  1. https://www.anatomytrains.com/fascia/tensegrity/