barefoot science

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: PRESS AND POINT THE BIG TOE

A widespread perception appears to exist within the skiing community is that the ability to hold a ski on edge by using the leg to exert force against the side of the stiff shaft of a ski boot and staying upright and not falling, equates with good balance. This ingrained perception presents a challenge in terms of communicating how the world’s best skiers create a platform under the body of the outside ski that they can stand and balance on using the same processes that we all use to stand and balance on a hard, flat level surface.

Last ski season, I developed simple cue to help skiers find the right mechanics and biomechanics as the new outside ski goes flat between edge change and then rolls into the turn on its new inside edge.  At ski flat, if a skier has the right stance, they should feel strong pressure under the ball and the big toe. As the skier extends and inclines into the new turn, the outside leg should be rotated into the turn to point the big toe in the direction of the turn. Hence the cue, press and point the big toe.  This pressure under the ball of the foot and big toe should be maintained through the turn phase until it is released by the transfer or weight to the inside (uphill) ski at the start of the transition to the inside. The strong pressure under the ball of the foot and the force that presses the big toe down flat is passively created by a strong stance, not conscious effort.

The Reverse Windlass

The pressure under the big toe is created by what is called the Reverse Windlass Mechanism. This naturally happens in the late phase of stance when walking barefoot. But wearing shoes with raised heels and cushioned insoles makes it impossible for the Reverse Windlass to function. When the Reverse Windlass is lost, it must be re-acquired by being barefoot as much as possible and walking, running and training in zero drop, thin soled minimal shoes. In some cases, people have to learn to walk naturally by rehearsing the action.

There is an excellent YouTube video by Teodoro Vazquez on Blog del Runner  called Windlass Mechanism and Running Biomechanics – https://youtu.be/y_8SrufgmDk. Vazquez describes the 3 phases of the windlass mechanism, Active (Activo), Reverse (Inverso)  and Passive (Pasivo). Although the video is directed at running, the primary concepts have direct application to skiing and ski technique. The reverse windlass is activated by the weight as shown in the graphic below from Vazquez’s YouTube video.
 This tensions the arch of the foot and presses the big toe down.
As the shank angle increases, the soleus muscle goes into isometric contraction and arrests further shank movement. The results in a heel to forefoot rocker action that dramatically increases the down force under the ball of the foot and the big toe. What I call the Spinal Reflex or SR Stance maximizes the down forces.

It is important that when the big toe (aka Hallux) is pressed down flat, the ball of the foot and big toe feel like one. When the big toe is pressed down properly, you should feel your glutes tighten. The leg you are standing on should be straight and the knee pointed straight ahead.

An important muscle in the Reverse Windlass is the Flexor Hallucis Longis or FHL. When the soleus goes into isometric contraction, the FHL is tensioned. This stabilizes the foot and knee by rotating them away from the center line of the body.

Things that prevent the Reverse Windlass

1. A condition called Hallux (big toe) Valgus
2. Narrow shoes and especially shoes with a pointed toe box.
3. Ski boots, especially ski boot liners.
4. Shoes with elevated heels, cushioning and toe spring (toes raised up). Note: A small amount of ramp angle is necessary for the SR Stance.
5. Footbeds and Insoles.
In my next post, I will discuss fixes to enable and/or restore the Reverse Windlass.

INTRODUCING THE FOOT COLLECTIVE

The Skier’s Manifesto places a high priority on foot function and exercises that make feet strong and healthy. (THE IMPORTANCE OF STRONG HEALTHY FEET IN SKIING).  There is a rapidly emerging camp of medical professionals and trainers aligned with this cause who offer excellent articles on this subject. One such group is TheFoot Collective – http://www.thefootcollective.com.

TheFoot Collective has kindly given me permission to repost material from their blog on the Skier’s Manifesto. The graphic below is from the home page of TheFoot Collective.

What is the Foot Collective?

The Foot Collective is a group of Canadian physical therapists giving people back control over the health of their feet through education. Most modern day humans have poorly functioning feet and our mission is to spread the truth about footwear and give people the information needed to independently restore their own feet.

The collective exists to spread awareness of the importance of foot health and to provide quality advice on restoring proper foot function.

Foot problems have reached epidemic levels and the solution is simple: Quality foot health education to help people fix their own feet.

There’s a big problem with modern footwear

The modern shoe is harming the human foot. Footwear companies are creating products to make money, not in the interest of foot health and its slowly killing our feet. We’re here to spread the truth about footwear.

Most footwear today has an elevated heel, narrow forefoot and a slab of foot numbing cushioning between your foot and the ground below you.

Your feet are magically designed body parts with the primary purpose of sending your brainsignals about the ground below you. When they get compressed and are prevented from sensing the ground because of cushioning, they lose their ability to function and create nasty upstream effects for our bodies.


The kind of shoes you wear daily, especially the type of shoe you train in, affects how your body functions in skiing. Cushioning and cushioned insoles are especially bad. This is a recent post on the TheFoot Collective.

THE DANGER OF HEELED FOOTWEAR
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wearing a shoe with an elevated heel might seem harmless but it has real effects on your posture upstream. These postural changes change how your body moves by making certain muscles more dominant (quads especially) and others weak (glutes)
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Over time, heeled footwear is a big culprit for knee problems and tight ankles so avoid them whenever you can. Finding a zero drop flat shoe can be quite difficult but taking the time to find one makes a massive difference in your joint health and movement patterns
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Most modern day running shoes and dress shoes have this nasty heel lift so beware of the consequences and transition to zero drop barefoot footwear. Your body will thank you
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I have been testing different brands of minimal shoes; zero drop, thin flexiable, low resilency soles, for the past few months and will posting on this issue soon. For reasons I will explain in future posts, it appears as if a small amount of positive toe down ramp (aka drop) – approximately 2.5 degrees, is important to a strong stance in skiing. But my regular footwear is all minimal, zero drop.