Birdcage Experiments

THE FIRST SKI BOOT PROTOTYPE BASED ON THE BIRDCAGE

In going through archived files for the MACPOD Ski Boot Project I found a photo of the first injection molded ski boot prototype based on the principles of the Birdcage.

The photo below is of the Birdcage research vehicle that was used to validate my hypothesis that explained the mechanism by which elite skiers establish dynamic stability of the platform under the outside foot of a turn by balancing torques in two planes across the inside edge. This mechanism extends GRF acting along the running surface of the edge out under the platform for the skier to stand and balance on.

The photo below is of the Logan Chassis (aka The Convincer) that was developed in conjunction with the first injection molded ski boot prototype based on the principles of the Birdcage.

The photo below is of the first injection molded ski boot prototype. It was called the MACPOD boot. The design and format were very good. But the stiffness of the plastics, which were stiffer than used in conventional ski boots, was many orders too low on the scale of shore hardness. A subsequent effort called the Rise boot suffered from the same problem. It was a lack of suitable materials and manufacturing technologies that eventually sealed the fate of the MACPOD ski boot project.

THE ULTIMATE LOOSE FOOT TEST OF METAL

The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.

                                                                                                                  Leonardo da Vinci

Despite what da Vinci said, skiers seem to have an inherent distrust in the structural capacity and integrity of the human foot.

In skiing demonstrations with ski boot prototypes based on the Birdcage it didn’t matter how hard I tried to explain to testers how the dorsal loading system worked and how little force was needed to secure their foot, it didn’t stop them from attempting to crush their foot by tightening down the dorsal plate until their noses bled. They were so conditioned by the persistent, ‘the tighter the boot, the better the ski control’ message that they just didn’t want to believe how little force it takes to activate the auto stiffening mechanism of the longitudinal arch (FIT VS. FUNCTION) and retain the foot in solid contact with the base of the boot.

In order to try and convince testers how little force was required to make their foot dynamically rigid one of our team members had a device we called the Logan Chassis designed and fabricated. The photo below is of the Logan Chassis aka The Convincer.

If it’s not obvious from the photo  the Logan Chassis was very heavy. The components were milled from solid blocks of aluminum. The heel counter and a few other components are missing. But the photo should give you a good enough idea. This thing was a tank. This device was not intended for skiing. It was a pre-ski boot skiing test conditioner.

To demonstrate how little force it takes to make the foot so rigid it is like steel I would get the test subject to put their foot in the Logan Chassis. Then I would try to get them to adjust the knob on the screw to the point where it applied firm but gentle pressure on the dorsum of their foot making sure there was no discomfort. Then I would ask them to stand up and lift the foot in Logan Chassis off the floor and tell me what they felt. They were shocked. Hell, I was shocked when I tried this.

The Logan Chassis feels incredibly light and the foot feels glued to the base with no sensation of pressure or discomfort. It defies logic. But I doubt I would have to convince da Vinci.

The truth is whatever people are willing to believe.

The problem is that most skiers have been convinced to believe that tight is not just right, tight is might.

SKIER BALANCE: IT’S ABOUT BALANCING OPPOSING TORQUES

The subject of my 4th post published on May 14, 2013 was the role of torques in skier balance. That this was one of my most important yet least viewed posts at 109 views suggests that the role of torques in skier balance is a concept foreign to skiers especially the authorities in the ski industry. This post is a revised version supplemented with information results from a recent study on balance control strategies.


While everyone recognizes the importance of good balance in skiing, I have yet to find an definition of what is meant by good balance, let alone a description of the neurobiomechanical conditions under which a skier is in balance during actual ski maneuvers. In order to engage in a meaningful discussion of balance, one needs to be able to describe all the forces acting on the skier, especially the opposing forces acting between the soles of the feet of the skier and the snow surface (ergo – applied and ground or snow reaction forces). Without knowing the forces involved, especially torques, any discussion of balance is pure conjecture. In 1991,  I formulated a hypothetical model that described these forces.  I designed a device with biomedical engineer to capture pressure data from the 3-dimensional forces (torques) applied by the foot and leg of the skier to the internal surfaces of the boot during actual ski maneuvers.

Test subjects ranged from Olympic and World Cup champions to novice skiers. By selectively introducing constraints that interfered with the neurobiomechanics of balance even a World Cup or Olympic champion calibre skier could be reduced to the level of a struggling beginner. Alternatively configuring the research device to accommodate the neurobiomechanical associated with skiing enabled novice skiers to use  balance processes similar to those of Olympic champions. To the best of my knowledge, no one had ever done a study of this nature before and no one has ever done a similar study since.

When analyzed, the data captured using the device called into question just about everything that is accepted as fact in skiing. This study was never published. For the first time I will present the data and describe the implications in future posts. We called the device shown in the photo the Birdcage. It was fully instrumented with 17 sensors strategically placed on a 3 dimensional grid.

Birdcage

The Birdcage instrumentation package was configured to detect coordinated neuromuscularly generated multiplane torques that oppose and maintain dynamic balance against external torques acting across the running surface of the inside edge of the outside ski in contact with the source of GRF (i.e. the snow).

  1. plantarflexion-dorsiflexion
  2. inversion-eversion
  3. external/internal vertical axial tibial rotation

Ankle torques are applied to the 3 points of the tripod arch of the foot (heel, ball of big toe, ball of little toe) and can manifest as hindfoot to rearfoot torsion or twisting wherein the forefoot rotates against the rearfoot.

A recent study (1.) on the role of torques in unperturbed (static) balance and perturbed (dynamic) balance found:

During perturbed and unperturbed balance in standing, the most prevalent control strategy was an ankle strategy, which was employed for more than 90% of the time in balance.

In both postures (unperturbed and perturbed) these strategies may be described as a single segment inverted pendulum control strategy, where the multi-segment system is controlled by torque about the most inferior joint with compensatory torques about all superior joints acting in the same direction to maintain a fixed orientation between superiorsegments.

The alignment of opposing forces shown in typical force representations in discussions of ski technique is the result of the neuromuscular system effecting dynamic balance of tri-planar torques in the ankle-hip system.

NOTE: Balance does not involve knee strategies. The knee is an intermediate joint between the ankle abd hip and is controlled by ankle/hip balance synergies.

The ankle strategy is limited by the foot’s ability to exert torque in contact with the support surface, whereas the hip strategy is limited by surface friction and the ability to produce horizontal force against the support surface.

Ankle balance strategies involve what are called joint kinematics; 3 dimensional movement in space of the joint system of the ankle complex. Contrary to the widely held belief that loading the ankle in a ski boot with the intent of immobilizing the joint system will improve skier balance, impeding the joint kinematics of the ankle will disrupt or even prevent the most prevalent control strategy which is employed for more than 90% of the time in balance. In addition, this will also disrupt or even prevent the CNS from employing multi-segment balance strategies.

Regardless of which strategy is employed by the central nervous system (CNS), motion and torque about both the ankle and hip is inevitable, as accelerations of one segment will result in accelerations imposed on other segments that must be either resisted or assisted by the appropriate musculature. Ultimately, an attempt at an ankle strategy will require compensatory hip torque acting in the same direction as ankle torque to resist the load imposed on it by the acceleration of the legs. Conversely, an attempt at a hip strategy will require complementary ankle torque acting in the opposite direction to hip torque to achieve the required anti-phase rotation of the upper and lower body.

Balance is Sensory Dependent

As a final blow to skier balance supporting the arch of the foot and loading the ankle impairs and limits the transfer of vibrations from the ski to the small nerve sensory system in the balls of the feet that are activated by pressure and skin stretch resulting in a GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) adverse effect on balance.

Spectral analysis of joint kinematics during longer duration trials reveal that balance can be described as a multi-link pendulum with ankle and hip strategies viewed as ‘simultaneous coexisting excitable modes’, both always present, but one which may predominate depending upon the characteristics of the available sensory information, task or perturbation.


  1. Balance control strategies during perturbed and unperturbed balance in standing and handstand: Glen M. Blenkinsop, Matthew T. G. Pain and Michael J. Hiley – School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK – Royal Society Open Science

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: HEEL/FOREFOOT ROCKER

An essential mechanism to the ability to create a platform under the outside ski to stand and balance on using the same processes used to stand and balance on stable ground, is the Heel to Forefoot Rocker. A slide presentation called Clinical Biomechanics of Gait (1.) by Stephen Robinovitch, Ph.D. (Simon Fraser University – Kin 201) is a good reference for the various aspects of gait.

Slide 19 of the Gait presentation describes the ankle Inversion-Eversion-Inversion sequence of the ankle. The sequence begins with heel strike (HS), followed by forefoot loading (FF), followed by heel off (HO) followed by toe off (TO).

The normal foot is slightly inverted in the swing phase (unloaded) and at heel strike. It is everted through most of the stance phase. The ankle begins to invert in late stance. The kinetic flow of pressure is from the heel to the ball of the foot and big toe. This is what should happen in the transition phase of a turn sequence when a skier begins to transfer more weight to the inside foot and ski from the outside foot and ski. Up until the start of the transition, the skier’s center of mass is behind the inside foot with the majority of pressure under the heel on the transverse center of the foot and ski where is exerts an inversion torque that is tending to rotate the ski into contact with the surface of the snow. The skier maintains the edge angle by applying a countering eversion torque with a combination of external rotation-abduction of the inside leg.

When the skier begins to transfer more weight from the outside ski to the inside ski, the leg releases the countering eversion torque and the ski begins to invert in relation to the surface of the snow.

The presentation on the Clinical Biomechanics of Gait did not include important aspects of the stance phase that occurs in late stance. Nor, did it mention Achilles forefoot load transfer.

The Three Rockers

Slide 23 shows the Three Rockers associated with the gait cycle.

First Rocker – occurs at heel strike. It causes the ankle to plantarflex and rock the forefoot downward about the heel into contact with the ground. The rocker movement is controlled by eccentric dorsiflexor torque.

Second Rocker – shifts the center of pressure from the heel to the forefoot. Eccentric plantarflexor torque controls dorsiflexion of the ankle.

Third Rocker – occurs at heel separation from the ground that occurs in terminal phase of stance.

Slide 13 shows how the knee shifts gears and transitions from flexion in early stance to extension in late stance. In late stance, the Achilles goes into isometric traction. At this point, further dorsiflexion of the ankle passively tensions the plantar ligaments to intiate forefoot load transfer. Load transfer is accentuated when the knee shifts gears and goes into extension moving COM closer to the ball of the foot increasing the length of the lever arm.

Two Phase Second Rocker

Classic descriptions of stance and the associated rockers do not include a lateral-medial forefoot rocker component that occurs across the balls of the feet from the little toe side to the big toe side in conjunction with the heel to forefoot rocker creating what amounts to a Two Phase Second Rocker.

In his comment to my post, OUTSIDE SKI BALANCE BASICS: STEP-BY-STEP (2.), Robert Colborne said:

….… regardless of where the centre of mass is located relative to the centre of pressure in the above-described mechanism, when you go into a stable monopedal stance, as you would when you are in a turn, the ankle is dorsiflexed forward and as this occurs the tibia rotates internally several degrees.

COMMENT: The tibia rotates internally (i.e. into the turn) as a consequence of ankle dorsiflexion. It does not require conscious action by the skier.

This means that the main muscle forces acting across the ankle (the plantarflexors) are no longer acting along the long axis of the foot, but rather partly across it, medially toward the big toe.

So, the beneficial effect of that muscle force is to force the base of the big toe into the ground, and that becomes the centre of the turn (centre of pressure).

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

The photo below shows a skier in bipedal stance with weight distributed equally between the two feet standing on a plush carpet with foam underlay. Black hash marks show the positions in space of key aspects of the right foot and leg.

The photo below shows the same skier in monopedal stance with all the weight on the right foot. Forefoot loading from the Two Phase Second Rocker has pushed the toes down into the carpet by compressing the underlay.

The video below shows the dynamic action of the Two Phase Second Rocker.

The Two Phase Second Rocker results in a heel to ball of foot diagonal rocker action acting towards the centerline of the body; i.e. diagonally across the long axis of the ski with the load acting inside the shovel.

A primary objective of the Birdcage studies was to validate my hypothetical model of the Two Stage Diagonal (heel – forefoot) Second Rocker in creating a balance platform under the outside ski for a skier to stand and balance on.

The graphic below shows the alignment of the Two Stage Diagonal (heel – forefoot) Second Rocker.

In my next post, I will discuss the Two Stage Diagonal (heel – forefoot) Second Rocker Turntable Effect.


  1. http://www.sfu.ca/~stever/kin201/lecture_outlines/lecture_17_clinical_biomechanics_of_gait.pdf
  2. http://wp.me/p3vZhu-29n

THE POLISH SKIER BALANCE STUDY: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF SKIING

The foot functions best in skiing when it’s joints are immobilized in a tightly fitting ski boot, preferably in a neutral position with the arch fully supported by a footbed.

This widely held position within the ranks of the ski industry implies that immobilizing the joints of the foot in a ski boot has positive benefits for skiers.

But the authors of the Polish study (1) that was the subject of a recent post cite research that indicates otherwise:

Wearing ski boots for a few hours can lead to a weakening of the muscles that operate within the ankle joint. This works as though one joint was excluded from the locomotive function.

………. according to Caplan et al. [3], the muscle groups that determine strength and are responsible for the function of stability in the ankle joint are very sensitive to changes caused by immobilisation. They found that immediately after immobilising the ankle joint for a week, the balance parameters were 50% lower than before the immobilisation.

The authors of an earlier Polish study (2) on skier balance also cite research that indicates otherwise:

It must be mentioned that the stiff ski boots of skiers facilitate the transfer of power to the skis, but they also increase the difficulty in maintaining postural control. Mildner et al. (2010) showed that balance performance on the MFT S3-Check was negatively influenced when wearing ski boots.

The authors of the recent Polish study (1) further commented:

Publications on issues related to the biomechanics of a descent, with particular emphasis on the balance parameters, are rare in the literature on alpine skiing.

The authors of a 2014 Polish study (2) on skier balance, similarly commented:

Our results were in agreement with the scarce information available regarding balance changes during or after a ski training camp.

The authors of a 2013 Italian study (3) made a similar comment with regard to ski equipment.

Despite the large market of ski equipment, not many scientific papers have been published on this subject in the past.

If research on balance in alpine skiing is rare and scarce in the literature and not many scientific papers have been published on ski equipmentwhere did the foot functions best in skiing when its joints are immobilized in a ski boot story come from?

The most plausible explanation is that the story was simply invented to distract attention away from the fact that no one knows what happens when the foot is constrained within the rigid shell of a ski boot.

Inventing a cover story is a typical strategy used when an issue can’t be explained. Using fact-deficient or obfuscating generalities to appear knowledgeable on a subject is not the same as being knowledgeable. Yet, few question this tactic. Instead, they assume that they’re just not smart enough to understand it and they ignore their judgment and common sense. Once people buy into a cover story, information bias sets in and they unconsciously filter out any information that challenges what they have chosen to believe.

The two Polish studies (1), (2) should be taken seriously by the ski industry because that the authors used barefoot balance as a reference against which to assess the effects of the ski boot and balance training on skier balance. In addition, the recent Polish  study (1) employed a systematic protocol; one that standardized conditions, controlled variables and acquired data that could be objectively quantified as opposed to subjectively interpreted based on uninformed observation. If balance was worse or improved after training, or in tests done with subjects wearing ski boots compared to the barefoot baseline, the protocol provided compelling evidence of the cause of the change.

The test subjects were closely matched in terms of physical characteristics and included both skiers and non skiers.

The findings of the study were as follows:

In the trials involving standing barefoot, there were no significant differences between the measurements taken at the beginning and at the end of the training programme. 

In none of the tests conducted on both feet were significant differences in the length of the COP path observed between the group of beginners and the group of advanced skiers.

In the case of standing on one foot, no signifcant differences were observed in the sway range in the frontal and sagittal planes between the measurements taken before and after the training camp (Table 3).

In both groups, a statistically significant improvement in stability was observed after the training camp only while standing in ski boots, both with the eyes open and the eyes closed (Fig. 2). 

The earlier Polish study (2) also did balance tests without subjects wearing shoes. The authors commented that:

It must be mentioned that the stiff ski boots of skiers facilitate the transfer of power to the skis, but they also increase the difficulty in maintaining postural control. Mildner et al. (2010) showed that balance performance on the MFT S3-Check was negatively influenced when wearing ski boots.

A study by Noé et al. (2009) found that mechanical effects of wearing ski boots resulted in changes in postural strategy through the reorganization of muscle coordination in experienced skiers. The improvements in balance performance in our study could also be explained by guided skiing including a number of lateral and fore-aft drills over a week of skiing. Exercises such as skiing only on the outside ski with the inside leg raised or skiing without poles are part of the curricula of ski instructor associations.

While this may sound like a good thing, the Polish study (1) found that the normal balance process was worsened:

What is interesting is that in the measurements involving the participants standing barefoot with their eyes open, significantly greater sways in the sagittal plane were observed after the training camp than before it.

My Hypothesis on How Elite Skiers Balance on the Outside Ski

In 1991, after having spent more than 10 years trying to solve the mystery of how the world’s best skiers are able to balance on their outside ski, I was about to embark on a project to design and produce a radical new ski boot. The design of the ski boot was based on my theory that the world’s best skiers balance on the outside ski through a sequential tightening of the bio kinetic chain that engages the processes of pronation followed by the application of internal axial rotation of the femur of the outside leg of a turn from the pelvis. The  bio kinetic chain is closed through inclination. Once the bio kinetic chain is closed by locking the inside edge of the ski into the snow,  internal axial rotation of the femur applied to the outside leg is translated through the subtalar joint into dual plane torque that opposes the torque that is inverting the outside ski (i.e. rotating it away from the turn). In effect, this bio kinetic mechanism enables the world’s best skiers to truly balance on the outside ski by balancing multi plane torques. The problem I faced was that I had no way to prove my theory. The technology I needed did not exist.

With the immobilization works best cover story already under a microscope as I was poised to move forward to try and design and develop a new ski boot, I found myself staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. I needed to prove my theory. But since the technology  to do this didn’t exist, I insisted that MACPOD retain a science team to work with me to see if we could develop a technology with which to confirm my theory and the bio kinetic sequence it predicted. The process resulted in the Birdcage and the on-hill studies done in the summer of 1991 using elite, intermediate and novice skiers. The most significant aspect of the Birdcage research vehicle was that it allowed the capture of baseline skier data equivalent to barefoot function and the study the effect of constraining specific joints.

The increasing use of protocols such as the one used for the Polish study (1) in combination with the rapidly evolving field of micro sensor technology and data analysis  is making quickly making the vision of the Birdcage as an analytical tool for activities like skiing and skating a reality. As this unfolds, widely held beliefs that are the foundation of skiing will increasingly come under the lens of a microscope.


(1) Influence of a nine-day alpine ski training programme on the postural stability of people with different levels of skills  (April 2016, Biomedical Human Kinetics (DOI: 10.1515/bhk-2016-0004) – Michał Staniszewski, Przemysław Zybko and  Ida Wiszomirska,  Józef Piłsudski University, Warsaw, Poland.

(2) Changes in the Balance Performance of Polish Recreational Skiers after Seven Days of Alpine Skiing – Beata Wojtyczek, Małgorzata Pasławska, Christian Raschner

(3) Materials, Designs and Standards Used in Ski-Boots for Alpine Skiing: Martino Colonna *, Marco Nicotra and Matteo Moncalero

ZEPPA-DELTA ANGLE AND THE STRETCH REFLEX

Never heard of the Stretch Reflex (SR)? You’re probably not alone. Even though the SR was the central focus of the research I did in 1991 with the Birdcage, I have yet to encounter anyone in skiing who knows what it is, let alone how it can function to assist skier balance by maintaining the major joint angles associated with a strong stance. The SR is what enables the world’s best skiers to ski with precision and with a fraction of the effort of lesser skiers.

After Nancy Greene Raine began supporting my work in 1978 and I started to work with world class racers and coaches I began to hear the comment that skiers like the legendary Toni Sailor or Nancy Green Raine ‘knew how to stand on their skis’. This implied that the reason other skiers could not ski like the Toni Sailors and Nancy Green Raines of the world was that they didn’t know how to stand on their skis. I found this puzzling. If it were that simple (it wasn’t and still isn’t), why hadn’t someone figured out how Sailor and Raine stood on their skis and started teaching the rest of the skiers how to stand the same way?

It was also about 1978 that the story began to take root within the ranks of the ski industry that ‘the foot functions best in skiing when it’s joints are completely immobilized in the ski boot’. The holy grail of skiing, a perfect fit of the ski boot that precisely mirrors the shape of a skier’s foot, emerged soon after. In this paradigm, if tight was good, tighter was better.

Aside from the obvious contradiction (the foot functions best when it is rendered dysfunctional?), it was a good story. On the surface, it made sense to most skiers, myself included, right up until I watched Nancy Green Raine undo all the buckles on her boots and ski better than any other skier on the hill. In observing and speaking with numerous elite skiers, a consistent pattern began to emerge; they all skied with their boots relatively loose compared to the boots of the average skier or racer; a stark contradiction to the ‘tighter is better’ story. A tight fit/loose fit paradox existed. This caused me to start to question the official position on boot fit.

By 1989, I had hypothesized that the SR was the ‘secret’ of the world’s best skiers. If I were right, these skiers weren’t flexing the shaft of their boots to put pressure on the front of the ski. They were flexing their ankles to set up the static preload that enables the SR. I had concluded that it wasn’t so much that elite skiers knew how to stand on their skis, but more a case that they were able to stand on their skis in a way that enabled them to use the SR. It seemed probable to me that these skiers had acquired a feel for the SR when they were first learning to ski. Once the feel was acquired, they were able to select boots and adjust them as required to enable the SR. The majority of skiers never acquire a feel for the SR when they first start to ski because the design and structure of their ski boots prevents this. If they don’t learn the feel of the SR early in skiing, the odds are great that they never will acquire it. If my hypothesis were correct, then the entire ski industry had gotten it wrong. The Birdcage experiments validated my hypothesis.

When Steve Podborski asked me to try and invent a new ski boot that did the same thing for all skiers as the in-boot technology I invented in 1980 did for him, I needed confirm my hypothesis that the structures of ski boots were preventing the majority of skiers from using the SR. This was especially important because preiminent safety experts had raised red flags in the Shoe in Sport (published in 1987) about the lack of sound principles in the design of the plastic ski boot. They had specifically flagged the shaft of the boot.

“The lack of proper technique seem so often is not due to a lack of ability, but to an unsatisfactory functional configuration of the shaft in so many ski boots. This is particularly true in models designed for children, adolescent and women.”

  • Sports Medical Criteria of the Alpine Ski Boot – W Hauser P. Schaff, Technical Surveillance Association, Munich, West Germany

A principle objective of my research in 1991 was to valid my hypothesis that structures of the ski boot prevent the overwhelming majority of skiers from being able to use the SR.

As far as I know, I am the first to describe how to set up the static preload that primes the SR and how to configure a ski boot so it accommodates and supports the SR. In the application of the SR to skiing, it is a powerful balance mediator and a PROTECTIVE mechanism.

The science behind the SR is complex. The best and perhaps simplest way to appreciate it is to acquire a feel for it by going through a static preload exercise barefoot on a hard, flat surface and then applying the acquired feel in progressive stages while standing in ski boots. This aspect involves correcting or removing any factors that prevent attaining the static preload. The process starts by learning how to set up a static preload on the shank-angle dorsiflexion angle.

  • In barefeet, stand erect on a hard, flat, level surface as show in the left hand figure in the graphic below.
  • Relax the major muscles in the back of the leg (mainly the hamstrings) and allow the knees to move forward as shown in the right hand figure.
  • As the knees move forward, the hips will drop down towards the floor. The ankle joint will dorsiflex and the angle of the shank with the floor and the angle of the knee will increase until a point is reached where the shank stops moving forward on its own.
  • As the knees are moving forward, bend slighly forward at the waist. The angles of the shank (ankles) and knees will decrease as the pelvis moves back and up and the back rounds. If you bounce up and down lightly, your stance will return to the static preload position.

static-preload

  • Move forward in the hips until you feel good pressure under the balls of your feet. Feel the whole system tighten up. You have set up a static preload on the shank of the leg. This is the foundation to build an SR stance on.

Try doing this in your everyday footwear. A number of factors  can prevent the setting up of the static preload that enables the SR. The ZeppaDelta Ramp Angle in ski equipment is a big factor as is drop in shoes. Over more than a few degrees of ramp angle, it is not possible for the SR to engage.

If you try the preceding exercise in your everyday shoes and the shoes have significant drop (toe lower than the heel), it is probably not possible to set up a static preload on your shank. Instead of stopping, the shank will keep going until it reaches the physiogical limits of ankle dorsiflexion.

In my next post, I will describe how to build an eccentric muscle contraction (EC) tensioned stance from the static preload shank angle.

 

BOOT BOARD STANDARD: A PROPOSED STARTING POINT

At the time that I designed the Birdcage research vehicle in 1991 with a biomedical engineer, I was aware that a Net Ramp Angle (boot board + binding ramp) of more 3 degrees had a significant, perceivable, negative effect on skier stance and balance. Although I didn’t know what the range of the optimal Net Ramp Angle was (and still don’t), I knew that Net Ramp Angle is affected by the length of the Achilles tendon and that this aspect affects the synchronizing of peak arch tension with peak Achilles tendon tension that occurs just before the heel separates from the ground to initiate propulsion. I refer to this as the Reference Shank Angle. It is the foundation on which to build a strong stance from the bottom up.

Since my experience prior to 1991 had demonstrated that more than 3 degrees of Net Ramp Angle was too much, a decision was made to fix the Net Ramp Angle of the base of the small Birdcage, shown below, at 2.5 degrees and the base of the large Birdcage at 2.35 degrees.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 3.30.12 PM

The small Birdcage fit US men’s size 4 to 8 feet. The large Birdcage fit US men’s size 8 to 12 feet. Thus, all skiers with feet in a Birdcage size range had the same Net Ramp Angle.

Since the base of the Birdcage acted as the boot board, there was no removable boot board as in most ski boots. The base shown above was made from high grade aluminum and was in the order of many times stiffer and more torsionally rigid than was necessary to withstand the expected loads of skiing without deforming. This is an important factor that will be discussed in a future post.

Since 1978, I had suspected that the plastic shells of most, if not all, conventional ski boots were undergoing significant deformation under loads typically of racing. So I began stiffening the bottoms of ski boot shells with a torsion box structure similar to those used to stiffen skis. Recent studies have not only confirmed my suspicions, but shown that the deformation that occurs can be far worse than I suspected. Consistent with good practices of science-based research the entire Birdcage was engineered with excess structural capacity so as to ensure that it could easily withstand the maximum loads imposed on it without significant deformation as this could disrupt the processes of skier balance and control.

An important aspect of the Birdcage was continuity of the surface structure that the foot rests on. A one piece top sheet comprised of 5 mm thick high grade aluminum formed into a tub was secured to the base with screw fixations. The 3 black strain gauges shown mounted on the base (2) and side plate (1) in the photo below of a left foot Birdcage show the continuity of the surface under the balls of the feet. Continuity of the surface under the ball of the large toe is especially critical.

IMG_6453

In order to ensure each test skier was as close as possible to the Reference Shank Angle, the start and end points of shaft rotation and the forward end point at which resistance was introduced were adjusted to peak Achilles tension – Shank Reference Angle so as to make the effect of ramp angle as consistent and neutral as possible without fine tuning it to each test skier.

The photo below shows the rotation resistance control mechanism on the back of the Birdcage.

IMG_6451

This important aspect is discussed in detail in US Patent No. 5,265,350. FIG 56 below from the patent, shows the means to adjust the rearward travel limiter of the shaft to set the shaft forward lean angle, forward travel limiter of the shaft to set the limits of forward shank movement and journal resistance means for 10 to 12 degrees of low resistance shaft rotation.

Fig 56

A reasonable starting point for a boot board standard would include the following:

  • A ramp angle of 2.5 degrees with a  shim kit with 0.1 degree shims for the heel and forefoot to facilitate fine tuning based on ski testing.
  • A top plate surface that the foot rests on that is monoplanar (flat in the long and transverse planes) with the transverse plane parallel to the transverse aspect of the base of the ski.
  • Torsional qualities that when integrated with base of the boot shell maintain deformation of the boot board and boot shell base within agreed upon acceptable limits.
  • A top plate surface that the foot rests on that is contiguous under the heel and the balls of the feet, especially under the ball of the big toe under the the 5th metatarsal.