Skier Balance posts

WHO NEEDS FOOTBEDS? NO ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Source of Support for the Arch

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

Are Custom Footbeds and Orthotics better than stock insoles?

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

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

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

Footbeds; is anyone checking what they do?

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

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

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

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


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

THE MECHANICS OF EDGE CHANGE

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

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

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

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

Why typical balance explanations of skier balance are wrong

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

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

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

My comment from 2 years ago

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

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

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

OUTSIDE SKI BALANCE BASICS: STEP-BY-STEP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDENDUM TO THE ORIGINS OF KNEE ANGULATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: WINDLASS POWER

Two factors can prevent a skier from being able to develop a platform under the body of the outside ski on which to stand and balance on during a turn using the same processes used to balance on one foot on solid ground:

  1. The biomechanics of the foot and leg have been compromised by traditional footwear and,
  2. The structures of the ski boot, especially insoles, footbeds, orthotics and form fit liners, are interfering with the foot to pelvic core tensioning of the biokinetic chain that starts in the forefoot.

The torsional stiffening of the ankle and knee joints resulting from fascial tensioning of the biokinetic chain is fundamental to the ability to create a platform under the body of the outside ski by internally rotating the outside leg from the pelvis. It may sound complicated. But it is actually quite simple. Once learned, it can become as intuitive as walking.

The best method I have found to appreciate how ski boots, custom insoles and form fitting liners can affect the function of the feet and even the entire body, is do a series of exercises starting with the short foot. The short foot helps to assess the ability to harness the Windlass Power associated with the big toe. Once proper function has been acquired in the foot and leg, a skier can go through a methodical, step-by-step process to assess the effect of each component of the ski boot on the function of the feet and legs.

The latest edition of Runner’s World (1.) reports on a study done by a team at Brigham Young University that compared the size and strength of the foot’s “instrinsic” muscles in 21 female runners and 13 female gymnasts. Gymnasts train and compete in bare feet.

The researchers found:

Of the four muscles measured with ultrasound, the gymnasts were significantly bigger on average in two of them, with no difference in the other two. The gymnasts were stronger in their ability to flex their big toe, with no difference in the strength of the second, third, and fourth toes.

Although balance is important in all sports, it is especially critical in gymnastics. So it is significant that study found that the big toes of the gymnasts were stronger than the big toes of the runners.

Until recently, I found it much easier to balance on my left leg than my right leg. The big toe on my left foot was noticeably larger than the big toe on my right foot and the big toe on my left foot was aligned straight ahead whereas the big toe on my right foot was angled outward towards my small toes. This misalignment had pushed the ball of my foot towards the inside of my foot causing a bunion to form on the side, a condition known as hallux valgus. I now understand why I could balance better on my left foot than my right foot.

The muscle that presses the big toe down is called the Flexor Hallucis Longis (FHL). It is inserted into the last joint of the big toe where it exerts a pull that is linear with the big toe and ball of the foot. When the arch is maximally compressed in late stance, the Flexor Hallucis Longis is stretched and tensioned causing the big toe to press down. It’s insertion on the upper third of the fibula causes the lower leg to rotate externally (to the outside). When stretched, the FHL acts in combination with the Posterior Tibialis to support the arch. Footwear that prevents the correct alignment of the hallux weakens the arch making it more difficult to balance on one foot; the foot pronates unnaturally.

Going mostly barefoot for the past 10 years and wearing minimal type shoes for the past 6 years, made my feet stronger.  But it had minimal effect in correcting the hallux valgus in my right foot. It was only after doing the exercises in the links that follow, such as the short foot, that the big toe on my right foot became properly aligned and grew in size. It is now the same size as my left toe and I am able to balance equally well on both feet. The problem with ski boots and most footwear, is that they can force the big toe into a hallux valgus position while preventing the forefoot from splaying and spreading naturally weakening the arch and significantly impairing natural balance.

In the early 1970’s, when the then new plastic ski boots were making a presence in skiing, research on human locomotion was in its infancy. Studies of the effects of sports shoes on human performance were virtually nonexistent. The only technology available back then with which to study the biomechanics of athletes was high speed (film) movies. Ski boot design and modification was a process of trial and error. Many of the positions that predominate even today were formed back then.

As methodologies began to develop that enabled the study of the effect of sports shoes on users, biomechanists and medical specialists became convinced that excessive impact forces and excessive pronation were the most important issues affecting performance and causing or contributing to injury. I suspect that biomechanists and medical specialists arrived at this conclusion even though there was little evidence to support it because it seemed logical. Soon, the term, excessive pronation became a household word. The perceived solution? Arch supports, cushioned soles, motion control shoes and a global market for arch supports.  This appears to have precipitated an assumption within the ski industry that the feet of all skiers needed to be supported in ski boots and pronation, greatly restricted, or even prevented altogether. Even though no studies were ever done that I am aware of that demonstrated that pronation was a problem in skiing, support and immobilization became the defacto standard. Custom footbeds, orthotics and form fitted liners became a lucrative market.

As the support and immobilize paradigm was becoming entrenched in skiing, studies were increasingly concluding that, with rare exceptions, excessive pronation, is a non-existent condition with no pathologies associated with it and that the role of impact forces was mis-read. Today, it is increasingly being recognized that interference to natural foot splay and joint alignment of the big toe by the structures of footwear, causes weakness in the foot and lower limbs through interference with the natural processes of sequential fascial tensioning that occurs in the late stance phase. But the makers of footwear and interventions such as arch supports, have been slow to recognize and embrace these findings.

A key indicator of whether a skier has successfully developed a platform under the outside ski with which stand and balance on, is the position and alignment of the knee in relation to the foot and pelvis as the skier enters the fall line from the top of a turn. I discuss this in my post, MIKAELA SHIFFRIN AND THE SIDECUT FACTOR.

Best Surfaces for Training

A good starting point for the short foot and other exercises is Dr.Emily Splichal’s YouTube video, Best Surfaces for Training https://youtu.be/gvJjIi3h1Bs

Although it may seem logical to conclude that soft, cushioned surfaces are best for the feet, the reality is very different. The best surfaces to balance on are hard, textured surfaces. Dr. Splichal has recently introduced the world’s first surface science insoles and yoga mats using a technology she developed called NABOSO which means without shoes in Czech.

The skin on the bottom of the foot plays a critical role in balance, posture, motor control and human locomotion. All footwear – including minimal footwear – to some degree blocks the necessary stimulation of these plantar proprioceptors resulting in a delay in the response of the nervous system which can contribute to joint pain, compensations, loss of balance and inefficient movement patterns. I’ve been testing NABOSO insoles for about a month. I will discuss NABOSO insoles in a future post. In the meantime, you can read about NABOSO at https://naboso-technology.myshopify.com/products/naboso-insoles

Short Foot Activation

 

Short Foot Single Leg Progressions


  1. Here’s the Latest Research on Running Form – May 30, 2017
  2. Biomechanics of Sports Shoes – Benno M. Nigg

DIGITAL SALVATION FOR THE SOLE [BACK TO THE FUTURE]

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  – Clarke’s Third Law

Conspicuous hardly begins to describe what I was feeling.  In the early morning rush of skiers grabbing a quick caffeine rush at the Wizard Grill, amid tables full of Ski School twinks waiting to see whether they were going to have any work for the day, an attractive woman was carefully stringing computer cables up the inside legs of my ski pants.  Things like that draw attention even at the base of Blackcomb on a Monday morning.

One end of the cables were attached to pressure sensing insoles in my ski boots, the other to a data recording box I was trying to figure out exactly were to attach.  About the size of an epic Michener paperback, it was just too big to slip into any of my pockets.  Finally clipped to the waist of my pants, it was, in turn, coupled to a high-powered flash unit strapped to my arm, both of which were fired by a button left dangling pretty much nowhere.

Robocop.  I couldn’t get the image out of my head, although at least one person who asked what all the hardware was about accepted my answer that it was a control mechanism to power my artificial leg.

David MacPhail grabbed the digital video camera and we headed up Blackcomb to take some measurements.  Dave — who I’d been working with to document some background on the Rise boot he’s been developing — had only recently launched Synergy Sports Consultants.

I wasn’t clear where exactly he was taking me or what we were going to accomplish, but a more willing guinea pig would have been hard to find.  In the nether world of ski theory, and more particularly in the areas of skiing biomechanics and modeling, Dave MacPhail is riding the cutting edge.  His work with National Team skiers and his understanding of exactly happens to the human body when it straps on a pair of skis has brought him an international reputation as an authority in the field.

On a clear slope under the Solar Coaster, Dave skied ahead to set up the video shot.  Sophie — who’d wired me up — rechecked the cable connections, set a baseline measurement for each of my unloaded feet and told me to point the flash unit down the hill at the camera.

As they signaled their readiness to each other, Sophie fired the flash and told me to ski down toward Dave.

Making my best ski school turns, I skied for the camera.  We repeated the process a few times and then we went back down to the Daylodge to…well, I wasn’t sure to do exactly what.

What, turned out to be mind blowing.  The unit strapped to my waist was a Pedar foot pressure data recorder from the Novel company of Munich, a techy little piece of equipment that, until last year, was the size of a small desk.  On a PCMCIA flash card, the unit was capable of recording about 10 minutes worth of data.  Fed by 80 pressure sensors arrayed throughout the insoles in my boots that each took 50 measurements per second, the Pedar tracked pressure across time as my feet worked to move me like a skier.

Downloaded onto a laptop computer and run through the company’s software, the data could be displayed as images of my left and right foot, colour-coded across the sensing mechanisms to display the changes in foot pressure as I made turns.  With lower pressure readings showing up as black squares and higher pressure lighting up bright pink, the readout was a moving kaleidoscope of colour as it played back my runs down the mountain.


On each colourful foot profile, a small dot traced a red line showing my centre of pressure at any moment in time.  A good skier using foot pressure the way they’re supposed to, would, over the course of a run, track a red line from the ball of their foot back toward their heel.  The track would be true and relatively straight with few variations.  That’s what the tracing on my right foot looked like.  The track of pressure of my left foot looked like someone who had never seen an Etch-A-Sketch grabbed both knobs and started twisting them randomly.

The difficulties showing up in my left foot readout were verified when Sophie explained the graphic display at the top of the screen.  “This line graph shows change in pressure over time for each foot.  When you make a good turn, like you’re doing with your right foot, the graph of pressure shoots up dramatically at the start of the turn, drops down slightly to a plateau, then falls away as you unweight the foot at the beginning of the next turn.  Your left foot comes on very gradually.  Something’s blocking your foot function,” she explained.

The final diagnostic piece of the puzzle — at least as far as the technology end of things went —was put in place when Sophie downloaded the images from the digital video camera and synchronized them with the Pedar display.  There I was, making graceful turns and there was the readout of what my feet were doing — or not doing, as it turned out.

“Neat,” I said.  “Now what?”
“Now you find out what Synergy is all about,” said Dave.

Synergy — small “s” — is about joint action of different substances producing an effect greater than the sum of the effects of all the substances acting separately.

The whole being greater than the sum of the parts. 

In a theological context, synergy is a doctrine that human effort cooperates with divine grace in the salvation of the soul.  I’ve often thought of skiing as a salvation of the frozen Canadian soul and certainly a day in the high alpine making perfect turns in all conditions is as close to divine grace as most of us will ever come.  But it was the more secular meaning of the word Dave had in mind in naming the company.

“The whole concept of Synergy probably came into my mind 25 years ago.  I started thinking about something called bio-integration, bringing people with different important skills together to work holistically on making your body work right.  Five years ago, we couldn’t have launched Synergy because the technology wasn’t quite there.  We needed more sophisticated software and I could see the time coming closer to when we’d reach a point where a lot of things in athletics that are mysteries now were going to be revealed by being able to plug in sensors at key points of interface.  Now, we’re starting to get there.”

But data is just data without something to make it sing.  And that’s where the principals of Synergy begin to make the concept work.  Joanne Younker is Synergy’s president. She’s been working with Dave for 12 years on both the Rise boot and putting together a biomechanical model of how people ski, how joints and muscles and nerves and bones work together to overcome our natural tendency to fall down when the earth starts to slide out from under our feet at an accelerating rate.

Joanne’s a level IV CSIA instructor and a level II CSCF coach and a personal trainer when she’s not on skis.

Sophie Cox and Joanne Younker

She’s been a keen skier since she was fourteen and a student of kinaesthetics since 1989 when she blew her back out squatting improperly in the weight room, an injury leading to temporarily paralysis and a burning desire understand how her body works.

“Working with David, and studying the biomechanics of skiing, I can look at someone skiing and understand what they’re doing wrong and, more importantly, probably why they’re doing it.  That is, what muscles aren’t functioning right or what functions are blocked.  Working with this technology, I can validate my diagnosis with hard data.”

Using a set of dry-land kinaesthetic exercises, Joanne led me through a session designed to help me experience the “feel” of having the right muscles firing and applying pressure with the correct area of my feet.  Once I’d managed to do these correctly, she had me stand on the Pedar’s insoles outside my ski boots.  Connected to the computer, they gave me a real time display of where, in turn, I was applying pressure with each foot. Running me through the exercises again, I could use the display to associate that “feel” with a visual representation of correct pressuring.  There was no guesswork.  When I lit up the right area of the pressure pads, I was having my feet do exactly what they should do to initiate a good turn.

The final step of the exercises was to slip the insoles back into my ski boots and repeat the exercises again.  Within the confines of my boots, I could watch as I pressured the ball of my foot and got my bulk into the right plane of alignment.  I was surprised — as is virtually everyone else who has gone through this exercise — at how far forward I really needed to bring my centre of mass to consistently apply pressure where needed.

All of this might have taken a lot longer to happen if the third member of the Synergy team hadn’t walked into town by accident.  Sophie Cox finished her B.Sc. at the University of Brighton School of Podiatry in, England, in the summer of 1998 and was working in a Podiatry clinic in London.  Her mother brought home a bottle of Whistler spring water  — the same water that gets flushed down toilets in Function Junction, ironically — and she was taken with the idea of goofing off for a year in Whistler.  After some web surfing, she decided to take a job as a bootfitter at Can-Ski and really learn how to ski and party, Whistler style.

A colleague in Boston mentioned the groundbreaking work Dave had been doing in biomechanics and planes of movement associated with skiing to her and she attended a presentation Dave made last March to the Congress of the Canadian Sports Medicine Association.  “After Sophie met David and explained what she’d been doing with the Pedar, he was really excited.  He called me up and said, ‘I’ve met the third person!’ and we went from there,” Joanne explained.

After a summer back in England working , Sophie returned this fall to work with David and Joanne on the biomechanics of skiing and help launch Synergy.  What she brings to the table, in addition to the technology, is an in-depth understanding of the structures and movement of the foot and ankle joints and a wealth of knowledge in diagnosing problems related to feet and lower limbs.

“I look at a skier’s mechanics, what they can and can’t do, and try to decipher why they can’t do it.  Sometimes it’s bad motor skills and that’s Joanne’s part.  But if she’s trying to teach them a skill and they just don’t have the biomechanical capability to do it, that’s where I come in.  I can determine the physiological problem and refer them on to a physio or bootfitter or local podiatrist.”

“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”  Clarke’s Second Law

For me, the proof of what Synergy was offering was back out on the slopes.  I practiced and visualized what Joanne had shown me, let Sophie make a few modifications to my left footbed and got wired up again a few days later.  Back at the computer after two or three runs, I sat in rapt amazement at the difference.

On the Pedar’s readout, the front of my feet were lighting up at the initiation of each turn.  The tracking line of the centre of force had moved inward — indicating a much stronger pronation, getting the ski on its edge — and my left trace looked like something made by a functioning foot instead of a peg leg.

I know what you’re thinking; almost anyone can help me be a better skier.  That’s like crowing about doubling your money when you only have fifty cents to start with.  But what about good skiers?  What can all this do for them?
Funny you should ask.

In the fall of 1991, during dry-land training in Banff, Rob Boyd blew a disc at the L-5, S-1 joint in his back.  An ensuing laminectomy restricted his mobility and left some nerve damage on his right side— although not enough to keep him off the podium from time to time for the next six years.  “I learned to compensate using different muscle patterns,” he said.

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.11.09 PM

Three years off the World Cup Circuit now, and away from the daily coaching, Rob wasn’t happy with the way he was skiing this season, nor was he happy with his finishes in the early Ford Pro Series downhill races.  “I saw Jim DeMarco, M.D. wired up to this thing one day and started thinking maybe Dave — who had done a lot of boot work for Rob in the past — could do some testing on me and help me find some answers.”

Sophie and Joanne ran Rob through a gait test, using the pressure pads inside his running shoes while he walked the treadmill at Meadow Park.  “What we saw,” Sophie related, “was Rob had some blockage in the way his foot was functioning.  He wasn’t pushing off the ball of his foot with any force at all but compensating through other muscle patterns.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.10.31 PM

“Right away, from what we saw on the data, my suspicions were confirmed that my right side wasn’t working well,” Rob added.

What they saw when Rob was hooked up to the Pedar for the first time on the slopes was even more surprising.  His heels lit up like a Christmas tree and he was almost never pressuring the front of his boot.  His left turns were strong and crisp but his right turns were nowhere near the same intensity.  “Yeah, that was surprising to see.  It felt like I was skiing alright and using the balls of my feet but I wasn’t even close,” Rob said.

Dave went to work on Rob’s boots, Sophie made some modifications to his footbeds and Joanne got him started on a series of patterning exercises and visualization techniques.  “I could really feel the difference when I started concentrating on using my foot more.  That and the changes in my boot environment made a big difference.  I could feel it right away at Sugarbush (Vermont).  My skis were gliding on the flats; just floating,” Rob said.  He could also see the results in his times: second on his first run and fourth on his second.

 

“The next step will be to set Rob up with a physiotherapy regimen with Allison MacLean,” Joanne said.

And that’s where the remaining synergy of Synergy comes into play.  The company’s goal is to actively work with bootfitters, physiotherapists, chiropractors and other specialists in the community who can treat the whole person.

Allison is just beginning to work with the Synergy people and is excited about the “integrated approach” they’re trying to bring to problem solving.  “The data gathering and testing they’re doing is interesting,” she told me.  “It’s hard sometimes to know exactly what’s not functioning in the case of lower limb injuries and whether what your treatment is as effective as it could be.  When they send someone to me, we’ve got a pre-treatment set of data we can compare to post-treatment performance to really know whether what we’re doing is effective.”

“Every other person you bring into this adds something to the mix and produces even more beneficial results,” Dave explained.  “Sophie and Joanne and I, working together, have a much greater impact than any one of us could have on our own.  That’s the genesis behind Synergy.  But we want to bring the best resources we can to bear and make it so everybody looks like a hero.”

This obviously includes some of the best bootfitters in town.  George McConkey is sold on the idea.  “What Synergy is doing validates a lot of my own ideas about foot function and bootfitting,” he said.  “I still believe 99% of most peoples’ problems are in their boot and with any luck, what we’re starting to see in the way of data coming out of this will get the manufacturers interested in designing boots that work.”

Scott Humby, one of the owners of Fanatyk Co., isn’t so sure what’s going on is going to shake up the industry, but he sees potential benefit.  “I think what they’re doing can help you by really proving what’s going on in your boots.  If it make you feel better about your skiing; you’ll ski better.  If, as bootfitters, we’ve done all we can for someone and they’re still struggling, we’ll definitely send them on to Synergy because there may be something we’re just not seeing.  There’s a huge benefit in being able to refer someone on to a team of specialists.”

It seems axiomatic that what Synergy is doing is the way sports will go in the future.

The advances in sports in the last 25 years have largely come about because of a refinement in coaching techniques and technological innovations in equipment.  But most of what’s being done on the coaching front still relies on what a coach can see and how he or she interprets that visual data.  The advances in coaching and teaching in the next 25 years will probably be realized through the application of measurement technologies only now being brought into the field.

Some people in town and on the mountains think what Dave’s up to is another bit of high-tech quackery, other’s are true believers.  But whether coaches and instructors and others who guide athletes embrace the kinds of tools is probably more a matter of when, not if.  Elite athletes will demand it; the wired generation coming up will assume its presence. And guys like me who just want to get better and shorten the distance between muscle pattern and muscle memory will embrace it the same way we embraced those shapely new skis we can’t live without.

In the meantime, Arthur C. Clarke’s Law of Revolutionary Ideas is probably apropos:

Every revolutionary idea — in science, politics, art or whatever — evokes three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the three phrases:

1. “It is completely impossible — don’t waste my time.”

2. “It is possible, but it is not worth doing.”

3. “I said it was a good idea all along.”

Watch out for number three.

author- J.D. Maxwell


reprinted with the permission of Whistler Piquenewsmagazine

published on February 18, 2000

STANCE HACK: TUNE UP YOUR FEET

Biohacking Your Body with Barefoot Science

“…… hacking” or finding a way to more efficiently manipulate human biology.  This can include areas of sleep, nutrition, mental health, strength, recovery. (1)
– Dr. Emily Splichal – Evidence Based Fitness Academy

 

Last ski season, I developed some simple cues or hacks to help skiers and racers quickly find the body position and joint angles required to create the pressure under the outside foot with which to impulse load the outside ski and establish a platform on which to stand and balance on through the turn phase –  THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: IMPULSE LOADING

The primary source of information that helped me develop these cues are the exercises developed by Dr. Emily Splichal. Her exercises also helped me to appreciate the extent to which traditional supportive footwear with raised heels and cushioned soles has damaged my feet and deadened the small nerves responsible for maintaining upright balance and the ability to initiate precise movement. Since implementing Dr. Splichal’s evidence based science, I am not only skiing at a level beyond what I considered possible, I am starting to walk naturally for the first time in my life.

The information contained in Dr. Splichal’s videos will challenge everything you know or thought you knew about what we have been conditioned to believe about our feet and the footwear we encase them in. Contrary to what we have been told, cushioning under the feet does not reduce impact forces on the lower limbs and protect them. Instead, it actually increases impact forces while slowing what Dr. Splichal refers to as the time to stabilization; the time required to stabilize, stiffen and maximally protect the joints of lower limb from impact damage – THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: TIMING OF EDGE CHANGE

The Best Surfaces to Train On

A good place to start is to learn which surfaces are best to train on. Again, while it may seem logical and intuitive that surfaces with cushioning are best because they will protect the body from shocks, studies show the exact opposite to be true. Over time, support and cushioning in shoes can diminish the sensitivity of the rich small nerve matrix in the feet that acts as a neural mapping system for balance and movement. In her YouTube video, Best Surfaces to Train On (https://youtu.be/gvJjIi3h1Bs), Dr. Splichal discusses the effects of different surfaces on plantar small nerve proprioception and explains how barefoot training is a form of small nerve proprioceptive training designed to activate the plantar foot. Balance training is best done barefoot.

The Power of Plantar Proprioceptors

Watching Dr, Splichal’s webinar presentation Understanding Surface Science: The Power of Plantar Proprioceptors – https://youtu.be/t5AU-noqMFg will further your appreciation of the power of plantar proprioception.

First Stance Hack – Plantar Foot Release for Optimal Foot Function

Dr. Splichal’s 6 Minute Plantar Foot Release for Optimal Foot Function – https://youtu.be/zyrKgFwsppI will dramatically improve foot function.
Dr Splichal explains how to use RAD rollers (golf ball or other firm balls will also work) to optimize foot function by releasing tissues in the plantar foot by applying pressure to the 6 areas shown in the graphic below.
Dr. Splichal advises to focus on using a pin and hold technique  (not rolling the foot on the balls) to apply pressure to these 6 spots on each foot holding for about 20 seconds on each spot with each of the three different sized rounds for a total time of about 6 minutes. The foot release should be done 2 times and day and prior to each training session.
In my next post I will talk about the second Stance Hack: Pressing Down on the Big Toe to Impulse Load the Ski and Power the Turn

1.  https://barefootstrongblog.com/2017/04/28/biohacking-your-body-with-barefoot-training/