Skier Stance

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.

ERROR IN LAST POST ON EVERSION

In my last post, I erroneously stated that the sole turns inward, towards the center of the body, in eversion. I meant to state that the sole turns outward, away from the center of the body, in eversion.

I have revised the paragraph in my post so it reads correctly.

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.

I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

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.

WHY THE OPTIMAL STANCE FOR SKIING STARTS IN THE FEET

In this post, I am going to discuss why the optimal stance for skiing is dependent on the loading sequence of the new outside foot of turn, how this must start in the transition phase and why it is critical to the rocker impulse loading mechanism that engages the shovel and inside edge of the outside ski at edge change. This issue was introduced in THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: TIMING OF EDGE CHANGE. The rocker impulse loading mechanism and the ability to balance on and control the outside ski is dependent on the ability to rapidly tension the biokinetic chain that stiffens the forefoot and torsionally stiffens the ankle and knee joints. This process enables top down, whole leg rotational force, into the turn, to be effectively applied to the foot and ski from the pelvis.

A Middle Ground on Stance

Although there is much discussion in skiing on the subject of stance, it is rare for discussions to include, let alone focus on, the foot.

The red rectangle in the graphic below shows the mid stance phase in the 8 component Gait Cycle.

A common position amongst the various authorities in skiing on stance, is that it is represented by the mid stance phase of the Gait Cycle. The 8 component Gait Cycle is the universal standard for discussion and analysis of gait in human movement. During the turn phase, the sole the outside foot or stance foot is in substantially constant contact with the zeppa or boot board. Since the ski stance does not involve initial heel contact or terminal phases, it was reasonable to conclude that skiing must be a mid stance activity.

Assuming that stance skiing is a mid stance activity also meant that the joints of the foot are mobile and the foot is still pronating and dissipating the shock of impact. The fact that the foot is not yet fully tensioned in mid stance, while still pronating, appears to have led to the conclusion that the foot is unstable and in need of support. Towards this end, form fitting footbeds, liners and, more recently, form-fitted shells were introduced and soon became standard. I described what has become known as the Holy Grail of skiing; a perfect fit of the boot with the foot and leg; one that completely immobilizes the joints of the foot in my post, A CINDERELLA STORY: THE ‘MYTH’ OF THE PERFECT FIT.  This objective, precipitated the premise that forces are best applied to the ski using the shaft of the ski boot as a handle with the leg acting as a lever. In this paradigm, the foot was relegated to a useless appendage.

The Missing Ninth Component – Late Stance

The problem with the assumption that mid stance is the defacto ski stance is that it has only recently been suggested that a critical ninth component, Late Stance, is missing from 8 components of the Gait Cycle.

Although it has been known for decades that the foot undergoes a sequential loading/tensioning process that transforms it from what has been described at initial contact as a loose sack of bones, into a rigid lever in terminal stance for propulsion, the effect of fascial tensioning on late stance has remained largely unexplored until recently when the exclusive focus on the rearfoot began to shift to the forefoot. I discuss this in BOOT-FITTING 101: THE ESSENTIALS – SHELL FIT.

As recently as 2004, Achilles/PA loading of the forefoot was poorly understood. Under Background, a 2004 study (2.) on the role of the plantar aponeurosis in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot states:

The plantar aponeurosis is known to be a major contributor to arch support, but its role in transferring Achilles tendon loads to the forefoot remains poorly understood.

The study found:

  • Plantar aponeurosis forces gradually increased during stance and peaked in late stance.
  • There was a good correlation between plantar aponeurosis tension and Achilles tendon force.
  • The plantar aponeurosis transmits large forces between the hindfoot and forefoot during the stance phase of gait.
  • The varying pattern of plantar aponeurosis force and its relationship to Achilles tendon force demonstrates the importance of analyzing the function of the plantar aponeurosis throughout the stance phase of the gait cycle rather than in a static standing position.

Changes in Muscle-tendon unit (MTU) and peak EMG increased significantly with increasing gait velocity for all muscles. This is the first in vivo evidence that the plantar intrinsic foot muscles function in parallel to the plantar aponeurosis, actively regulating the stiffness of the foot in response to the magnitude of forces encountered during locomotion. These muscles may therefore contribute to power absorption and generation at the foot, limit strain on the plantar aponeurosis and facilitate efficient foot to ground force transmission.

Transmits large forces and foot to ground force transmission means large downward forces directed at the ground or to a ski and from there to the snow.

Although I did not understand the esoteric details of fascial tensioning back in 1993, I was sufficiently aware of the relationship between peak tension in the plantar aponeurosis (PA), to be able to construct a simple model that illustrates how peak PA tension results in peak Achilles tension and how this causes the soleus muscle to go into isometric contraction, arresting further forward movement of the shank. I discuss this in detail in my series of posts on the SR Stance.

The photos below shows the simple model I made in 1993. Simple models of this nature are finding increasing use today to model what are called Anatomy Trains.

In late stance, the foot gets shorter in length and the arch gets higher and tighter as intrinsic tension transforms the foot from a mobile adapter in early stance into a rigid lever in late stance so it can apply the high force to the ground necessary for propulsion in the terminal stance phase that occurs at heel separation. The graphic below shows how the arch height h to foot length L ratio increases as the foot is getting shorter and the arch gets higher in late stance.

What has only recently being recognized is that the fascial tension that occurs in stance maximizes balance responses, neuromuscular efficiency and protection of the lower limbs through a process of  foot to core sequencing; one that stiffens the forefoot and torsionally stiffens the joints of the ankle and knee.

Loading/Fascial Tensioning Speed

A 2010 study (4.) found:

Early-stance tension in the PA increased with speed, whereas maximum tension during late stance did not seem to be significantly affected by walking speed. Although, on the one hand, these results give evidence for the existence of a pre-heel-strike, speed-dependent, arch-stiffening mechanism, on the other hand they suggest that augmentation of arch height in late stance is enhanced by higher forces exerted by the intrinsic muscles on the plantar aspect of the foot when walking at faster speeds.

…… or, by more rapid, forceful impulse loading at ski flat – see SUPER PETRA VLHOVA’S EXPLOSIVE IMPULSE LOADING IN ASPEN SLALOM

A 2013 study (3.) found:

Although often showing minimal activity in simple stance, the intrinsic foot muscles are more strongly recruited when additional loads are added to the participant.

A 2015 study (5.) found:

Changes in Muscle-tendon unit (MTU) and peak EMG increased significantly with increasing gait velocity for all muscles. This is the first in vivo evidence that the plantar intrinsic foot muscles function in parallel to the plantar aponeurosis, actively regulating the stiffness of the foot in response to the magnitude of forces encountered during locomotion.

These muscles may therefore contribute to power absorption and generation at the foot, limit strain on the plantar aponeurosis and facilitate efficient (vertical) foot to ground force transmission.

…….. or foot to ski to snow force transmission.

The Optimal Ski Stance is Unique

While the optimal stance for skiing has the greatest similarity to the late phase of stance, I am not aware of any stance that has requirements similar to the ski the stance where a specific loading sequence precedes rocker impulse loading as the outside ski changes edges in the top of a turn.

As with the gait cycle, the movement pattern associated with a turn cycle also involves loading and swing phases.

Time To Cascade

There are two intertwined rocker mechanisms that impulse load the forefoot at ski flat between edge change. These rocker mechanisms rely on what the 3 components of what I refer to as the Time To Cascade which is only possible when the plantar aponeurosis is rapidly fascially tensioned.

  1. Time to Fascial Tension which affects,
  2. Time to Stabilization which affects
  3. Time to Protection which protects the lower limbs 

In my next post, we will Meet the Rockers and continue with the discussion of the mechanics of balance on the outside ski.


  1. http://musculoskeletalkey.com/gait-and-gait-aids/
  2. Dynamic loading of the plantar aponeurosis in walking –Erdemir A1, Hamel AJFauth ARPiazza SJSharkey NA. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2004 Mar;86-A(3):546-52.
  3. Dynamics of longitudinal arch support in relation to walking speed: contribution of the plantar aponeurosis – Paolo Caravaggi, Todd Pataky, Michael Gu¨ nther, Russell Savage and Robin Crompton – Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK – J. Anat. (2010) 217, pp254–261
  4. The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function – Patrick O McKeon1Jay Hertel2Dennis Bramble3Irene Davis4 Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092690
  5. Active regulation of longitudinal arch compression and recoil during walking and running Kelly LA, Lichtwark G, Cresswell AG – J R Soc Interface. 2015 Jan 6;12(102):20141076.

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: TIMING OF EDGE CHANGE

In my US Patent 5,265,350 (November 30, 1993), I stressed the importance of avoiding any structures in the ski boot that would delay or especially prevent, the loading sequence that enables a skier to rapidly assume a position of balance in monopedal stance on the outside ski at ski flat that occurs between edge change. The 2 paragraphs of text below are excerpted from the patent.

The avoidance of any obstruction (in the ski boot) is required in order to ensure that a monopedal stance will be attained without interference or delay. Such interference would be deleterious to the user and is, therefore, undesirable.

In order for the user to enjoy maximum control of the ski, it is important that these forces be transferred as directly as possible and without delay. As previously stated, this is an object of the invention. It is also important that forces exerted by the ski on rigid base 2100 be transferred as directly as possible and without delay to the foot of the user so that appropriate muscle action can be accurately and quickly stimulated which would act to make corrections which influence the relative position of the joints in order to maintain the user’s state of balance.

What I was really referring to is what Dr. Emily Splichal describes as Time to Stabilization.

The window for stabilization for optimal loading and energy transfer is very narrow and occurs as a skier approaches the fall or rise line at the point where a turn will start. The graphic below shows the Stabilization Zone for optimal loading and energy transfer to the outside ski shown circled in pink.

The timing of impulse loading is critical. The loading impulse is applied by a short, rapid knee extension made just as the ski is about to go flat on the snow between edge change in combination with forward movement of CoM in relation to the outside foot. Extending the knee tensions the hamstrings and gastrocnemius. This will cause the ankle extend slightly creating rocker-action impulse loading of the forefoot, especially the 1st MPJ or ball of the foot.

Dr. Splichal has graciously given me permission to republish her recent post. This may well be one of the most important articles ever written pertaining to skiing and ski technique.


 Time To Stabilization & Athlete Injury Risk

by Dr Emily Splichal – Evidence Based Fitness Academy

A majority of my podiatry practice is built around treating athletes and chronic athletic injuries.   From professional dancers to marathon runners all athletes – regardless of sport or art – require the same thing – rapid stabilization for optimal loading and energy transfer.  

dancer

Why is rapid stabilization so important? 

During dynamic movement such as walking, running or jumping (or skiing – my addition), the ability to rapidly load and unload impact forces requires a baseline of stabilization.   With a rate of impact forces coming in at < 50 ms during walking and < 20 ms during running it is no wonder the rate of stabilization must be fast!

To put this a little bit more in perspective.   Our fast twitch muscle fibers don’t reach their  peak contraction till about 50 – 70ms.   So if impact is coming in at rate < 20 ms during running and your hip / knee / ankle and foot are not already stable before you strike the ground – it is too late!     It physiologically is not possible to react to impact and stabilize fast enough.

A client or athlete who is reacting to impact forces will often present with ITB syndrome, runner’s knee, peroneal tendinitis, stress fractures, shin splints – and that’s just naming a few!

Considering Time to Stabilization (TTS)

In my workshops I often say that “we are only as strong as we are stable” or that “stability is the foundation through which strength, force and energy is generated or transferred”.

acle

The precision, accuracy and anticipation of stabilization must be so well programmed into the nervous system that peak stability is happening before contact with the ground.   This is referred to pre-activation and is associated with a faster TTS.

The opposite of pre-activation stabilization is reactive stabilization and is how many – if not most – of my patients or people in general are moving.   When we think of the rate of neuromuscular coordination even a small delay (think milliseconds) will result in tonic (exaggerated) muscle contractions, micro-instability and inefficient loading responses eventually leading to neuromuscular and connective tissue fatigue and injury.

So how can you improve client and athlete TTS?

1. Pre-activate base to center stabilization pathways aka foot to core sequencing

This is THE basis to EBFA Certifications Barefoot Training Specialist and BarefootRx.   With our feet as our base, the activation and engagement of our feet to the ground is key to center or core stabilization.    Fascially, the feet and core are connected through the Deep Front Line and must be integrated and sequenced as part of a proper warm-up or movement prep.

To learn more about foot to core sequencing please view HERE

2. Consider surface science to optimize foot feedback

All surfaces are designed differently with certain surfaces actually blocking and damping the critical proprioceptive input between foot and ground.    When we think of softer surfaces and mats, research has shown a direct correlation between softer surfaces and delayed / prolonged loading responses.

IMG_1753

Harder surfaces.  Surfaces that allow the transmission of vibration.  And surfaces with textures allow more accurate and precise proprioceptive input.   Thus led to the innovation of Naboso Technology by EBFA Founder Dr Emily Splichal

Ideally if Step 1 – pre-activation of our stabilization pathway could be done on a Naboso surface this would be ideal.    More information can be found at www.nabosotechnology.com

3. Footwear to allows optimal feedback and foot function

If we follow Steps 1 & 2  and activate the neuromuscular system barefoot and from the ground up we then want to ensure this carries over as soon as we put on our shoes (or ski boots – my addition) and begin our sport or activity.

Imagine if you activate the proper neuro pathways but then put your client into a thick cushioned shoe (or ski boots – my addition).  This essentially shuts off and defeats the purpose of Step 1 & 2.   We need to ensure a proper shoe is worn to allow this carry over into sport.    So think flexible, minimal cushioning. possible textured insoles (check out Naboso Insoles launching Spring 2017)

IMG_1767

The textured insole in the shoe above is NABOSO technology.


Dr. Emily Splichal, Podiatrist and Human Movement Specialist, is the Founder of the Evidence Based Fitness Academy and Creator of the Barefoot Training Specialist®, BarefootRx® and BARE® Workout Certifications for health and wellness professionals. With over 15 years in the fitness industry, Dr Splichal has dedicated her medical career towards studying postural alignment and human movement as it relates to foot function and barefoot training.

Dr Splichal actively sees patients out of her office in Manhattan, NY with a specialty in sports medicine, biomechanics and forefoot surgery. Dr Splichal takes great pride in approaching all patients through a functional approach with the integration of full biomechanical assessments and movement screens.

Dr Splichal is actively involved in barefoot training research and barefoot education as it relates to athletic performance, injury prevention and movement longevity. Dr Splichal has presented her research and barefoot education both nationally and internationally, with her Barefoot Training Specialist® Program in over 28 countries worldwide and translated into 9 languages.

Due to her unique background Dr Splichal is able to serve as a Consultant for some of the top fitness, footwear and orthotic companies including NIKE Innovations, Trigger Point Performance Therapy, Aetrex Worldwide, Crunch Fitness and Sols.

Degrees/Certifications: Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), Master’s Human Movement (MS), NASM-CES, NASM-PES, NSCA-CPT

 

 

 

A SKI PRO DEMONSTRATES BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 3 frames below are from Fosters’ video.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

FOOTWEAR DAMAGED FEET

If you wear constricting and/or supportive footwear for any length of time, the odds are good that your feet will eventually suffer some form of damage. Based on my personal experience, the earlier you start wearing footwear as an infant and the more supportive and stiff the soles, the greater the odds that undoing any damage in the future will take an intensive, protracted effort.

Feet First

A good starting point in the ski boot set up process is a check of the most important and sophisticated component of equipment in the boot/binding/ski system, the human system, starting with the feet.

One of the first steps I took after I experienced difficulty skiing in the new, higher, rigid plastic ski boots after moving from low cut leather ski boots, was to make an appointment with a podiatrist to have my feet examined for problems. After an examination, I was advised that my feet did not have significant issues. In short, I had normal feet (normal, not natural).

Having eliminated foot problems as a factor (or so I thought), I suspected that my feet needed supplementary support in order to withstand the forces of skiing. So I made an appointment with a well-known sports podiatrist in Washington state and explained my situation. He prescribed semi-rigid orthotics for my feet for use in my running footwear and ski boots. The results fell far short of my expectations. I felt higher impact forces in running. In my ski boots, I could not hold an edge on anything other than soft pistes. I expected that it was a simple matter of adjusting to the orthotics. But after a period of time with no improvement, I stopped using them in any of my footwear, eventually discarding them.

Signs of Foot Damage

As I stated in my last post, my first footwear as an infant were narrow and stiff soled; marketed and promoted as ‘orthopedically correct’. That was the only type of footwear I wore in the early years of my life.

The photo below compares my left and right feet. The foot that I have more difficulty balancing on should be obvious. My right foot is less stable than my left foot because the claw toe deformation prevents the metatarsals of my foot from splaying especially in monopedal stance.

l-v-r

Eleven years ago I started going barefoot the majority of the time. Back then, the claw toe deformity was far worse, moreso in my right, than my left foot than shown in the above photos. These photos were taken a few days ago after months of exercises such as the short foot that are designed to strengthen and rehabilitate damaged feet by working with the whole body. I discovered that if the damage is severe enough, going barefoot may not be sufficient correct it.

The photo below compares my left foot is it looks today to the same foot with a corrective toe spreading device on the same called Correct Toes.

correct-vs-bare

Correct Toes were designed by sports podiatrist and elite distance runner, Dr. Ray McClanahan because he was unsatisfied with the inconsistent and temporary results offered through conventional symptom management techniques: orthotics, medication and/or surgery (www.CorrectToes.com). According to the brochure, Correct Toes provide the best results when worn in shoes and walked on so long as the shoes are wide enough to allow the toes to splay so the foot can properly assume the weight of the body in single leg stance.

One shoe that is wide enough to wear the Correct Toes in is the VivoBarefoot Gobi II WH shown in the photo below.

img_6602

The photo below compares the sole of the VivoBarefoot to a conventional slip on shoe. The blue bar shows the width of the conventional slip on compared to the width of the VivoBarefoot as indicated by the red bar.

vivo-vs-sandal

From a perspective of logic alone, it should be obvious that when one foot carries the entire weight of the body, the base of the foot should splay (expand transversely and longitudinally) so as to provide greater weight distribution and stability by increasing the base of support. The associated biomechanics of the support limb are infinitely more complex than splaying suggests. Preventing the base of the support foot from fully splaying at least partially explain why the majority of skiers, even at the World Cup level, are unable to ‘stand and balance’ on their outside ski in a turn as has been advocated for decades by the world’s best skiers.

Footwear that prevents the metatarsals and toes from fully splaying can cause the muscles that support the arches to weaken. When this happens, it is common for the muscles that flex toes to intervene in an effort provide support for the arch.

When the great (big) toe or Hallux is forced towards the outside the foot, as is common in footwear, especially ski boots, it can weaken the arch. When this happens, the head of the first metatarsal will usually shift inward (medially) creating a condition called Hallux Valgus. In response, the 2nd and 3rd toes, will intervene in an attempt to shore up the arch.

The left photo below shows a manipulated alignment of my great toe with the second digit severely plantarflexed in an attempt to shore up my arch. This is what both my feet used to look like until recently. Over time, the first knuckles of the second and third toes became deformed and frequently developed sores from pressing upward against the inner surface of my footwear.

abducted-hallux

Prolonged plantarflexion of my first four toes eventually led to my small toe moving underneath my 4th toe. The right photo above shows what my foot looks like after months of exercises, the use of minimal shoes and Correct Toes.

If damage to the feet has occured before ski boots are worn, adverse effects  are more likely because a compromised medial (inner) arch can result in excessive mobility in terms of the 3-dimensional movement of the elements of the foot. When a skier with this issue attempts is to stand and balance on the outside foot of a turn, the inside ankle and navicular bones can move inward and hang up on the inner wall of the ski boot shell.

As shown in a recent study, going barefoot will strengthen the muscles that support the arches of the feet . But going barefoot alone is unlikely to correct deformities such as claw toes. The feet are integral part of the whole body. Problems that show up in the feet can be caused by problems higher up the chain.

I prefer a holistic, systems approach using a number of complementary modalities to addressing issues in the feet or any part of the body.

In my next post, I will discuss the effects of densities and surface textures of different flat insoles. I will also start posting links to the rapidly growing camp of barefoot-minimal expertise. Here are but a few.

FEET FREEX – Jessi Stansland – http://www.feetfreex.com

EBA Fitness – Dr. Emily Splichal – www.youtube.com/user/EBFAFitness

Northwest Foot & Ankle – Dr Ray McClanahan – www.nwfootankle.com

Katy Bowman – Nutritious Movement – http://www.nutritiousmovement.com