Skier Stance

WHAT DOES HIRSCHER HAVE IN COMMON WITH BRIGNONE, WORLEY AND SHIFFRIN?

The short answer to this question is that the 4 racers share a stance with the muscles of the biokinetic chain in isometric contraction during what I term the Load Phase of a turn sequence and the ability to use the elastic recoil energy created during the Load Phase for acceleration.

One of the key visual cues of an isometric stance is an extended outside leg with small angles at the knee and ankle and a forward position of the pelvis. Another key visual cue is high hands with arms reaching forward as if the racer is trying to reach forward and hug a large barrel.

The screen shot below is of Marcel Hirscher in the December 16, 2018 Alta Bada GS that he won by 2.53 seconds.

The screen shot below is of Tessa Worley in the 2018-19 Soelden GS.

Reductionist Anatomy

A longer answer to the question posed by the title of this post, one that I will expand on in future posts, is that Hirscher, Brignone, Worely and Shiffrin are examples of the application of the principles of an emerging paradigm that is challenging the fundamental way in which muscular anatomy has long perceived muscles as separate systems with specific functions. In the new paradigm that has arisen out of recent discoveries muscles function in conjunction with the myofascial network as a wholly integrated system; one that responds and adapts to the stresses imposed on it. Since these discoveries are almost ten years old the odds are that the dominant technique of Hirscher, Brignone, Worely and Shiffrin is not by chance.

In previous posts, I described a stance based on isometric contraction as the SR Stance. SR is an abbreviation for the Stretch Reflex. Technically, a better term for the stretch reflex is the stretch-shorten cycle

The reason I chose SR for the name of the stance is that isometric contraction and the stretch reflex are not part of the narrative of ski technique. I discuss the three forms of muscle contraction in my post I-C-E: SR (2.) which I have recently updated.

The reason a ski stance based on isometric contraction provides a huge competitive advantage has to do with recent finding discussed in a 2009 article (1.) in which ultrasound imaging that allowed for quantitative assessment of the mechanisms for elastic energy storage and return at the ankle joint during human walking found that the Achilles tendon stores elastic energy as the mid stance phase progresses until the energy peaks in late midstance and is released to produce a rapid recoil with very high peak power output. The researchers named this the Catapult Mechanism (3.).

An important feature of the ankle ‘catapult mechanism’ is that the stretch and recoil of the Achilles tendon allows muscle fibers to remain nearly isometric producing high forces with very little mechanical work. In the isometric state, muscles expend much less metabolic energy to produce force when compared to muscles shortening in concentric (positive work) contractions.

Recent research has also found that during explosive movements, the contractile elements of a muscle remain in an isometric state to increase tension in the non-contractile components in an effort to produce higher levels of force. The enhanced stiffness from the contractile component can help the connective tissue rapidly store mechanical energy during the lengthening (recoil) phase delivering greater power output during the shortening phase. (4.), (5.)

What all this means is that the power advantage seen in racers like Hirscher, Brignone, Worely and Shiffrin results from an integrated system. But the human body can only function as an integrated system under conditions which allow multi-plane movement, something conventional ski boots intentionally interfere with.

In my next post I will start from what I see as the fundamental element of a ski stance based on isometric contraction and progress upward from there.


  1. It Pays to Have a Spring in Your Step – 2009 Gregory S. Sawicki1, Cara L. Lewis2, and Daniel P. Ferris2 – 1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, RI; and 2. School of Kinesiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
  2. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-1wT
  3. Fascial Fitness: Fascia oriented training for bodywork and movement therapies – Divo G. Muller, Robert Schleip 
  4. Cutting Edge: Training the Fascial Network (Part 1) by Pete McCall M.S.
  5. Cutting Edge: Training the Fascial Network (Part 2) by Pete McCall M.S.

 

WHAT DO BRIGNONE, WORLEY AND SHIFFRIN HAVE IN COMMON?

Results tell the story

Soelden GS – 10/27/2018

  1. Tessa Worley –  2:00.51
  2. Federica Brignone – +0.35
  3. Mikaela Shiffrin – + 0.94

What do you see?

Tessa Worley

 

Federica Brignone

 

Mikaela Shiffrin

Killington GS – 11/24/2018

  1. Federica Brignone

Federica Brignone

Study the photos. Note that all the racers have their outside extended with a small angle at the knee. The question I will begin to address in my next post is why is the outside leg extended. What advantage does it give these racers? How does it affect their ability to load and control  their outside ski?

FEDERICA BRIGNONE: PURE PELVIC POWER

I haven’t had a chance to write posts for awhile. But Federica Brignone’s powerful performance in last Saturday’s Killington GS; one in which she showcased the power of the pelvis has served to inspire and motivate me. I dedicate this post to Federica Brignone and my Italian followers.

Molto Benne Federica, Molto Benne!

As a prelude, I normally study as much video as I can locate after a race in order to try and find the camera angles and clarity I need to do a proper analysis. But I could find very little video of the Killington GS. So please bear with lack of quality in some the images I will use in this post.

Right out of the Gate

As soon as Brignone came out of the start gate, extended her ankles and knees in the fall line and stood tall I knew she was going to stand tall on the podium.

A fraction of a second later, she flexed her ankles and knees while still in the fall line. This was very significant because it indicated to me that she has the ability to flex her ankles and move her shank about 12 or more degrees against low resistance within the shaft of her boots. I call this ankle-flex free play.

To find out why low resistance ankle flexion is important please read (or re-read) my post THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT POWER STRAPS (1.), which remains my most viewed post ever. Then think about the implications of Brignone’s ability to extend her ankle and especially her knee for the position of COM in her pelvis in relation to her feet.

Here’s a hint: The femur is significantly longer than the tibia.

To be continued.


  1. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-UB

LEARN THE SR STANCE IN 3 EASY STEPS

This post was originally published on October 23, 2016. I have revised the post to clarify that the SR Stance applies to the load phase of a turn that occurs in what is commonly referred to as the bottom of a turn and that the joint angles of the SR Stance are configured by the major muscles in isometric contraction. When external forces cause the muscles to lengthen or stretch this will trigger the myotatic or stretch reflex. Because the myotactic reflex is a spinal reflex it is activated in 1 to 2 thousandths of a second. As such, it is both rapid and powerful.


The SR Stance configures some of the most powerful muscles in the body in a state of isometric contraction so that the powerful myotactic stretch reflex can maintain the angles of the ankle, knee, and hip and keep the CoM of a skier in balance on their outside ski in the most powerful position in the load phase of a turn.

The SR Stance is best learned outside the ski boot in an environment where the feet and legs are free from any influences. One of the benefits of learning an SR Stance outside the ski boot is that, once learned, it provides a reference against which to assess whether a ski boot supports the functional parameters of the skier. If it doesn’t, the SR Stance can be used as a reference to guide equipment modification and establish when and if it meets the functional requirements of the skier.

The SR Stance tensions the pelvis from below and above; below from the balls of the feet through the PA-soleus-gastrocnemius-hamstring muscles to the pelvis and above from the shoulders-latissimus dorsi-trapezius muscles to the pelvis.

The graphic below shows the Achilles Tendon junction with the PA at the heel bone.

pa-ac

The graphic below shows the 3 major muscles of the leg associated with the SR stance.

3-muscles

The Soleus (left image in the above graphic) extends from the back of the heel bone (see previous graphic) to a point just below the knee. It acts in concentric contraction (shortening) to extend or plantarflex the ankle. In EC-SR, the Soleus is under tension in stretch in isometric contraction.

The Soleus is one two muscles that make up the Triceps Surae.

The Gastrocnemius (center image in the above graphic) extends from the back of the heel bone  to a point just above the knee. It acts in concentric contraction (shortening) to flex the knee. In EC-SR, it is under tension in isometric contraction to oppose extension of the knee.

The Hamstrings (right image in the black rectangle in the above graphic) extends from a point just below the knee to the pelvic girdle. It acts in concentric contraction (shortening) to flex the knee. In EC-SR, it is under tension in isometric contraction to oppose extension of the knee.

A number of smaller muscles associated with the SR that will be discussed in future posts.

The graphic below depicts the 3 steps to learning an SR Stance.

er-steps

  1. The first step is to set up a static preload on the shank (shin) of the leg by tensioning the soleus muscle to the point where it goes into isometric contraction and arrests ankle dorsiflexion.

The static preload occurs when the tension in the soleus muscle of the leg simultaneously peaks with the tension in the sheet-like ligament called the plantar aponeurosis (PA). The PA supports the vault of the arch of the foot. The soleus is an extension of the PA. This was discussed in my post ZEPPA-DELTA ANGLE AND THE STRETCH REFLEX.

  • While barefoot, stand erect on a hard, flat, level surface as shown in the left hand figure in the graphics above and below. The weight should be felt more under the heels than under the forefoot.
  • Relax the major muscles in the back of the legs (mainly the hamstrings) and allow the hips to drop and the knees to move forward as shown in the right hand figure in the graphics above (1.) and below.
  • As the knees move forward and the hips drop towards the floor the ankle joint will dorsiflex and the angle the shank forms with the floor and the angle of the knee, will both increase until a point is reached where the shank stops moving forward on its own. Movement of the shank will probably be arrested at a point where a plumb line extending downward from the knee cap ends up slightly ahead of the foot. This is the static preload shank angle. It is the point where the soleus and quadriceps muscles go into isometric contraction.

static-preload

2. From the static preload shank angle, while keeping the spine straight, bend forward slightly at the waist. The angles of the shank (ankles) and knees will decrease as the pelvis moves up and back and the CoM moves forward towards the balls of the feet. This will cause the muscles of the thigh to shift from the Quadriceps to the Hamstrings. Bending at the waist tilts the pelvis forward. As the pelvis tilts forward, it tensions the Hamstrings and Gastrocnemius causing the knee and ankle to extend to a point where extension is arrested by the muscles going into isometric contraction. Tension in the Hamstrings and Gastrocnemius extends the lever arm acting to compress the vault of the arches of the feet from the top of the shank to the pelvis thus increasing the pressure on the balls of the feet through Achilles-PA load transfer.

3. From the position in 2., round the back and shoulders as you bend forward from the waist.

Shldrs-back

Make sure the core is activated and tightened as you round the back and shoulders. Pull the shoulders forward and towards each other as the back is rounded so as to form a bow with the shoulder girdle. Looking down from above, the arms should look like they are hugging a large barrel.

Repeat steps 1 through 3. Pay close attention to the changes in the sensations in your body as you work through each step. If you bounce up and down lightly in the position in Step 3., the angles of the joints in your stance should return to the static preload position between bounces.

With the ski boot and Zeppa-Delta ramp angles configured to enable an SR stance, your ski boots will work for you and with you instead of the other way around.

In my next post, I will go into greater detail on how rounding the shoulders and holding the arms in the correct position optimally activates the muscles associated with the SR stance.

IS SHIFFRIN ON THE LEVEL?

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

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

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

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

Extended in the Are Slalom.

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

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


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

ZEPPA-DELTA ANGLE EXTENDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHY STANCE TRAINING IS ESSENTIAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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