sports science

THE HIRSCHER/SHIFFRIN HAIRPIN TURN EXPLAINED

The topics of interest in recent views of my blog combined with comments on online forums on ski technique where nebulous terms such as pressure and tipping are an integral part of the narrative, have highlighted the need for a uniform frame of reference as a basis for meaningful discussions of ski technique as well as for the analysis and accurate identification of factors that explain the superior technique of racers like Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin. Simply trying to emulate the moves of the great skiers without re-creating the equipment factors that enable superior performance is not a productive exercise.

I touched on some of the factors that enable Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin to dominate their competition in my posts WHY SHIFFRIN AND HIRSCHER ARE DOMINATING (1.) and WHY HIRSCHER AND SHIFFRIN CAN CROSS THE LINE (2.). Over the coming weeks, I will post on the factors that I believe explain the ability of Hirscher and Shiffrin to make rapid, abbreviated hairpin turns even on the steep pitches of a course using what I call the problem-solving matrix jigsaw puzzle format. In contrast to the linear step-by-step progression problem-solving format, the matrix jigsaw puzzle format lays out information relevant to a situation in a grid format much like a jigsaw puzzle.  Known factors are assembled where there is a fit with the interfaces and arranged in relation to other components until a solution begins to emerge much like a coherent picture begins to emerge in a jigsaw puzzle as the pieces are correctly assembled. As the picture becomes more clear, tentative connections between the known segments are hypothesized to try and extrapolate the big picture. As the process progresses, less certain or flawed information is discarded and replaced with more certain information

A lot of critical information on the neurobiomechanics and even the mechanics and physics of skiing is either missing, misapplied or misunderstood in the narrative of ski equipment and technique.

Biomechanics of Sports Shoes

A valuable reference on neurobiomechanics and the future of sports shoes is the technical text, Biomechanics of Sports Shoes by Benno M. Nigg. Used in conjunction with the chapter on the Ski Boot in the medical text, The Shoe in Sport, valuable insights can be gleaned on the mechanics, neurobiomechanics and physics of skiing.

Nigg’s book can be ordered at NiggShoeBook@kin.ucalgary.ca. The following chapters in particular contain information relevant to skiing:

3. Functional Biomechanics of the Lower Extremities (pp 79 to 123) – contains essential information on the human ankle joint complex, tibial rotation movement coupling and foot torsion.

4. Sensory System of the Lower Extremities (pp 243 to 253) – contains essential information on the sensory system responsible for balance and precise movement, both of which are key to effective skiing.

In order to advance skiing as a science, a mutual objective must be getting the right answer as opposed to a need to be right.

The wisdom of Albert Einstein is appropriate.

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

In my next post, I will start laying out the functional principles that I currently believe explain the factors that enable the superior performance of racers like Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin and their ability to rapidly redirect their line and maximally accelerate by making rapid, abbreviated, hairpin turns.


  1. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2q3
  2. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2qo

TIGHTLY FIT SKI BOOTS COMPROMISE SKIER BALANCE AND CONTROL

In reviewing recent articles on ski boot fitting I encountered the same perfect fit of the boot with the shape of the foot and leg and ski boots must be tightly buckled for good balance and control narrative fabricated decades ago to justify the interference with the actions of the joints of the ankle and leg created by the rigid plastic shell ski boot.

When the first rigid shell plastic ski boots were introduced, the field of biomechanics, as it exists today, was in its infancy. Even until recently, the human foot was modelled as a rigid block which was consistent with the shoe last theory and the theory that the perfect fit of ski boots with the foot and leg of the user is the best option for skiing. Further support for the support and immobilize theory came from the vilification of pronation arising out of the misapplication of Root’s Neutral theory (1.)

By the time the authoritative medical text, The Shoe in Sport, was published in 1987, the knowledge of the biomechanics of the human foot had progressed to the point where tight-fitting ski boots and loading the ankle joint were recognized as unphysiologic.

Few forms of athletics place as high demands on the footwear used in their performance as alpine skiing. It (the ski boot) functions as a connecting link between the binding and the body and performs a series of difficult complex tasks. (2.)

Investigations by Pfeiffer have shown that the foot maintains some spontaneous mobility in the ski boot. Thus the total immobilization by foam injection or compression by tight buckles are unphysiologic.(2.)

Many alpine skiers have insufficient mobility in their knees and ankle. The range of motion, particularly in the ankles, is much too small.(2.)

From a technical (skiing) point of view, the ski boot must represent an interface between the human body and the ski. This implies first of all an exchange of steering function, i.e., the skier must be able to steer as well as possible, but must also have a direct (neural) feedback from the ski and from the ground (snow). In this way, the skier can adapt to the requirements of the skiing surface and snow conditions. These conditions can be met if the height, stiffness, angle and functions (rotational axes, ankle joint (AJ)/shaft) of the shaft are adapted, as well as possible to the individual skier. (3.)

The articles on ski boots in the Shoe in Sport identified the objectives I was seeking in my efforts to design a ski boot based on principles of what is now referred to as neurobiomechanics. By the time I had formulated my hypothetical model of the mechanics, biomechanics and physics of skiing in 1991 I understood the need to restrain the foot in contact with the base of a ski boot and maintain the position of the foot’s key mechanical points in relation to the ski while accommodating the aspects of neurobiomechanical function of the foot and leg required for skiing. This was the underlying theme of the US patent that I wrote in February of 1992.

Existing footwear does not provide for the dynamic nature of the architecture of the foot by providing a fit system with dynamic and predictable qualities to substantially match those of the foot and lower leg. – US patent No. 5,265,350: MacPhail

On June 2, 2013 I published the post TIGHT FEET, LOOSE BOOTS – LOOSE FEET, TIGHT BOOTS (4.) in which I describe how attempts to secure the foot to a ski in a manner that interferes with the physiologic mechanisms that fascially tension and stiffen the structures of the foot that render it dynamically rigid actually reduce the integrity of the joint system of the lower limbs and hips resulting in a looser connection with the ski.

Studies done in recent years confirm the role of the active state of the architecture and physiology of the foot to postural control and balance.

These findings show that rather than serving as a rigid base of support, the foot is compliant, in an active state, and sensitive to minute deformations. In conclusion, the architecture and physiology of the foot appear to contribute to the task of bipedal postural control with great sensitivity. (5.)

The science of neurobiomechanics and the understanding of the mechanisms of balance and the role of the sensory system in human movement is accelerating. The time is long overdue for skiing to abandon it’s outdated concepts and align it’s thinking with the current state of knowledge.


  1. IS ‘SUBTALAR NEUTRAL’ SKIINGS’ HOUSE OF CARDS? – https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2mn
  2. Ski-Specific Injuries and Overload Problems – Orthopedic Design of the Ski Boot –  Dr. med. H.W. Bar, Orthopedics-Sportsmedicine, member of GOTS, Murnau, West Germany
  3. Biomechanical Considerations of the Ski Boot (Alpine) – Dr. E. Stussi,  Member of GOTS – Chief of Biomechanical Laboratory ETH, Zurich, Switzerland
  4. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2K
  5. Foot anatomy specialization for postural sensation and control

SKIER BALANCE: IT’S ABOUT BALANCING OPPOSING TORQUES

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


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

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

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

Birdcage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balance is Sensory Dependent

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

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


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

SCHEDULE OF POSTS

The link below will take you to a page with a link to a PDF of all 298 posts I have made since my first post of May 11, 2013.

https://wp.me/P3vZhu-2sM

The schedule lists posts in the order of newest (Jul 10, 2018) to oldest (May 11, 2013). The image below shows what the schedule looks like. The date and time of the post and the views and likes are listed below the title of each post.

 

The top 10 posts to date are shown in the graphic below.

I am in the process of reviewing and analyzing post subjects based on ranking with the objective of better directing my efforts to my readers. If there are any subjects you would like addressed please post them in the comments section.

 

(NEURAL) BIO (MECHANICAL) ENGINEERING: DOES IT WORK?

The proof of a performance concept lies in the data. If neural bio mechanical engineering can improve human performance in a specific application such as skiing, skating or cycling then it should be possible to demonstrate meaningful performance improvement with quantifiable metrics generated from data captured from the actual activity. In the case of cycling, meaningful improvement would be shown by an increase in metrics such as peak force transferred to the pedal spindle that cannot be explained by other factors. In order to attribute any change in performance, whether positive or negative, to neural bio mechanical engineering the effect must be immediate, reversible and reproducible. In the case of the improvement seen with Podborski’s performance using ski boots fit with the dorsal fit system, reverting to identical boot shells fit with a conventional liner reversed the improvement in performance.

Where possible, standard protocols should be used and testing performed by experts in the field. In the case of the cycling shoe Tekscan F Scan data comparison, my only involvement was to analyze the human lower limb requirements for cycling and generate the design and specification for the device that produced the neural bio mechanical engineering effect. I played no role in designing the test protocol or conducting the tests. I was not even an observer.

So how did the neural bio mechanical engineering system work in the application to cycling?

Performance Metrics

There are numerous metrics that can be used to assess and compare performance. The subject test was limited to pressure analysis using the Tekscan F Scan system.

In the graphic below the upper image outlined in red is the F Scan pressure image of an elite cyclist captured at 3 o’clock in the crank cycle at moderate to high load using their own conventional cycling shoe. The F Scan pressure image outlined in green below the first image is of the same cyclist using the device that bio engineered the foot and lower limb.

Results

There are a number of significant differences between the forces applied with the same cyclist with the conventional cycling shoe and the bio-engineering. In the 2 F Scan images, the contact area of the application of force across the heads of the metatarsals over the pedal spindle with bio-engineering is much greater and the force much higher than the force applied to the heads of the metatarsals in the conventional shoe.

The two significant, quantifiable (measurable) metrics that relate directly to cycling performance are: Peak Force and Anterior-Posterior (forward-backward) Excursion of the Center of Force.

Peak Force

The peak (maximum) force with the device that bio-engineered the foot and lower limb was 140% of the peak force applied with the conventional cycling shoe.

Anterior-Posterior (fore-aft) Force Excursion

This is the range of forward-backward movement of center of force through the crank cycle.

The graphic below shows the tracking of center of force forward and backward in the pedal stroke. Notice how straight the force tracks in the lower image with bio engineering compared to the upper image captured from the conventional cycling shoe.

The ability to move the center of force forward and backward, not just down and, more important, substantially aligned with the crank rotation is both more consistent and efficient than the excursion tracking with the conventional shoe. The bio engineering device improved excursion by 175% in rearward tracking force (long bars) and 200% in forward tracking force (over the top) as shown by the short bars below the images.

In my next post I will discuss how I designed a ski boot from the snow up using principles of neural bio-mechanical engineering.

INTRODUCTION TO (NEURAL) BIO (MECHANICAL) ENGINEERING

Neural biomechanical engineering is an external, non-invasive, reversible process that alters the neuralbiomechanics of the human feet and lower limbs in a manner that makes their function specific to an activity such as skiing, skating or cycling. In some cases, the process can potentiate muscle power and/or the processes of balance. Neural biomechanical engineering is human function centric.

The graphic below is the pressure image of the right foot of the same elite cyclist in the last post except that the foot has undergone neural biomechanical engineering.Red is highest force. Dark blue is the lowest force. Forces were recorded with a Tekscan F Scan system fit to the shoe.

The highest primary forces are now across the heads of all five metatarsals with secondary forces under the big toe and, to a lesser extent, the second and third toes. The primary force is now applied to the pedal spindle. The applied force is also more focussed under the heel.

There are many other more subtle but important changes. But the central issue is whether metrics show a significant quantifiable improvement in performance.

What, if any, improvement in performance resulted from the application of neural biomechanical engineering? Any guesses?

 

 

WHAT SHOULD A SKI BOOT DO?

After Steve Podborski won the 1981-82 World Cup Downhill title using a revolutionary dorsal fit technology I developed for his ski boots in June of 1980, he proposed that we become partners in a venture to develop a new ski boot that would do for every skier what the dorsal fit system had done for him. In exchange for my creative efforts, Podborski would fund the venture up to a point after which we would try to raise funds from investors for the project.

If I accepted Podborski’s proposal (which I eventually did), I knew the we faced significant hurdles. After giving the proposal a lot of thought, I accepted Steve’s offer. Steve and I became partners in a company called MACPOD Enterprises Ltd. While I had identified some of the pieces of the puzzle, I didn’t yet know the answer to the question what a ski boot should do. But I knew that when the time came to raise money I would need to provide investors with convincing evidence that I knew the answer to this question.

Podborski’s success lent credibility to the project. But his credibility was based on his subjective assessment supported by his race results. To be credible, a ski boot design based on principles of science would need to be supported with data from actual skiing maneuvers that could generate meaningful, quantifiable metrics for such things as balance and ski control. When the metrics were compared to the same metrics from data captured from the same skiers using conventional ski boots, they would need to unequivocally demonstrate superior performance of the MACPOD ski boot. I had to come up with a format that would satisfy potential investors that the new ski boot MACPOD would develop would be at least as good, if not better, than the system Podborski used to win the 1981-81 World Cup Downhill title. Whatever format I came up with had to be capable of allowing investors who skied to ski in it.

In 1992, MACPOD raised money from investors to fund the first phase of the venture. The pressure was on.

The single variable assessment protocol

The factor that convinced Podborski of the merits of my dorsal fit system was the comparison test he did against identical Lange boot shells fit with conventional Lange liners.

After rupturing his ACL testing skis at the end of July in 1980 Steve went to France 2 weeks before the opening downhill race of the 1980-81 World Cup season at Val d’isere to be with the team to support them. He had not planned on skiing, let alone racing, because he had been told by his doctors he was out of commission for the 1980-81 World Cup Downhill season. But Podborski had brought 2 pair of identical Lange boot shells to France with him just in case. One pair had the untested dorsal fit system with only the upper cuff of a Lange liner mounted on the boot shaft. The other pair had conventional Lange liners.  The only difference between the boots was the fit system; the classic single variable assessment protocol.

The graphic below from my US Patent shows a conventional tongue format (20) in FIG 3 (prior art) compared to my dorsal fit system (30) in FIG 5. The shin component (31) is like a conventional tongue.

On a whim, Podborski decided to see if he could ski in the boots with the dorsal fit system. He was amazed to find that he could ski well with little pain in his partially healed, reconstructed ACL. But when he tried to ski in the boots with the conventional liner he could barely ski.  I found this interesting because the impetus for the new fit system was my hypothesis that dorsal loading of the bones of the midfoot might reduce strain on the knee by dampening decompression of the arches resulting from perturbations in ground reaction force due to asperities and undulating terrain. A conventional liner could not be used because it would have interfered with the interface of the lower shell overlap closure on the upper surface of the dorsal fit system required to apply force to it. Fig 9 below from the patent shows how the overlap of the shell applies force to the upper surface of the dorsal fit system. The buckle closures allow the force, which should be minimal, to be regulated.

The ability to compare the dorsal fit system against a conventional liner system on the same day and in same conditions made the superiority of the dorsal fit system apparent. The unprecedented improvement in performance with no run-in period or special training program strongly suggested that the improvement resulted from reducing factors in conventional ski boots that limit or degrade human performance. This experience caused me to undertake a critical analysis of the functional requirements of the human system for skiing. This exercise opened the door to the possibility of technologies that would integrate external appendages such as skis and skate blades with the human system, what I later came to term Bio-Integration.

Bio-Engineering

If structures of ski boots, ice skates and cycling shoes can limit or degrade the human performance of the user it also became apparent to me that it might be possible to modify the function of the feet and lower limbs that would make it specific to activities such as skiing, skating or cycling and even potentiate neuromuscular function. I termed this concept Bio-Engineering. I didn’t realize until 1991 that the dorsal fit system used principles of Bio-Engineering.

The graphic below is the pressure image of the right foot of an elite cyclist showing the forces applied by the foot to the sole of the shoe on the pedal spindle at 3 o’clock in the stroke sequence at a low cadence with a moderate to high load on the crank. The cyclist is wearing a conventional rigid sole cycling shoe with no arch supports, wedges or other accessories.

Red is highest force. Dark blue is the lowest force. Forces were recorded with a Tekscan F Scan system fit to the shoe.

The highest force is applied under the ball of the great toe and the great toe and to a lesser extent, the second, third and fourth toes. The dashed line shows the approximate location of the pedal spindle which is the source of resistance/reaction  force. This pressure pattern is typical of elite cyclists. Ideally, the highest force should be applied across the width of the pedal spindle by the heads of all five metatarsals. Note that aside from the high pressure patterns on the ball of the foot and toes 1 through 4 the pattern is diffuse across the heads of metatarsals 2 through 5 and under the heel.


In my next post, I will show a pressure pattern of the same foot in the same position with a technology that Bio Engineers the foot and lower limbs and discuss the significant differences.