Stance

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

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

INTRODUCING THE FOOT COLLECTIVE

The Skier’s Manifesto places a high priority on foot function and exercises that make feet strong and healthy. (THE IMPORTANCE OF STRONG HEALTHY FEET IN SKIING).  There is a rapidly emerging camp of medical professionals and trainers aligned with this cause who offer excellent articles on this subject. One such group is TheFoot Collective – http://www.thefootcollective.com.

TheFoot Collective has kindly given me permission to repost material from their blog on the Skier’s Manifesto. The graphic below is from the home page of TheFoot Collective.

What is the Foot Collective?

The Foot Collective is a group of Canadian physical therapists giving people back control over the health of their feet through education. Most modern day humans have poorly functioning feet and our mission is to spread the truth about footwear and give people the information needed to independently restore their own feet.

The collective exists to spread awareness of the importance of foot health and to provide quality advice on restoring proper foot function.

Foot problems have reached epidemic levels and the solution is simple: Quality foot health education to help people fix their own feet.

There’s a big problem with modern footwear

The modern shoe is harming the human foot. Footwear companies are creating products to make money, not in the interest of foot health and its slowly killing our feet. We’re here to spread the truth about footwear.

Most footwear today has an elevated heel, narrow forefoot and a slab of foot numbing cushioning between your foot and the ground below you.

Your feet are magically designed body parts with the primary purpose of sending your brainsignals about the ground below you. When they get compressed and are prevented from sensing the ground because of cushioning, they lose their ability to function and create nasty upstream effects for our bodies.


The kind of shoes you wear daily, especially the type of shoe you train in, affects how your body functions in skiing. Cushioning and cushioned insoles are especially bad. This is a recent post on the TheFoot Collective.

THE DANGER OF HEELED FOOTWEAR
👣👣
wearing a shoe with an elevated heel might seem harmless but it has real effects on your posture upstream. These postural changes change how your body moves by making certain muscles more dominant (quads especially) and others weak (glutes)
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Over time, heeled footwear is a big culprit for knee problems and tight ankles so avoid them whenever you can. Finding a zero drop flat shoe can be quite difficult but taking the time to find one makes a massive difference in your joint health and movement patterns
👣👣
Most modern day running shoes and dress shoes have this nasty heel lift so beware of the consequences and transition to zero drop barefoot footwear. Your body will thank you
👣👣


I have been testing different brands of minimal shoes; zero drop, thin flexiable, low resilency soles, for the past few months and will posting on this issue soon. For reasons I will explain in future posts, it appears as if a small amount of positive toe down ramp (aka drop) – approximately 2.5 degrees, is important to a strong stance in skiing. But my regular footwear is all minimal, zero drop.

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/

THOMAS’ THOUGHTS ON THE REPETILIAN BRAIN AND ITS EFFECT ON SKIER STANCE AND MOVEMENT

 

I started this blog with the objective of stimulating critical thinking on issues of skiing that would result in an intelligent, interactive dialogue. It appears as if this is beginning to happen as expressed in the critical thinking by Thomas in his comments on recent posts.

Thomas’ comments follow below with emphasis added in the form of underlined and bolded text by me.


This quote from W Hauser, P. Schaff, caught my eye.

“Many alpine skiers have insufficient mobility in their knees and ankle. The range of motion, particularly in the ankles, is much too small. This results in a static, stiff run. It does not correspond at all to the ideal of a wide range of mobility in the area of the knee and ankle, which was proposed and taught during early alpine ski lessons. Even the best diadactic (patronizing) methodology is not always successful in imparting to the student the full range of motion. The lack of proper technique seem so often is not due to a lack of ability, but to an unsatisfactory functional configuration of the shaft in so many ski boots. This is particularly true in models designed for children, adolescent and women.”

  • I would take a rather contrary view here and say the problem comes not from the boot design but a lack of technique. That is not because I disagree with Herr. Schaff.
  • The modern skiing didactic does not really teach the hard, strong, or tensioned arch which if I understand it correctly is only induced when a certain forward range of shank motion and COM is achieved.
  • This in turn sets up a chain reaction through the legs into the torso. Without this the skier can not attempt optimal form(s) or balance.
  • The arch concept is not widely taught or understood. Therefore there is not a demand for footwear that meets the basic requirements for optimal skiing.
  • Without this basic understanding it will be a matter of chance whether ski enthusiasts purchase or even know to adjust boots for full range of shank motion.
  • A key part of teaching stance technique has to become adjusting boot cuff for adequate shank range of motion. When I suggested to a student lessening cuff buckles, he reflexively tightened them. Ouch.
  • Once the body finds (if boots permit it) the strong arch, our neurology gravitates to your SR stance and presto all kinds of problems just go away including the back seat.

Rather disconcerting it all has to be reprogrammed after lunch.

This brings me back to a general question of safety with respect to equipment. Not is the equipment safe? But (is it) safe in terms of how the brain perceives safety (balance) and makes purchase decisions.

For example in skiing on one 190 cm ski and one 90 cm snowblade I notice that the 190 allows me to be way back without negative consequence. I had to really learn to keep balance on the strong arch of the 90cm snowblade. In a hockey stop the 90 snowblade flew out from under me up into the air! I remained upright because of the other ski’s long tail and the hard stop of the other boot. My reptilian (spinal reflex) brain reaction to the short snowblade was it was unstable and therefore dangerous.

The conclusion is when my brain tells me I am safe, I will want to ski all day long in really bad form with boots/skies designed to compensate for, well, bad technique. Therefore, neither would I likely ask other people to try the strong arch, SR, optimal range of motion cuffs, 90cm skies nor purchase lessons or equipment of like kind.

No one I ski with is willing to try the 90/long ski combo or the pair of 90s. My guess is because of their emotional reaction to imagining loss of stability; their brains will NOT permit them to even try.

These equipment usage and purchase decisions are occurring below the level of perception, consciousness. They are logical in terms of the reptilian brain’s safety hard wiring. I’m guessing this was the motivation for the student above to tighten (not loosen) boots because his brain equated more rigidity with security = safety.

If we want to ski better read this blog don’t listen to your reptilian brain anymore. Except when the speed and accuracy of these emotional reactions saves your life!