World Cup ski technique

ANALYZING SKIER/RACER PERFORMANCE

In my last post (1.), I showed photos of Tessa Worely, Federica Brignone and Mikaela Shiffrin with their outside legs extended with small angles at their knees and ankles and asked Why is their outside leg extended? What advantage does it give these racers? How does it affect their ability to load and control their outside ski? So far there has only been one comment that didn’t address the questions I posed.

……… the study of biomechanics by physical educators must include cause as well as effect relationships which exist between sequential joint motions of the performer and the motion of the inanimate objects which he or she wears, rides or manipulates.

All factors must be studied in terms of the skill objective. If problems are noted in the performance of the skill, where did they originate? Within the performer? Within the sport object? Both? What precise changes must be made to obtain the skill objectives? The answer to the last question leads directly to what is known as quality teaching. The directions for improvement given to the performer must be based on scientific and technical analysis of the total skill.

The above excerpts are from a book published in 1983 called ANALYSIS OF SPORT MOTION by John W. Northrip. 

….. quality teaching – coaching of neuromuscular skills in physical education should always be preceded by an analytical process where the professional physical educator synthesizes observations and theory from scientific and technical perspectives……It must be remembered that the teaching of physical education is an art with a basis in science.

 Adjustments during the teaching process to improve performance must be made in sequential motion pattern of the involved joints. Therefore, the student of physical education must have functional knowledge of anatomic kinesiology.

Fast forward to 1987.

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. 

Dr. med. H.W. Bar, Orthopedics-Sportsmedicine, member of GOTS, Murnau, West Germany (2.)

In my next post I will attempt to provide an explanation of the effect of extending the outside knee and ankle in the load phase of a turn and the role of equipment in enabling (or preventing) this action using the knowledge I have gleaned over the past 40 years.


  1. WHAT DO BRIGNONE, WORLEY AND SHIFFRIN HAVE IN COMMON?
  2. Der Schu im Sport

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.

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.

 

WHY SHIFFRIN AND HIRSCHER ARE DOMINATING

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.

MacPhail, US Patent 5,265,350 – November 30, 1993

Of all the figures who have influenced the development of the plastic shell ski boot over the years, the Australian, Sven Coomer, stands tall as one of the most significant and innovative. More recently, Coomer was involved with the development of Atomic’s race boot, the Redster, used by Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin. Coomer claims that the Redster allows the skier’s forefoot to flex and move naturally within the confines of the shell.

A 2014 article by Jackson Hogen quoted Coomer as saying:

This liberation of the previously stunted, frozen and crushed forefoot is what allows for the subtle edging and foot steering that initiates the slalom turns of World Cup champions Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin. (1.)

Four years, later Hirscher and Shiffrin are dominating the technical disciplines of the World Cup circuit.

The ability to establish balance on the outside foot and ski in milliseconds is dependent on the ability of the forefoot to fully spread and acquire fascial tensioning that extends to the ankle and knee. This is called time-to-stabilization. Although Coomer doesn’t mention them, a myriad of other factors are also critical; including the alignment of the big toe on the long axis of the foot and the optimal ramp angle.

Coomer suspects that if racers would only fit their boots more accurately, coupled with a dynamic molding inner boot medium between the foot and shell, and without down-sizing into short, narrow, thick-sidewall shells, their results just might improve. (1.)

In order to realize their maximum potential it is critical that racers and even recreational skiers have a ski boot fit with dynamic and predictable qualities that substantially match those of the foot and lower leg. Yet Coomer readily acknowledges:

Many racers believe they need downsized, super-stiff, ultra-narrow boots. The most accomplished alpine ski boot designer of the plastic era, Sven Coomer, believes that’s changing.(1.)

But then, he seems to retract his optimism when he says that after forty-five years as the Cassandra of the ski boot world, he knows all too well that just because you can prove you’re right, it doesn’t mean your advice will be heeded.

My observation is that since Hogen’s 2014 article, the situation with downsized, hyper-restrictive ski boots that severely compromise the dynamic nature of the architecture of the foot, has gotten worse. I have seen instances where after having ski boots properly fit, it took several full seasons for the competence of the balance to be fully restored after a skier or racer’s feet and legs were constrained for years in ski boots that were too small and too tightly fit.

Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin have heeded Coomer’s advice. Others choose to ignore him at their own peril. In so doing, they handicap their efforts and limit their race results.

In my next post I will start a series of posts on how to build a ski boot from the snow up; one that provides a fit with dynamic and predictable qualities that substantially match those of the foot and lower leg.


  1. The Master Boot Laster by Jackson Hogen: The International Skiing History Association – Article Date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014

RAMPING UP THE POWER OF YOUR STANCE

Note to the reader

The post that follows was originally published on March 1, 2016. At the time that I wrote it, I was trying to identify the optimal net (total) ramp angle or NRA using fixed angle ramps. But I found the process to be inconclusive for reasons I give in my recent posts on the dynamic ramp assessment device. I am reposting this older post because many of the concepts expressed are even more relevant in view of the results seen with the dynamic ramp assessment device and boot boards altered to the same ramp angle identified in dynamic testing.


RAMPING UP THE POWER OF YOUR STANCE

The foundation of a strong technique is a strong stance. But what makes a strong stance? The angle of the combined ramps of the binding and boot board or zeppa in relation to the base of the ski. If the net ramp angle weren’t important, binding and boot makers would make their products with no ramp. If ramp angle doesn’t make a difference, why bother? But not only does net ramp angle make a difference, it has a significant effect on stance.  Stance affects balance and muscle power, especially the ability of eccentric gastrocnemius-soleus complex muscle contraction to absorb shocks that would otherwise be transmitted up the leg to the knees and back. I discussed some of these issues in WHAT’S YOUR ANGLE? – : https://skimoves.me/2014/03/29/ski-boots-whats-your-angle/ ‎

If there were a problem, and there is, the ski industry is all over the place especially when in comes to binding ramp. There doesn’t appear to be any industry standards and especially any continuity between products. Worse, most skiers assume that their ski boots are putting them in the optimal stance. Without a reference they have no way of knowing. The Stance Ramp can give them that reference especially when it comes to how much ramp is enough, how much ramp is too much and how much ramp is too little.

Note Added March 19, 2018 – Having a kinesthetic sense of a stance based on tensegrity gives a skier a valuable tool that when used in a structured process can help them assess the effect of zeppa-delta ramp angle and the constraint imposed on their feet and legs by the structures of a ski boot.

In 1978, when I was building boots for female racers with small feet, I noticed that they were skiing like they were wearing high heel shoes. When I started checking their bindings and boot board ramps, I found out why. Some had 10 or 12 degrees or more of net ramp angle. After I started doing stance training with racers on a ramped board I discovered through empirical experiments that about 3 degrees of ramp angle seemed to give skiers the strongest stance.

Note Added March 19, 2018 – It now appears as if 3 degrees is the upper limit of the zone of stability. This explains why skiers started to ski better when the net ramp angle approached 3 degrees.

I didn’t really understand why until much later. Was the process scientific? No, not at all. Do studies of this critical issue need to be done? Absolutely. If I figured out that ramp angle was a critical issue almost 40 years ago, why is it that no studies appear to have done in the intervening years to determine the affects of ramp angle and identity the optimal angle?

With input from skiers in different parts of the world over the past two years, I have narrowed the ideal ramp angle down to about 2.7 degrees. This seems to be something of a standard in World Cup. Through experiments over the past few months, I have found that changes of 0.1 degrees can make a significant and easily perceivable difference. Optimal ramp angle isn’t just critical for World Cup racers, it is critical for all skiers. The easiest way to convince yourself of the importance of optimal ramp angle is for you to experience the effects of ramp angle through experimentation. How? With a Stance Ramp set to a base reference angle of 2.5 degrees.

The Stance Ramp lets skiers stand in their ski stance (barefoot is best) on a flat, level, surface then assume the same stance on the Stance Ramp, compare the kinaesthetic sense and judge whether they feel stronger of weaker. The angle of the Stance Ramp can be predictably increased or decreased by inserting shims at either end between the ramp and the surface it is supported on. When the ramp angle that makes the stance feel the strongest is arrived at, it can compared to the ramp angle of the ski boot board by having one foot on the Stance Ramp and the other in the ski boot.

The best part? The Stance Ramp is easy and inexpensive to make with readily available materials. I made mine out of some scraps of plywood I had lying around. Here’s what the Stance Ramp I made looks like. You stand with one foot on either side of the stiffener in the center with your heels at the high end (left end in the photo below).

IMG_6304

Here’s a top (plan) view. It is a good idea to check the surface the ramp will sit on to make sure it is very close to level.

IMG_6302

Here’s the underside of the Stance Ramp showing the element at the rear that gives the ramp its 2.5 degree angle. The stiffener in the center is important to ensure the ramp doesn’t flex under your weight.

IMG_6309

The sketch below is a basic plan for a Stance Ramp. The only critical details are the height or thickness of the element that lifts the rear aspect of the ramp to achieve and 2.5 degree angle (angle A) and the distance the lift element is placed from the front edge of the ramp. The stiffening element in the center of my ramp is 8 cm wide. The ramp has to be big enough to stand with the feet under the hips and long enough to accommodate the length of the feet.

Stance Ramp

An online right angle calculator such as the one at cleavebooks.co.uk can be used to calculate the spacing of the lift element from the low end (front edge) of the ramp based on its thickness.

SR calculate

Once the optimal ramp angle is arrived at, the Stance Ramp can be used in combination with the ski boot shell to confirm that the boot board is at the same angle.

IMG_6307

In my next post, I will discuss what I call the Resistive Shank Angle that is the base to build  a strong stance on.

NABOSO: FIRST SKI TEST RESULTS

I finally got a chance to test Dr. Emily Splichal’s surface science small nerve stimulating NABOSO insoles (1.)

Naboso (meaning “barefoot” in Czech) is the first-ever small nerve proprioceptive material commercially available in the health and fitness industry. The skin on the bottom of the foot contains thousands of (small nerve) proprioceptors, which are sensitive to different stimuli including texture, vibration, skin stretch, deep …

As I typically do, I used a one on one test protocol with a NABOSO 1.5 insole in my left ski boot and my normal insole in my right boot. The results were nothing short of amazing. There was almost no difference in the feeling under the sole of my left (NABOSO) foot compared to the sole of my right (normal insole) foot. The NABOSO Effect (as I call it) in my left ski boot was nothing like the effect I experience in similar tests in my Xero Prios or Lems Primal 2 minimal shoes. You’re probably wondering why I was amazed if NABOSO was no better than my normal insoles. The fact that I felt little difference told me that something was seriously wrong with my ski boots.

The first thing I suspected was that there was too much ramp angle (aka zeppa) in the boot boards in my Head 335 World Cup boots. I can’t recall what the factory ramp angle. But I lowered the heel a lot and the reduced ramp angle seemed to work well compared to the original ramp angle. As a reference, the boot board zeppa angle in the Head RD boot is 4.0 according to Head literature. The zeppa in recreational ski boots can be as much as 7 degrees. Since 1978, I have known that too much boot board ramp angle can cause significant balance and ski control issues for skiers. But I had no way of accurately determining what the optimal zeppa angle should be. What appears to work well for one skier does not necessarily work for another skier. Zeppa is a crap shoot, a good guess, a lottery. A few skiers win the zeppa lottery. But most skiers lose. I decided that I had to find an accurate way to determine the optimal personal zeppa angle for skiers and especially racers.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

I had a need to know situation. In my next post I will describe the Dynamic Ramp Angle assessment  device that I designed and fabricated and the incredible results that happen when zeppa angle is in the optimal range and the NABOSO Effect kicks in. Prepare to be shocked by the results. I was. I am still in shock. If the results hold up, optimal boot board ramp angle will be a big miss for the ski industry.


  1. http://nabosotechnology.com