Monday, July 7, 2014

JPP Cluses–Les Carroz (Haute Savoie) 2014

Many thanks to Paul Evans for putting us up for the night in Chamonix and feeding us. According to Chris the addition of curry to his pasta sauce was a delicious discovery – despite being complete sacrilege. The curry itself however was definitely excellent – and the glacier view in the early morning inspiring…

Fasting to go faster

This was a bit of an experimental race for me having been fasting earlier in the week to lose weight – and being low on overall training mileage. Most people have managed close to three times my 1500km training. My focus however has been on weight loss – managing to lose 10kg in around 5 weeks. Intermittent fasting – either two or one day periods each week – seems to be very effective for weight control. One day fasts have no impact on overall energy levels even when maintaining training – but two day fasts have a serious impact and prevent training for most of the week. The two day fasts bring weight down faster. My strategy was to workout hard the day before fasting – add another good workout on the first day of the fast – and then rest on day two. Following the workout on day one there would be a real dip in energy which would remain from then on – both during and for a while after the fast. The first two two-day fasts caused vision trouble (ophthalmic migraine) as the body started to detoxify due to the dramatic cellular cleansing effect of fasting. Since then this has not recurred and there have been no more headaches or odd feelings. If feeding commenced the morning after a one day fast (32 to 36 hrs) then energy would rapidly return to normal – but if another day was added (approx 60 hrs total) then even after recommencing feeding there would be no energy available for training on either the first or second day.

For this race three days were available to re-stock glycogen levels and this seems to have worked. On day one after the fast I did a 2hr bike ride and felt dizzy and asthmatic on stopping when very low on energy. Day two was used for an 11.5 km run – resting up the cycling muscles. Energy levels had recovered somewhat but were still below par. Saturday – day 3 was a day of physical rest. Throughout the three days there was a deliberate attempt to replace glycogen – eating lots of unrefined complex carbohydrates and dried dates (glucose and fructose 2:1 - plus many metabolic nutrients).

Preparation appears to have been spot on for the race. It could also be that the depletion of carbs in the body permitted even more carbs to be loaded for the race – this being a carb-loading technique used commonly by endurance athletes.

Recommended reading: “Eating and Fasting for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease.”  Dr Joel Fuhrman.

Race Nutrition

Fasting was only one aspect of the experiments going on for this race. There were several other nutritional efforts going on too. I’d used sugar mixes before in races but found them to be more noticeably effective in training for avoiding post exercise fatigue. The 2:1 maltodextrin:fructose  mix definitely works to keep away headaches, nausea, stomach cramps, leg pains and bonking – but not leg cramps! I had the distinct impression from other races that the sugar improved performance but that this improvement created even greater demand on the muscles resulting in even greater exposure to cramps.

The ingredients in the sugar mix are maltodextrin, fructose, Multi-vitamin/mineral, sea salt, lemon juice and caffeine. The body can absorb 90g of carbs per hour due to the balance of available glucose and fructose in this mixture (each using a different metabolic pathway) - with the maltodextrin version of glucose reducing water requirements to 1/6th for digestion. The vitamin/mineral supplement is for aiding metabolism and the sea salt is to maintain electrolyte levels when hydrating. During the race there was serious heat to contend with – but despite that I drank only about 2 litres of water during 4hrs 28mins and this did not appear to have any adverse effect. Cramps are clearly systemic and are caused by combinations of factors – making them very difficult to avoid. They are not caused by electrolyte levels in general because most of the time people actually dehydrate significantly during exercise and this increases electrolyte levels overall. It’s only when a lot of water is being consumed that electrolyte levels can be diluted from sweating.

Pre race nutrition was supplemented with amino acids: Di Arginine Malate, Citrulline Malate, Taurine additional vitamin C and the special sugar D-Ribose which directly increases ATP production. Those supplements were used properly for at least a week in advance as their effects are somewhat cumulative.

Coordination and Breathing

During the race the other strategy for avoiding cramps would be to maintain form with alignment during pedalling. The “chi” mechanism is now completely integrated into my movements with the hip being actively pushed back during the down-stroke. Initially I was actively pulling the hip back during the push until spotting that there was no need to as it was naturally pushed back during the stroke if permitted. Previous cramps on the inside of the legs appear to be connected to a tendency to pressure the outside of the feet and perhaps turn the toes inwards slightly – so the effort here was to align the legs with the heels being held in and the quads being used more accurately. This alteration was easily made without altering cleats on the shoes.

The amino acids work largely with respect to nitrogen oxide production and its vasodilatory effect – improving circulation and the clearing and metabolism of lactic acid. Controlled breathing has a similar effect – especially when deliberately avoiding hyperventilation due to lactic acid build up. I made a conscious effort at all times to avoid big breaths and avoid clearing out the CO2 in the lungs – CO2 itself having a strong vasodilatory effect – though I couldn’t manage nasal breathing for this race. Nasal breathing gives the additional advantage of producing even more nitric oxide.

Bike Tech

One major contribution to cramping has been coming from the 36 tooth Rotor oval chain ring that replaced the standard 34 tooth compact one on my bike. The problem here being that on the push part of the cycle the axis of the 36T is equivalent to 38T and it only becomes equivalent to 34T through the dead spots. After the Time/Mégève race in June where cramping was once again an issue I asked myself whether it would be more sensible to return to a standard 34T or whether I should focus on losing weight to improve the power to weight ratio – and focus on coordination, training and nutrition. Having opted for the latter this JPP race would let me know if it was working.

Results

The result has been pretty spectacular on a personal level at least. Nearly all of the race was spent either anaerobic or even red-lining – close to maximum heart rate – approx 1 hr 50 mins red-lining and 1 hr 50 mins anaerobic – with only 35 minutes aerobic. There were no physical problems, cramps or issues either during or after the race and at night no trace of post exercise discomfort. Next morning there was no post exercise discomfort or fatigue. Despite low training mileage I placed 21st in age category out of 63 and 118th out of 257 finishers overall. The final climb of the race was littered with the victims of cramps – walking or stretching having dismounted at the roadside. It was a very hot day with no wind, clear skies and sunshine.

Late afternoon electrical storm building up over La Plagne (back home!)

The Race

The race started with a neutralised section from the main assembly point to Cluses town centre – where the real depart would take place. There were four separate departs corresponding to each of the four distances – 60k, 90k, 110k and 130k. Chris was going for the 130k despite suffering from a painfully blocked lower back and I was respecting my current limits and only going for the 110k. The 130k was the first to depart with the 110 next. Participants had different coloured numbers to indicate which course they were on – a very useful distinction.

The race commenced with the immediate spectre of the Col de Romme – a 9km steep climb rising up out to the valley floor like a wall. A few years ago during the Grand Bornand race I came across this climb for the first time and when starting up this wall, after a descent and easy section on the flat, both legs cramped instantly forcing me straight off the bike!

In a way the JPP was merciful in that this climb was right at the start when it was cool and everyone had fresh legs.

chart

I decided to just go with the flow and if I felt like going hard I would. The result was that the first hour was spent with a heart rate above 160 bpm – clearly red-lining the whole time. Normally this should lead rapidly to complete exhaustion but I felt OK so continued. Unusually (for me) I was constantly overtaking people all the way up the climb. Normally I get the sensation of going in reverse during climbing – so it’s amazing what losing 10 kilos can do! At the top of the Col de Romme a couple of guys I’d just overtaken during the final kilometre came flying by me and although initially I was just going to let them go there was another thing to consider. After the descent back down to Cluses there would be a very long faux-plat which would lose a great deal of time if isolated or stuck in a slow group. After a couple of minutes of relaxing and recovering from the climb I went in pursuit quickly bringing the heart back up to 161 bpm again even on the descent behind the strong rider with fluorescent orange wheel rims.

There was an earpiece in my left ear relaying audible feedback from the Runtastic  app on my smartphone. It would signal each kilometre the current distance, pace and time for the previous km plus current heart rate – so I was fully aware of all the parameters and also used this to time feeding from the sugar flasks in my back pockets. Feeding was extremely difficult to cope with while the body was red-lining with heartrate so close to maximum. During the entire race I swallowed less than half of the sugar that was really necessary – around 180 grams – while the body can assimilate 90 grams per hour and I had 360 grams with me. Around the 100km mark there was a slight headache that came from not eating enough sugar – but it was rapidly resolved with a swig of syrupy sugar from a flask – washed down with water – because blood sugar obviously still hadn’t slipped into an unrecoverable deficit. Towards the end of the race my heart rate was still anaerobic during effort and had dipped only to 150 bpm – which is normally what I’d be aiming for from the start of a race!

Following the strong guys downhill to Cluses was a real battle. I knew that I had to stay with them but eventually they got away. Rather than worry about it I knew that my cornering skills were a bit better then theirs so just waited until the road tightened up into hairpin bends near the bottom and so right at the end – without trying – ended up back together again with the fluorescent wheel rims for the start of the long faux-plat.

Those guys were on a mission but unfortunately they wanted me to share the work up front. That would have been fine but my heart was already close to maximum revs and there was no turbo to engage. I was cornered into doing two relatively painful spells in front. Despite the fact that we were tanking along and reeling in others at a rapid pace some fortunately managed to hold on to our train and were then able to rotate up front and take the pressure off me. This scenario continued for about half an hour until the next sharp climb began and then I could just let the strong guys go and return to a more manageable pace.  All along since during the Col de Romme a woman with number 540 kept appearing and disappearing. She climbed faster than me but typically lost time on the descents though she was hovering around my level in general. There were also a couple of guys close to 70 years old with legs that looked as hard as tree trunks who kept appearing. They were from the Pringy cycling club and obviously had a few kilometres under their belts – but unlike most people in cyclosportives they were smart enough to work together as a team. I tucked in behind those guys a few times but ended up doing rotations there as well and eventually dropping them. They got past me again when I stopped at the last feeding station and beat me to the finish line.

After parting company with the strong guys, the second climb, which was much more gradual, was done mostly in isolation. Too big a gap had been opened with those behind to make it worthwhile waiting for anyone to appear and I couldn’t keep up with the others. With this situation in mind I stopped at a feeding station and properly dismounted the bike to get a drink and fill a bottle. Just those few minutes made a major difference and getting back on the bike there was a sensation of complete recovery. By this time I’d expected to feel destroyed due to red-lining but instead it all felt surprisingly good. Starting off again several others had caught up and so for the next long stretch of varied terrain there were people to work with.  I never saw the strong guys again but Woman 540 and the old Pringy guys kept popping up. On the stretch before the final feeding station I was surprised to find myself pulling along other riders that I somehow imagined to be much stronger than me.

Starting the last climb from Chattons to Les Carroz I unexpectedly came across Woman 540 again up ahead – but she had obviously cracked and was going in reverse gear up the hill now. More and more people were lining the side of the road dealing with cramps.  Not only had practically the whole race kept me anaerobic but very surprisingly there were no signs of cramp even at this late stage. For a short while around the 100km mark on this last climb I could feel my head starting to fug up – but that just encouraged me to eat some more sugar and the problem was rapidly resolved. The completion of the race was fine – with no physical issues and reasonable strength all the way. The final stretch up to Les Carroz was lined with people walking off cramps or on foot stretching – including some relatively strong riders who had left me behind some 15 kilometres earlier. The finish is right at the top of a steep climb and the end is abrupt so there is no warm down. This is where I’m likely to be hit with slight exercise induced asthma for a few minutes. This time there was none of that, despite the heat. For the first time ever I was even able to enjoy eating the post race meal! It appears that the combination of nutrition, coordination and weight loss completely changed the outcome. Interestingly “training mileage” was not the issue. Despite being relatively undertrained there were no detrimental physical issues experienced. I was also pleased to finish before the leaders of the 130k race arrived.

The scenery and surrounds were stunning over a wonderfully varied route and the traffic control and organisation of the event were extremely well done.  The only negative was that the post race meal location was extremely poorly indicated and Chris left without eating – after doing really well on the 130k course while fighting a significant lower back problem. We ended up both turning up at the car in Cluses within minutes of each other – Chris’s phone being left in the car so no communications being possible up until then. Before lunch I realised that I’d left my helmet where I’d been sitting to recover from the race – so went back and fortunately found it still on the bench. Later, after lunch it dawned on me that I’d also lost my hifi earphones and they had been missing for over and hour. I cycled back to the finish line and someone had placed them on a bench in full view safely behind a barrier – so thanks to good people I recovered them. I’d also lost a retaining clip for the earphones at the last feeding stop during the race but when I calmly looked over the ground before setting off again it was just sitting there. Seemingly it was my lucky day!

Supplements (Collection of abstracts…)

Taurine

Taurine is an amino sulfonic acid, but it is often referred to as an amino acid, a chemical that is a required building block of protein. Taurine is found in large amounts in the brain, retina, heart, and blood cells called platelets. The best food sources are meat and fish.

Taurine supports neurological development and helps regulate the level of water and mineral salts in the blood. Taurine is also thought to have antioxidant properties. taurine is important in several metabolic processes of the body, including stabilizing cell membranes in electrically active tissues, such as the brain and heart. It also has functions in the gallbladder, eyes, and blood vessels.

Taurine promotes cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, electrolyte balance, hearing function, and immune modulation. In animal research, taurine protected against heart failure, reducing mortality by nearly 80%.

Its benefits are so broad and extensive that scientists have described taurine as “a wonder molecule.”

Taurine is found abundantly in healthy bodies. However, certain diets, particularly vegetarian or vegan diets, lack adequate amounts of taurine. Disease states—including liver, kidney, or heart failure, diabetes, and cancer—can all cause a deficiency in taurine. And aging bodies often cannot internally produce an optimal amount of taurine, making supplementation vital.

Because of taurine’s essential role in the body, supplementing with taurine can provide numerous health benefits, including restoring insulin sensitivity, mitigating diabetic complications, reversing cardiovascular disease factors, preventing and treating fatty liver disease, alleviating seizures, reversing tinnitus, and more.

Human studies show that 3 grams per day of taurine for 7 weeks reduced body weight significantly in a group of overweight or obese (but not-yet-diabetic) adults. Subjects saw significant declines in their serum triglycerides and “atherogenic index,” a ratio of multiple cholesterol components that predicts atherosclerosis risk. In adult diabetics, supplementation with 1.5 grams of taurine daily for just 14 days can reverse diabetes-induced abnormalities in arterial stiffness and in the ability of the vasculature to respond to changes in blood flow or pressure.

Taurine has powerful effects on the heart and blood vessels. People with higher levels of taurine have significantly lower rates of dying from coronary heart disease. Additionally, they have lower body mass index, lower blood pressure, and lower levels of dangerous lipids. Many different mechanisms account for these powerful effects on the heart and blood vessels.

In animal models of hypertension, taurine supplementation lowers blood pressure by reducing the resistance to blood flow in the blood vessel walls and by minimizing nerve impulses in the brain that drive blood pressure up. Oral taurine supplementation has been found to reduce the arterial thickening and stiffness characteristic of atherosclerosis, to restore arteries’ responses to beneficial endothelial nitric oxide, and to reduce inflammation (a direct contributor to cardiovascular disease).

Taurine is the most abundant amino acid you’ve never heard of. Strong evidence suggests that groups with the longest life spans consume higher amounts of taurine than those of us in the rest of the world. High intakes of taurine could be the underlying factor in the world’s longest-living populations—and for good reason.

Taurine supplementation can mitigate the damaging effects of fat, glucose, and excess insulin. Taurine strengthens and protects heart muscle cells and the system of blood vessels that supplies blood throughout the body, helping to protect against atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.

And taurine protects vision and hearing. (http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2013/jun2013_The-Forgotten-Longevity-Benefits-of-Taurine_01.htm)

You may see taurine referred to as “a conditional amino acid,” to distinguish it from “an essential amino acid.” A “conditional amino acid” can be manufactured by the body, but an “essential amino acid” cannot be made by the body and must be provided by the diet. People who, for one reason or another, cannot make taurine, must get all the taurine they need from their diet or supplements. For example, supplementation is necessary in infants who are not breastfed because their ability to make taurine is not yet developed and cow's milk does not provide enough taurine. So taurine is often added to infant formulas. People who are being tube-fed often need taurine as well, so it is added to the nutritional products that they use. Excess taurine is excreted by the kidneys.


Some people take taurine supplements as medicine to treat congestive heart failure(CHF), high blood pressure, liver disease (hepatitis),  high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia), and cystic fibrosis. Other uses include  seizure disorders (epilepsy), autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),  eye problems (disorders of the retina), diabetes, and alcoholism. It is also used to improve mental performance and as an antioxidant.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure why taurine seems to help congestive heart failure (CHF). There is some evidence that it improves the function of the left ventricle, one of the chambers of the heart. Taurine might also improve heart failure because it seems to lower blood pressure and calm the sympathetic  nervous system, which is often too active in people with high blood pressure and CHF. The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that responds to stress.

Citrulline Malate

Citrulline is a substance called a non-essential amino acid. Your kidneys change L-citrulline into another amino acid called L-arginine and a chemical called nitric oxide.

These compounds are important to your  heart and blood vessel health. They may also boost your immune system.

Citrulline boosts nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide helps your arteries relax and work better, which improves blood flow throughout your body. This can be helpful for treating or preventing many diseases.

Citrulline, like arginine, is important in vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels, resulting from relaxation of smooth muscle cells within the vessel walls, especially in the large arteries and veins and smaller arterioles. The endothelium (inner lining) of blood vessels uses nitric oxide to signal the surrounding smooth muscle to relax. This results in a relaxing of the blood vessels, and increased blood flow.

In the body, citrulline is converted to the amino acid arginine, which goes on to make another important substance—nitric oxide. When citrulline enters the kidney, vascular endothelium and other tissues, it can be readily converted to arginine, thus raising plasma and tissue levels of arginine and enhancing nitric oxide production.

Additionally, nitric oxide works as an antioxidant that reduces the possibility of immune cells adhering to artery walls. This helps keep down inflammation.

As we get older there is a decrease in nitric oxide production because the body makes less citrulline and arginine.

Di Arginine Malate

Arginine-rich foods include red meat, fish, poultry, wheat germ, grains, nuts and seeds, and dairy products.

Arginine, also known as L-arginine, is involved in a number of different functions in the body. They include wound healing, helping the kidneys remove waste products from the body, maintaining immune and hormone function.

In the body, the amino acid arginine changes into nitric oxide (NO). Supplemental arginine helps the body produce more nitric oxide, and it helps with conditions that improve when blood vessels are relaxed, such as atherosclerosis.

Even more importantly, new studies are showing that supplemental citrulline also assists in nitric oxide production by boosting blood levels of arginine. It does this because it is more readily absorbed and bioavailable than arginine alone, and it bypasses metabolism in the liver and gastrointestinal tract and is readily absorbed in the kidneys.

In the first study to show that oral supplementation with citrulline raises blood levels of arginine, 20 healthy volunteers were given 6 different dosing regimens of placebo, citrulline, and arginine.

After one week of oral supplementation, the citrulline dose increased plasma arginine concentration more effectively than arginine alone.

A study in humans also showed the citrulline supplementation’s “time release” effect on arginine production. In this study an oral dose of 3.8 grams of citrulline resulted in a 227% peak increase in plasma arginine levels after 4 hours, compared with a 90% peak increase with the same dose of arginine.

Thus, acute oral administration of citrulline appears to be considerably more efficient at raising plasma levels of arginine over the long term than arginine itself.

D-Ribose

Ribose (d-ribose) is a type of simple sugar, or carbohydrate, that our bodies make.

It is an essential component of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which supplies energy to our cells.

People take extra ribose for several reasons, most of them related to exercise and sports performance.

Manufacturers claim that ribose: Increases endurance and energy, reduces muscle fatigue , speeds up post-workout recovery.

The pathological defect in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome is slow recycling of ATP. Normally there is enough ATP in a heart cell to last about ten beats - this means that roughly speaking ATP needs to be re-cycled every ten seconds. Top athletes like Steve Redgrave probably recycle ATP every five seconds, but patients with fatigues may only be able to recycle ATP every minute. Therefore I can do in ten seconds what Steve Redgrave can do in five seconds, but it might take one of my fatigue syndrome patients a minute to achieve the same!

ATP in releasing energy is converted to ADP (2-phosphates) which is recycled back through mitochondria to ATP (3-phosphates). However, if the system is really pushed then the body can extract energy from ADP by converting it into AMP (1-phosphate). The problem is that AMP is very slowly recycled, if at all, and most is lost from the cell. This means that the body has to make brand new ATP. This it does from D-Ribose and this it can do very quickly. The trouble is the body making D-Ribose. Normally this is made from glucose. However if the cell is lacking in energy then any glucose lying around can be converted to lactic acid to generate energy. The problem here is twofold - first of all the lactic acid causes pain. Secondly any glucose that is swilling around is not available to make D-ribose.

Even when glucose supply is plentiful, production of D-ribose in the cell by the glucose pentose shunt is very slow.

D-ribose as a nutritional supplement is therefore useful because it is immediately available for the generation of new ATP

Because D-ribose is a simple sugar, it is extremely well absorbed. The clinical experience of cardiologists using D-ribose to treat heart failure due to mitochondrial failure is that it is very effective and free from side effects (http://www.drmyhill.co.uk/wiki/D-ribose)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Paul 2

Paul has worked on his skiing for two seasons in Chamonix since last visiting Tignes and has obviously made a lot of progress. His skiing is strong in difficult conditions and his dynamics, timing and pivoting skills have all moved up a level. More importantly he has been able to able to switch from a previously “goal oriented” learning to a “process oriented” development.  This switch can only be made when you have the right (counter intuitive) fundamentals to work with. It means that skiing becomes similar to a martial art in that open-ended improvement comes through many layers of self discovery – making the development process itself an attractive and key reason for practicing.

 

Paradigm Shift

The previous time we skied I had to work one by one through the core principles: Dynamics, Skating and Pivoting. Teaching the core principles is pretty much a straightforward job of communicating a new paradigm. All skiers (who don’t abandon) almost exclusively fall into one of two categories; they are either brainwashed by ski “education” into skiing Muppets or are naturally selected from racing. In either case they have no successful paradigm for “process oriented” and lifelong development. Paul only had one session but was able to make the necessary paradigm shift.

Observations

Today the first requirement from me was to observe. Paul was aware that he had improved but was also aware of meeting limitations and the need for feedback and direction. Knowing that I didn’t have to plough through all the basics I just needed to observe to identify his strong points and main weaknesses and then decide what to focus on to move forwards most effectively. The job would be to give feedback and direction rather than to revise the core model from scratch.

Basically, Paul had moved forward on all the core principles:

  1. Paul’s main strong point was his basic timing and pressure cycle from skating.
  2. This was followed by his improved pivoting skills (including angulation/anticipation).
  3. Dynamics were also more positive and deliberate.

The list of relevant things to work on gradually grew as more issues became apparent when working in detail:

  1. Initially I’d spotted that the timing pattern was very limited and wasn’t being adapted to terrain or circumstances.
  2. Pole use was sometimes partially interfering with the timing.
  3. There were some problems with dynamics, especially on the left side through the second half of the turn.
  4. Dynamics were not as solid as they should be.
  5. There was a persistent tendency to lift the inside leg.
  6. There was a constant “knee tuck” and problem with the stance (feet being held close through an incorrect mechanism).
  7. The “knee tuck” was contributing to the posture being pulled out of alignment.
  8. Angulation was blocked at the hips and leading to tension and inappropriate compensation – bending the spine sideways.
  9. Carving skills were completely absent – the whole paradigm being affected – and the above issues making exercises very difficult to achieve.

Within each of the listed issues there was a range of work to be done. Time was limited so Paul’s goals had to be to become as aware as possible of all of this and what to specifically work on for each issue and how they all affect each other. Some of those issues are a legacy from the Muppet theatre and some are just due to the need for further information. They are all however still only a stage in setting the basics on the right track.

Timing

When deciding to work on timing I mentioned that in bumps we have to “compress” and absorb – but that this is very similar to “leg retraction” used in race carving. Paul hadn’t yet shown me his carving so with the possibility of using carving to develop the timing I asked to see his current level. To my surprise there was no carving happening. The carving paradigm had completely escaped Paul. This is something I’ve seen frequently in older generation skiers and it’s very persistent and intriguing. Paul had no resistance to learning – he just couldn’t see it. I’d love to know what it is that literally blinds people to this – because it is a form of perceptual blindness. Part of my job is removing perceptual barriers – unlike MI6 and the CIA who’s job appears to be to create them! (Perhaps I could learn from their infamous Monarch Mind Control program how this all works!) Anyway I filmed Paul demonstrating his MI6 version of carving – for posterity…

 

(The second part of the short video is Paul working at controlling his “inside leg” to eliminate the knee tuck – following issues with carving exercises and other relevant connected issues with posture and angulation)

Compression Turns

Eventually, later on during the session we were able to directly address the timing issue. I specifically wanted to take a look at compression turns. We had looked at this before so Paul was already familiar and we didn’t lose time here. The exercise is artificial in that it is really “leg retraction” carried out on the flat. The important aspect here was the range of motion in the legs. Pivoting (uphill edges), pole use and anticipation were technical details which had nonetheless to be correct. When beginning from a static position the pole needs to be planted (behind the feet) before the turn (Paul tended to hold the tip suspended in the air). Weight needs to go on the pole – taking it off the skis. (When actively compressed this compression also serves as a pressure reduction and the pole is slightly later!) The legs need to bend to at least 90° at both the hips and knees. Hip rotation needs to be avoided when leaning on the pole – the pivot being controlled by a direct motion of the centre of mass downhill between the ski pole and the ski tips – then a pulling inwards of the ski tips – though this is more just a taught set of adductor muscles rather than a harsh pulling. The turn is completed with a full leg extension combined with anticipation (facing downhill) of the upper body (In reality the following first part of the compression is the turn completion). In bumps this extension fills the trough beneath the bump while the compression is on the shoulder/top of the bumps. (Most people forget to extend and end up too compressed after a few bumps) Whereas tight pivots on the flat require fairly restrained dynamics, pivots in bumps require strong dynamics – the profile of the bump facilitating the pivot because the ski tips and tails are airborne during the end and start of a pivot. The swing of the skis inwards along with the compression is very easy and natural –following the centre of mass. Small or widely spaced bumps are not conducive to compression, but bigger bumps and proper bump lines do require compression – with the legs being just appropriately relaxed and compressed by the bump instead of retracted.

There were no bumps available but we used a long ridge at the side of the piste to substitute the bumps.  The ridge was also used to highlight the difference between “compressing to absorb” and “jumping to leap from the bump” – opposite extremes. Paul clearly understood the compression but had a tendency to “step” again instead of jump. This is probably because of not linking the jump well to dynamics! Two of the jumps however were better timed and coordinated. Good “turn exit” dynamics keeps everything symmetrical and provides a good launch – the turn transition (edge change) taking place in the air.

When skiing bumpy terrain this full range of timing adaptability must be available (Including everything in between). Compression is also used in very deep snow when skiing in the fall line. When done right you feel the compression “happening to you” instead of being contrived. This now needs to be practised in bumps. If done correctly, with good dynamics, it is not stressful on the body – the dynamics, timing and pivoting combination vastly smoothing out the shock.

There is nearly always a small amount of compression blended into the end of any turn by a versatile skier.  Normally the turns are a blend – with a “checking” action (pivot) followed by a slight compression or retraction to exit the turn – which would be very quickly followed with a pole plant (pivot) from the dynamics of moving the centre of mass into a new turn.

Leg Retraction

When carving is developed then the timing of leg retraction becomes a very powerful tool as no force is being dissipated through skidding. In this case the retraction is a way of negating  the forces from the skis for moving the centre of mass instead of negating forces from the terrain. Very powerful legs are required for this in a race course – which is one of the reasons why top racers need legs like tree trunks. The strength is actually required for the turn initiation – as in this case a powerful extension is used to drive the centre of mass downhill by extending from completely flexed legs – sometimes using the power in both legs (if feet are close together ) – or one single leg in a wider stance.

Pole Use

The pole is only planted for pivoting. This is partly for support and partly to cue to positioning of the upper body and facilitate dynamics. One important thing is that the pole is NOT planted by either the arm or the body sinking down. Any tendency to do this is a legacy from the Muppet show and has to be eliminated because it throws off good timing. The pivoting “pole plant” is caused either by terrain (bumps) or a combination of dynamics and angulation/anticipation.

Skating timing requires a “pole touch” when the body is up high. It just marks the beginning of the entry into the next turn when the body falls over beyond perpendicular when crossing the slope. 

If there is a jump used (jump turns) then the pole can be planted early – the jump should be considered the previous turn “release” or “exit” – aided by an early pole plant – the pole continuing to support the start of the new turn and its dynamics. This early “jumping” pole plant is only a feature of extreme braking and deliberately getting the skis airborne for a pivot.

Even when linking short swings rhythmically the pole plant would tend to come just after the turn release – a bit like putting your hand on a railing to jump over a fence that you only reach after the start of the jump.

On normal terrain Paul’s pole use was fine – being a “pole touch”. In the bumpy terrain it was confused – but that’s probably just due to not absorbing the bumps anyway. I still think I saw a few Muppet moments – reaching with the arm and the pole -  so I’m mentioning this just in case!

Dynamics

I reminded Paul about the illusion of “centrifugal” force – which is bolstered by fictional mathematics which do not directly describe reality (think “economics” experts and regular unpredicted financial crashes). We have to work to increase the inwards “centripetal” force – which is how a ski works. This effect becomes amplified in the second part of the turn when gravity is against us. People are probably used to “resisting” gravity and when their vision of centrifugal force is added then they tense up and push outwards. Everything about skiing is a “pulling inwards”. There is no compromise here without serious loss of efficiency.

I could see Paul sometimes partially pushing outwards – which was described by him as “pushing downwards” in an effort to increase pressure. This needs to be achieved instead by pushing “upwards” against the centre of mass or by trying to move the centre of mass. If you focus on that centre of mass the outcome tends to be different. When you focus on moving the centre of mass inwards – even by stomping on the foot - the pressure will be there. The second part of the turn needs a dramatic increase in effort inwards – or gravity combined with the centripetal force of the ski will overwhelm you. In Paul’s case I could see the knee and hip being pulled upwards, out of the turn far too soon. Awareness of how much you need to fight this needs to be developed and trained for. Slalom is largely about dealing with this issue – but in a relatively unconscious manner – as it is commonly simply related to being late or early into and out of turns. Slalom changes perception however because there is no loose subjectivity involved. You learn that if you are thinking about moving then it’s already too late!

Retraction becomes a tool for getting quickly out of a turn where big directional centripetal forces have been generated and when there is no time to travel across the hill at the turn exit and no possibility to extend the leg further anyway (see Ted Ligety photo below).

When Paul focused on dynamics through the whole turn he looked much more solid – which permitted me to more clearly see his angulation issues.

Stepping

The undesired compulsive stepping of the inside leg is not due to a nervous twitch or bad habit – it’s usually due to a dynamics issue. While it can be a useful exercise to step to cultivate independent leg use – there is a serious limitation to this usefulness. Basically, the stepping is a sign that the end of the previous turn hasn’t been put together very well. We already covered the issue of centripetal force – and the need to increase it beyond the influence of gravity – but if this fails to happen then the mechanics of the end of the turn break down. In essence this means that the power, stability and direction of momentum of the turn completion become weak and so the stepping acts as compensation. If the organisation of the turn completion is effective then there will be generally no visible stepping. The power of the lower ski needs to be used to control the turn completion. In dynamic skiing (inside edge/racing) this means that the skier stays on that lower ski almost or partially into the next turn – right through the turn transition. When pivoting it may even mean pivoting partially into the next turn on that lower ski. In effect it doesn’t matter what ski the turn begins on because it’s all about the motion of the centre of mass – so if the centre of mass moves well (dynamics) then there is no stepping.

The same issue applies to jump turns or rhythmic short swings. The skis should move simultaneously.

We played a little with Silvain Saudan’s radical jumping from the uphill edge of the uphill ski – and it was interesting for me to see how alien Paul found this. Likewise Gareth had found it equally outside of his grasp initially – so this will be a valuable aspect for Paul to develop – especially as it actually appears to be the single most secure method to get skis around on scarily steep descents where speed control is critical. Basically when it’s so steep that you can’t get your skis near each other then stepping and stomping are not much of an option.

The jumping should preferably involve an extension that moves the centre of mass – not primarily a retraction of the heels – though sometimes for “survival” heel retraction works.  Most people who do heel retract tend to pivot around the tips of the skis whereas the most efficient pivot centre is at the feet – or just in front of them.  The swing/pivot centre can be varied but generally the most efficient “sweet spot” is preferred. The other things to consider when jumping (Short Swings) are whether to land on an edge set (no skidding)  - edge to edge - or whether to pivot and how far around to swing the skis in the air. Proper extension at take off also allows for proper flexion on landing and absorption of shock.

On steep ground you can also start to jump from the lower leg to get momentum then complete the jump from the outside edge of the uphill ski. This is similar to how the legs are also independently used in racing – where there is (frequently) an extension from the lower leg to come up out of a turn and then and extension of the upper leg to give pressure and drop down the centre of mass into the next turn – which is one good reason for a slightly wider stance (as Silvain Saudan appears to use).

Stomping

We discussed the issue of a so called “pedal step turn” for tight turns on the steep.  It’s an exercise I’ve used frequently to get people to stand strongly on the outside leg and hip – sometimes asking them to try to imagine trying to stomp the ski about a foot through the hard packed snow (impossible of course). Pivoting however is how skis work in tight spots and if the snow is bad then that pivot needs to be at least partially airborne. The key to all of that is reduction of pressure – not increase. On hard snow the stomping would still work for tight dynamic turning but the pedalling shouldn’t be necessary other than to cover a weakness in dynamics or to act as a safety net in case the stomped ski doesn’t turn. In any case stomping combined with strong “turn completion” dynamics from the lower ski instead of pedalling is the best way to power through challenging snow in all but the steepest and narrowest passages.

Carving

OK. Here we go. So Paul apparently couldn’t perceive the “railing” quality of the skis that provide carving. Paul’s idea of carving appeared to be linked to his sensation of pivoting with strong pressure on the inside edge and with all of the directional effect coming from the ski. I think he considered pivoting to be different due to a perceived need to assist the swing of the ski (note that I avoid any reference to “steering”). In reality he was pivoting because pivoting most often doesn’t need any swing of the skis as the ski itself is built to drive the pivot to support the motion of the centre of mass. Only tension with the adductor muscles is usually required to ensure a tight pivot – very little actual force is ever needed.

I knew that we would have to approach this quite radically. My solution was to carve with just one ski initially – in a semi “snowplough” supporting stance. This is radical because it distinctly requires that the outside leg be “pulled” inwards to pull the foot over onto its inside edge inside the ski boot and to pull the ski onto its inside edge. Weight has to go onto the inside ski for support and for most people this is all very alien – but it gives the best chance to overcome any mental or physical habitual straightjacket and to get a new feeling of the ski railing. Regardless of this Paul struggled with tension, hip rotation and constant washing out of the ski when gravity had to be dealt with. This of course tied in directly with his other dynamics issues.

To overcome the ingrained problems I asked Paul to face his body completely towards the inside of the turn for the entire turn and to lean over the inside ski as much as possible. Eventually this worked and allowed him to incline enough to overcome all other issues and keep the ski on edge and railing for the entire turn. By now Paul could clearly feel when the ski was washing out and also clearly identify the objective.

There was increasing evidence however of a general angulation/hip rotation/postural  issue which I was starting to see more clearly in every aspect of Paul’s skiing.

We worked on traversing with rolling the feet and skis onto their uphill edges and Paul was clearly very uncomfortable with even railing the traverses on two skis. This instability was obviously due to his long term knee tucking habit. The idea of rolling the inside (uphill) foot onto its outside edge and having any pressure on it was alien to Paul. This issue was also directly contributing to the problems with feeling the carving in general. We worked statically on turn transitions – changing edges by moving the body from one side of the skis to the other (supported by poles).

I wanted Paul to realise that the skis absolutely lock on when carving and there is no question about the role of dynamics – disequilibrium. The skis are never pushed to the side or allowed to pivot. I did mention the exception of the rubbish new ski regulations that limit carve radius and encourage pivoting at the turn initiation – a limit wonderfully overcome recently by Ted Ligety…

The second part of the video clip was when Paul worked on just moving the inside knee “outwards” (relative to the body) in his general skiing. I knew that Paul would feel that it was very strange and believe that it would probably not look right – which is why I filmed it – for direct feedback – so he could see that it actually made the legs look symmetrical and improved his stance.

From this work I realised it would be necessary to look at angulation while still focused on the carved traverses. Paul felt that the carving was very stiff and static so wondered why we would want to do it. I explained that the whole universe of racing was built on carving – and shortly afterwards we saw several race training groups of ski club children carving their way down the mountain behind trainers. All of the dynamics of skiing are taken to another level with carving and the athleticism goes stratospheric. It’s another world of skiing.

Skiing down at the end Paul managed to increase the width of his stance so that he could move better from edge to edge and his grip improvement was visible by the depth of track he left behind.

Angulation and Chi Skiing

Paul’s angulation and anticipation were needing some work so we began with classic “angulation”. The pelvis needs to be tilted upwards at the front and then the hip joints relaxed by “sitting” slightly. This combination of actions generates “neutral pelvis” quite accurately. With the whole upperbody tilted forwards – pelvis included  (all as one unit) – the body can be swung around on the one hip ball joint. Standing on the downhill leg and swinging the body downhill generates hip angulation and anticipation (of the next turn) – so that the upper body is effectively facing downhill but with no significant sideways kink of the spine. Paul had until now effectively been blocking his hip joint and kinking the spine sideways to try to increase his angulation and this is largely what made him static and stiff in his attempts to carve – and causing the ski to wash out. This incorrect stance has been partly caused by the chronic knee tuck, which was causing the pelvis to drop low on the inside and making the spine kink to compensate. This also linked up to the trouble with dynamics in turn completion – hence the stepping…

Once Paul could hold this more accurate and relaxed angulation together I made certain to point out a serious problem with it. Although this is the classic version of angulation (Upper/Lower Body Separation) it actually leads to the spine twisting at the base due to the shoulders leading the countering of the body and this causes a failure of all of the autonomous postural muscles and support and protection for the spine – which is why almost all top skiers and have back problems. The answer is to only pull back the hip on the support leg and not the shoulders. This is like winding up the body from the middle  instead of from above – giving an “Upper/Lower Body Integration”. The spine twists in the other direction at the base and causes abdominal tension and an opening between the ribs cage and pelvis. This also allows both strong angulation and a more natural anticipation. The switch from pulling one hip back to the other takes place during the turn transition and massively facilitates the turn transition – hence it facilitates dynamics. Paul clearly has to work on angulation so this is an opportunity to work on it the right way from the beginning. This “chi skiing” move is quite counterintuitive so it will take a while to incorporate. It’s best to work at it while walking, running and cycling also – so that it becomes a default movement. There is a fixed page on Chi Skiing  accessed here or at the top of the blog.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Reality Check

I guess you don’t realise how much a bike leans over when cornering – until you look at the angle of the road!

Descending from Champagny

It’s always hard getting fit again after a winter skiing. Alpine skiing and aerobic fitness are incompatible! Even though the sensations of skiing are fantastic it’s hard to beat the feeling of wellbeing that comes from aerobic fitness. (Even though you suffer getting there!)

Today’s workout was just over 1hr 57 mins. I thought that despite being tired from yesterday’s 10k run that I was significantly faster than the previous time for this route – but was amazed to see only 40 seconds improvement! If anything this sort of outcome proves to me that there is nothing “psychological” involved – your “fitness level” is whatever you are trained up to. You couldn’t go out and deliberately match those times so well if you specifically tried to.

Inverting Reality

Coping with tiredness makes a workout interesting because you need to focus on form and can’t rely on brute strength. Though I have a strong dislike of the mystical “chi” concept I have to admit that there seems to be no better guide for identifying efficient form than by adhering to the physical principles proposed in T’ai Chi. If we can separate the practical principles from the obvious mystical nonsense then we have something extremely useful that surpasses our “western” insensitivity by far. Western education teaches us that we know everything “physical” with a high degree of certainty – but it’s complete brainwashing. We know almost nothing. Physics hit a complete dead end around the 1920s to 1930s – when mathematical “deductive” theoretical physics took over from empirical physics and “inductive” reasoning. We are caught in hypnotic spell that leads technologically nowhere – from spending billions on useless high energy particle physics to an obviously flawed (and related) “Big Bang” cosmology that yields nothing but layer after layer of illusion – keeping our Earth religiously and slavishly at the centre of it all. Consequently we still don’t even understand gravity! Our word “energy” is nothing but a numerisation of an amorphous entity we do not understand. Notwithstanding this situation we delude ourselves into thinking that we know it all and that other concepts like “chi” are just rubbish. Well, some of it (chi) clearly is extremely sloppy thinking too – but no worse than that our own magical mathematical illusionists manage to produce.  Plato considered that the “real” world was just a shadow and that we can never perceive what is behind it. To him mathematical perfection was heaven and the “reality” of his god – the physical world being an imperfect and degenerated copy . This trick of inverting reality is complete rubbish of course – leading to stupid “utopian” philosophies and political abuse accordingly. Plato wasn’t very original following his religious Gnostic beliefs. Reality is exactly what we are confronted with and when people start the all too common game of “inverting reality” then it’s time to kick them into touch.

Chi Organising

Reality is what we feel. Eat more sugar – a correct mix of sugars – then your performance and recovery improve dramatically – you feel it. Improve your mechanics of movement and you make life much easier – you  feel it. The body is fundamentally designed to exploit gravity – in the same way that a sail boat exploits the wind to sail against it. Chi to me is a study of how the body exploits basic things like gravity – both directly and indirectly. Our universe is governed however by “entropy” – the immutable second law of thermodynamics. “Entropy” effectively means “disorder”. Whatever we do brings about an overall increase in entropy. The best analogy I’ve come across to portray this consists of a giant waterfall being the “entropy” and the fine mist thrown up being the order and organisation that we can create during this whole process. Given then that almost everything tends towards disorder we have to be extremely vigilant not to be sucked into the waterfall. Chi seems to be the art of using the body to create the fine mist – the most efficiently possible. Newton’s laws of motion are another good effort – but in a more general sense. We use vertical gravity to generate horizontal propulsion when walking and running – but still need to eat sugar to provide more energy overall than we take from gravity. The body is designed to do this unconsciously – but entropy itself gets in the way and disorder easily dominates. If anything “chi” is not an equivalent to our “numerical”  energy – it is more about “organising” for efficiency. 

Chi is commonly linked to the “centre” of the body – between the navel and the pelvis – in front of the spine. It makes sense that the organisation of the body be coordinated around the centre. When running what matters most is the pulling up of the foot behind the body – towards the centre and the pulling of the recovery leg inwards from being extended out behind the body. Think of the path moving like a treadmill – the leg being taken behind the stationary body and recovery being the key – it’s not about “pushing” outwards but pulling inwards. (This appears to enhance the reflexive action of the opposite leg pushing upwards against gravity – to maintain height) When pedalling on a bicycle we cannot access the effects of gravity in such a direct manner – but some aspects are still present. If the recovery leg is left as dead weight on the pedal while just focusing on pushing on the other – then that’s pretty inefficient. In cycling mostly they discus just lifting the recovery leg enough to remove the weight and resistance from the pedal. Apply this to running (what the body is designed to do ) and you can see it doesn’t fit – it should be much more active. When you make it active then you feel a strong pulling inwards directly to the centre of he body. This “connecting” feeling is only present when actively pulling. It’s not a heaving about of the hips with a massive rotation of any part of the body – it’s internal. It feels right. It protects the back. It aligns the bones and joints effectively. It feels like a pulling inwards towards the centre. By using the hamstrings and hip flexors on the recovery leg while using the quads and glutes on the “pushing” leg the core muscles (abdominals and postural muscles) are automatically activated. The power load is therefore spread over all those muscles instead of being concentrated on a few which would rapidly be exhausted.

Bozel village (Valley below Courchevel)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Champagny No2

Second workout around the 3 valleys. The ski lift here are Champagny is actually still operating! It’s pretty easy to see why it isn’t a destination ski resort – but it joins up with La Plagne up above. This is where the Tarantaise Tour from Tignes links up with La Plagne and Les Arcs.

During this workout there was nothing in the legs and it was 2 minutes slower than the last one – 3hrs 12mins – despite the gearing working this time. Empty legs are empty legs – they hurt by the end and were verging of cramping several hours later on.  Still that’s almost 5000m climbing in a few days so it’s a good start. 75.6Kg has to get down to 67Kg – but the fat is a good reason for being on the bike – not a reason to avoid it.

The gearing problem on the last workout turns out to be that the rear sprockets are worn out. The temporary solution was to put the old chain back on while waiting for delivery of a new cassette. The existing cassette is Dura Ace and the largest four sprockets are titanium – which is why three of them have worn out! In addition I’d been using the large chainwheel in front because it is the Osymetric  dual camber one and I preferred to use it with the big sprockets (low gear) more than using the small chainwheel and the smaller steel sprockets. This situation just demolished the cassette – which to replace costs between €184 to €144! In the end I decided to just add 40 grams and get the Ultegra all steel version at only €44. Not a tough decision and no such worries again in the future. I’ll change the chain a bit more frequently from now on though. 7000km in the mountains is a bit too much for any chain – even if the amazing Continental tyres can manage that distance. I’ll make 5000km the change out point for all of this stuff now.

Once again 90 grams of mixed sugars – 2:1 maltodextrin to fructose did the trick and there was no tiredness after the exercise – even though there was no energy during the workout.

The moon was amazingly bright tonight so i couldn’t resist photographing it. Two things surprised me – the bright point on the left and the crater on the bottom right that makes the moon look like an orange.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Three Valleys Workout

First hard bike ride of the year! 70km with 2300m climbing. The photos are taken from Champagny ski station – opposite Courchevel. The Courchevel main slopes are behind the old bell tower.

Apart from a new chain skipping (old one had stretched about a centimetre!) possibly due to worn sprockets it was quite hard getting back into climbing with an over developed winter “cheese baby” belly!

Given that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sprockets (my favourites) were unusable this made climbing awkward. Either spinning in bottom gear and going nowhere or straining in 5th. I took 90 grams of mixed sugars and water. Even though the workout was over 3 hours this seemed to be adequate for the current performance level because there was no wave of tiredness later following the workout.

Cycling back from Moutiers to Aime on the N90 was a bit worrying. One bus overtook at about 90kph leaving about a metre of space or less and an HGV passed less than a foot away. It’s very frustrating not being able to tackle those idiots. Most bus and HGV drivers are careful but it only takes one idiot. The tourist industry in the Tarrentaise – comprising mainly of inbred morons -  is not intelligent enough to see the value in cycling so there are no provisions made to help the situation (Whoever designed Moutiers must be a moron because it is a complete dump despite being the central axis to the entire regional skiing industry!). Cyclists need to go to Bourg  d’Oissans near Alpe d’Huez to be respected and catered for. Many thousands do.

Despite struggling with the chain I settled into working on breathing – nasal breathing – and chi cycling – focusing on form rather than performance. It will take about a month to get fit anyway so this is a good time to concentrate on form.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jim, Adrienne, Luke, David, Chloe

The last time I had seen Jim and Adrienne was at least 20 years ago in Aberdeen – long before Luke, Davis and Chloe were born. I was amazed to see that they hadn’t changed. There wasn’t a lot of time for reminiscing though because we were here to ski. I intended to pass on as much information as possible in the course of the day and as everyone seemed hungry for improvement the social side of things would just have to be squeezed in along the way. I don’t think anyone realised what they were in for regarding instruction! Jim had suggested that I give perhaps a few tips! With the level of receptivity being high in the family group I just pressed on with teaching.

Warm Up

During the warm up run I took a moment to look at everyone skiing. David was a strong skier who had a lot of natural dynamics but also some serious quirks to be straightened out. Chloe also had some good natural dynamics in her skiing  - probably from snowboarding. Luke, who represented Britain in skiing in the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games was a confident skier. Adrienne was relatively stiff, rotating and unstable and Jim tended to rush the start of his turns displacing the skis more than the body. All the issues here were typical products of classic ski instruction. My goal at this point was just to observe and then make a decision on a common denominator as a starting point to begin making changes for the entire group.

Dynamics

The starting point was Dynamics. I used my normal set of static and moving exercises described in detail here on the fixed page: “Dynamics page

Everyone responded well to the movement with the “non snowboarders” feeling the greatest difference. Luke’s first attempts were more accurate and successful than anyone else’s.

During a drinks break I explained the origin of the the “Dynamic Balance”  confusion stemming from Jean Le Rond d’Alembert and his mathematical substitution of fictitious forces for accelerations. Dynamic Balance is a fiction and amounts only to being a mathematical tool not a physical reality. 

The goal at this stage was to build awareness of the motion of the centre of mass – and use of the active centre of mass to drive the skis.  I explained that the skier has one job and the skis have one job. The skier has to fall over (laterally) and the ski has to bring the skier back up. The skis are far more powerful than the skier so there is no chance of falling.

After some practice at this we tried to extend the dynamic range. Each skier watched all the others ski to see how far over they could fall. Most people are lucky if they can manage 25° to 30°

When skiing it is important that the centre of mass is driven inwards even harder during second part of the turn where we work against gravity and the mountain geometry. There is greater edge angle as the turn progresses and the lifting up power of the ski grows during the turn – so it is important to be aware of this and to drive everything inwards until the moment the turn needs to be given up. The giving up of the turn is called “Turn Exit Dynamics” and we will look at that towards the end of the blog. Jim and Luke missed this at the end of the day when it was used to help David skiing in the slush.

We used a small border cross run to exploit the banked tracks to help encourage dynamics. I explained that the skis and boots together actually give us banked tracks all the time and that we need to perceive this in 3D and not as a 2D flat surface with turning. Skiing is more akin to a “velodrome” type exercise.

Skating

First of all I checked that everyone could skate. There were no problems there. Normally I would go through quite a few skating exercises and build things up progressively but there was not time for that today. Once I could see that everyone could skate we went straight for the “direct method” starting with skating straight downhill. Once some speed builds up then the body can be allowed to fall over further to the inside on each skating stride. Adding dynamics (falling over) to the skating like this converts the skating into skiing. Most people however struggle to maintain the skating stance, leg action and timing initially. This sort of development requires practice.

 

Most importantly everyone could feel the timing and use of the legs and nobody had experienced this before – despite it being the basic timing required for skiing. The skating action of the legs  is a “down/up” action and this matches the down/up action of dynamics. (Think of a motorbike turning – it goes down into a turn and comes back up out of it.) The aim at this stage is to tune into a resonance with the skis and to feel the power of this. The legs should begin to become functional instead of static and just bracing against forces. This timing is natural for the human body and the pressure cycle created is what allows grip on ice. Skis have been designed to work with this pressure cycle since around 1970 – though ski schools still teach the exact opposite.

Skiing with dynamics and observing the pressure changes happening beneath the feet there is a sensation of skating imparted to the body – even when not trying to skate.

Getting the basic timing right is a primary goal at this stage but later on this timing is developed further with many variations to accommodate terrain and function (accelerating or slowing down etc.)

As a rule everything is skiing is either dynamics or skating.

Carving

Over on the Grand Pré flats it was the opportunity to take a look at carving. Carving is useful to develop at this stage because it requires pure dynamics. The first stage was to introduce the rolling of the feet from the subtaler joints below the ankles. This also meant introducing the idea of standing on the heels. I indicated that the rolling of the feet uphill – onto their uphill edges – also moved the centre of mass uphill. We all tried a traverse across the hill leaving two “railed” tracks in a wide stance.  From this we moved on to “edge changing” by using poles for support and moving the body across the skis to change edges – from uphill to downhill edges. Once this was accomplished it was time to try it while moving forwards on a very shallow gradient and avoiding turning too much across the hill.  Jim in particular had skis skidding throughout the turns instead of carving – but was unaware of how the difference should feel with the skis completely locked.

We did one exercise with the outside ski extended out like an outrigger and pulling against it – even turning the upper body inwards during the turn and weighting the inside ski which was acting as a stabiliser. The idea was to stop Jim from pushing outwards on his turning ski until he could feel it driving him inwards instead and feel his ability to hold everything towards the inside of the turn. 

Blasting down the rest of the slope to the lift everyone had the chance to try carving at speed on a wide slope of moderate gradient. Higher speed requires greater dynamics. The feedback from carving is very clear as the ski is locked on and the force is very strong. The only way this can function is with pure dynamics – motion of the centre of mass across the skis.

Slalom (Best times - David 26.16, Chloe 30.86, Jim 32.78, Luke 35.40, Adrienne 36.11)

Having worked on dynamics, skating and carving it was a good time to bring in the slalom. We ran through the etiquette of how to correctly make use of the slalom stade and we sideslipped the course to remove the worst of the ruts and banks of slush. My only advice was to use dynamics with the gates being an indication of the direction to move the body – and for David to use a wider stance . David in particular was moulded by the slalom course into something resembling a real skier! He couldn’t exploit his usual shoulder rotation and subsequent counter rotation to push the heels out – with hips locked up in a stance leaning backwards.

Feet

Indoors after lunch we went through the basics of how to work properly with the feet and ski boots. Standing on the heels the subtaler joints can be used to rock the feet onto their edges. We had done this earlier when carving but now with the boots off it was visible. Bending at the knees and hips when on the heels causes the shins to tighten (anterior tibialis) and ankles to strengthen up. There should only be a light contact with the front of a ski boot and the ability to bounce off the front. Support is from the legs not the boots. Flexing in this manner when on a hillside or turning does not cause a falling backwards – though it may do so when standing still on the flat inside a café. The foot rocked onto its inside edge should solicit the adductor muscles of that leg and this should be linked to the centre of mass moving inwards also. Everything pulls inwards!

Chloe had to avoid her tendency to stand on the front of her foot and collapse her ankle, twisting the knee inwards. The correct lateral movement inwards of a knee is very limited and best achieved from the support of a strong ankle when standing on the heel. Adrienne had to pull her hip backwards when initiating a turn to keep her femur in line – and also to prevent her tendency to do the opposite and let her hip lead the turn. This hip action comes from ChiRunning – referenced here on the fixed page “ChiSkiing”.

Foot Forwards

To assist in coping with steeper terrain I  introduced “ foot forward” technique. The exercise used was with the skis off and one leg being swung around to the outside in an arc, with the leg rotating in the hip joint. This is also a good way to practice the active pulling back of the hip to prevent hip rotation. The arc is then lowered to make contact with the snow and eventually pressure is applied to the ground to give resistance. The feeling given here is exactly the right feeling for applying to skiing. I didn’t say what was going to happen but just asked everyone to put their skis back on and try pushing the foot forwards during turns.

Everyone noticed the turns being tightened.  This is a key mechanism for controlling turn radius. Dynamics and “foot forward” technique combined are how to determine turn radius.

Pivoting

There is a dedicated fixed page on pivoting: “Pivot Page”. I had already briefly shown how the pivot starts from the outside edge of the uphill ski. David had spotted that there was a difference in how I was using my edges – but couldn’t see the positive side of it. He thought I just “used my edges” towards the end of the turn. I was actively using the “other” edges in fact – as brakes.

While the stance being wide helps with edge changing for dynamics – to be able to stay on the uphill edge for the first half of a turn necessitates having the skis close together. (There are ways of pivoting with feet apart though!)

The key to pivoting however is to allow the uphill ski to remain on the outside edge while the foot rolls onto its inside edge inside the ski boot. This permits an active use of the adductor muscles for pulling the tips of the skis inwards as the centre of mass moves off downhill (supported and restrained by a pole plant downhill). Once again everything pulls inwards. I assisted Luke through a complete pivot so that he would have the opportunity to feel it correctly.

The point is that in skiing it doesn’t really matter much of the time with edge is used to initiate a turn! The centre of mass drives the turn! Fall line skiing in a braking manner on steep terrain requires a pivot – so it is used by mogul skiers and in deep powder. It is also used for jump turns and short swings in couloirs.

David had a strong tendency to push his skis outwards instead – resorting to his mixed up “shoulder rotation followed by counter rotation” error.  I explained to David that centrifugal force is an illusion and it doesn’t exist. There is nothing to brace or push out against in skiing. The only forces generated are by the skis pushing us inwards away from a straight line and so we must move inwards to help this and not push outwards. Using the analogy of a ball on a string being swung around my head the answers I received as to the direction it would travel when released were very interesting. Chloe said straight ahead, David indicated a tangent and Luke brilliantly suggested straight upwards! David was of course correct, but Luke’s originality stole the prize.

Turn Exit Dynamics

Jim missed this section but it is covered on the fixed dynamics page. I wanted to help David cope better in the slush by eliminating his rotation issues. Working on the turn completion can help with this issue. The goal is to use the power of the downhill ski to lift yourself right out of the turn over to the perpendicular to the mountain. Until this point I hadn’t mentioned the end of the turns and how to get out of the turns to link up the following turns.  It’s quite scary at first moving all the way out of a turn while on the lower ski – because the body actually goes beyond the vertical over to the perpendicular to the slope – while crossing the slope – which is only sustainable for a fraction of a second. This however makes the start of the next turn incredibly easy and removes the need for any rotational tricks.

Chi Skiing

I explained to  Jim and Adrienne the basis of ChiRunning (Danny Dryer) and how I adapted it to cycling and skiing. The fixed page is here – including an outline of the book: “Chi Skiing”. This is why I mentioned several times to pull the hip backwards (supporting leg). Skiing pulls this hip forwards and causes a postural collapse so the hip needs to be pulled actively backwards to protect the body as well as to improve technique and performance.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Stratos 2

Today a snow storm decided to coordinate its arrival with the start of our lesson.  One minute the skies were clear around us and the next minute we were in dense could and driving wet snow. Bravely, we went inside for a coffee and decided to look through yesterday’s video clips instead. When it became clear that the bad weather was here to stay we just accepted it and got back out on the skis. I told Stratos not to look into the cloud but to trust his sense of feeling instead.

I wanted to help Stratos to improve his skating skills so as to have better grip, support and stability plus more active use of his legs. I knew this was likely to be very tricky and difficult due to his 20 years of incorrect stance and deeply rooted habits.  Yesterday’s success made it clear that there was no physical reason for Stratos to have any difficulty and all of the trouble was coming from learned inappropriate movement patterns.

Side Stepping

Many years of allowing the skis to flatten and pull the feet onto their outside edges was not going to be reversed instantly. The ski does this when it is placed on edge. Racing ski boots are better for preventing this because they have a more rigid shaft that is closer fitting to the leg – hence the boots hold the skis on edge better. This is one reason why I would always put even a beginner into racing boots and never put anyone into lower level ski boots – except the shop owners and sales people selling the rubbish – and the ski instructors who teach snowplough to beginners as a way to ski. Stratos was still struggling just sidestepping uphill but any work at rocking the feet and using the adductor muscles in the legs helps to develop better awareness. Sometimes just patiently working at simple basic things such as sidestepping is important. If you can’t sidestep effectively and effortlessly then you certainly can’t ski effectively. Practice was helping and when concentrating properly Stratos was gripping better.

Skating

We did a bit of skating across the hill but straight away it became apparent that Stratos could not grip with the lower ski. The problems seen in side stepping were much worse when sliding forwards. This isn’t surprising because the ski when sliding forwards on its edge is always trying to turn and this would cause the foot to flatten and twist onto its outside edge even more  than when static and just stepping.

I had to watch Stratos carefully to look for clues as to why he was struggling so much. Eventually it became obvious to me – it wasn’t the feet or legs – it was the centre of mass! Each time Stratos stood on his downhill ski he moved his body actively towards the ski – causing it to flatten and skid away instead of gripping. This is the same move he would have made in the past to transfer weight to the new turning ski at the start of a turn – so it was also associated with intentionally flattening the ski and letting it turn as in a snowplough. The old habits were dominating.

The solution was to widen the stance with the feet further apart and then assure that when lifting the uphill ski to either skate or step that the body would fall uphill – not move downhill.  Moving the centre of mass uphill would pull the ski more strongly on edge and make it grip. This had been why I had wanted Stratos to either step or skate uphill – but with his body moving downhill and the ski subsequently slipping this hadn’t been happening. Stratos began to understand the situation and adopted a wider stance so he could “fall uphill” slightly instead. Slowly his old habits were changing and he was starting to grip with his edges.

I explained that the foot inside the ski boot (lower ski) should in fact be twisted outwards so that there would be pressure on the inside of the heel and also at the little toe on the outside of the ski boot. I have completely worn through liners on ski boots at the inside of the heel due to pressure there over a period of years. Stratos started to feel this for the first time when skating on the flat over to the chairlift.

I demonstrated skating straight downhill and by increasing the dynamics (falling sideways between the skis) converting this skating directly into skiing. Stratos wasn’t ready to manage this yet by himself but I wanted him to see how skating gives the rhythm and leg function in skiing.

 

One Leg

Once Stratos was able to “fall uphill” while gripping with the downhill ski I then wanted to take this further and get him to stand on the uphill ski and fall downhill – all the way through a turn – padding the (inside) ski up and down so that it would eventually become the uphill ski again. The wider stance helps the “falling” when one ski is lifted so I encouraged a wider stance. The goal was after all to drive Stratos away from his two footed skiing and all the tricks that are inherent within this.

Before getting to this stage I showed Stratos how “pvioting” works from the top edge of a ski (Fixed Pivot Page). I didn’t want him to try this as he had enough to deal with – but I did want him to see that you don’t need to be on the “inside” edge of a ski for it to turn. This means that when standing on the top ski prior to falling downhill into a turn it doesn’t matter which edge of that ski you stand on. What matters is that the centre of mass moves in the right direction!

Stratos worked hard at this and required a lot of feedback and correction. He had a tendency to stem the uphill ski out into a turn before standing on it and would already be partially into the new turn before lifting the downhill ski. I stood beside Stratos just downhill of his shoulder and asked him to lean against me and to then lift his downhill leg off the ground. Interestingly he couldn’t lift it off the ground to begin with and didn’t have the confidence to stand on that uphill ski even though he had me for support. Gradually he sorted this out and got the feel for it. All the time in his turns he was improving and I was pushing him hard because I saw that he needed to fall more into each turn to be secure and that he still tended to skid too much sideways (and too upright) for safety.

Earlier on I’d explained to Stratos that as a turn progresses the edge angle of the ski increases due to the geometry of the mountain. This means that the body needs to be held even more inwards towards the turn centre as the turn progresses as the lifting up power of the ski is even stronger. It’s not just a case of accelerating the body into a turn at the beginning, this has to be continued all the way through the turn and only when the change of direction is complete does the skier allow the centre of mass to come up and out of the turn.

Foot Forward Technique

We were going to have to negotiate a fairly steep and narrow passage so before getting there I introduced “Feet Forward Technique”. The exercise is shown on the video clip. During the exercise the foot is not twisted – only the whole leg rotates from the hip joint. The boot is swung in the air to establish the arc then a light trace is made by the boot edge on the snow and pressure increased until the boot needs to be pushed. This is the pushing sensation required for skiing.

When Stratos first tried this in skiing I asked him what he felt and he replied that it slowed him down. This is correct – it slows you down because it tightens your turns. The push forwards does not cause the foot to advance it only has the effect of tightening turn radius. Dynamics and “foot forwards” are the two tools used to alter turn radius. Stratos picked this up quickly and skied the narrow passage with ease.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Stratos 1

Initial Assessment

Prior to skiing together Stratos described to me his lifelong passion for tennis. This alone indicated to me that he should be well coordinated and able to move athletically. Skiing is based on lateral movements of the body and so is tennis! Later on I also found out that Stratos rides a motorbike so that again lends itself ideally to skiing. What was interesting was to hear that Stratos was not comfortable skiing. From chatting like this it was clear to me that Stratos was going to be a typical example of a good student who was applying classic instruction accurately – but that the fundamental errors inherent in the instruction were preventing  him from progressing.

During the course of the morning I found out that Stratos had been taught to ski in a snowplough, leaning the body to the outside of the turn to pressurise the outside ski, coming up to start turn and planting the pole at the end when flexed plus pressing forwards on the front of his boots and facing downhill. He had added a twisting of the feet and skis by himself.  This is standard ski school nonsense which will cause permanent trouble for anyone unfortunate enough to listen to it.

Watching Stratos ski I could see that there was no active use of the legs and that there was a slight body rotation to initiate the turns. Most revealing was a visible twisting of the outer foot and ski – a result of inappropriate coordination developed from a snowplough. Although he has a natural inclination a move towards the outside of the turn was sometimes visible during turn initiation. He was clearly unstable and uncomfortable with a tendency to be back in the ski boots. The most visible discomfort however was with the feet.

Stratos prior to coaching…

 

Skating

Having observed Stratos for a complete run I decided that we should start at the feet and work upwards. When I asked Stratos if he could skate the answer was a resounding NO! Skating is a simple way to help people to build awareness of the correct role of the feet in skiing, but sometimes as on this occasion the first lesson becomes a lesson on skating itself. Beginning with diverging skis I explained how the feet are rolled onto their inside edges and the adductor muscles engaged on the inside of the legs – then by holding the skis on edge in this manner the body can fall forwards and the legs recovered from behind in a stepping action – leading to skating. We used an exercise where Stratos pushed me so that he was forced to grip with the edges – then when I moved out of the way this push produced an acceleration.

After a few attempts at turning on the flat by using skating steps I asked Stratos to just skate across the slope stepping uphill from the downhill ski with each skate – but he could not hold the ski on edge well enough to do this. Rather than waste time it was clear that we had to go indoors to check the ski boot alignment and then remove the boots to work with the feet where everything could be visible.

I explained that the edge of the ski is not beneath the centre of the foot – it is quite far towards the inside so to stand on this edge it requires the adductor muscles to be working. The ski is always trying to flatten the and to pull the foot over onto its outside edge instead.

Feet

First of all the ski boot alignment was fine so there were no problems. This is just as well because the boots had no canting adjustment! Better always to buy more advanced ski boots! (for several reasons). We worked on centring the weight on the heels – just in front of the heel to be exact – beneath the ankle joint – so the entire foot remained on the ground but the weight on the heel. From this position the feet were rocked onto their edges by using the subtaler joints between the heels and the ankles. Stratos saw how the rocked foot turns away from the direction of turning instead of towards it as happens when twisting. The foot rocked onto its inside edge also activates the adductor muscles on that leg which allows the ski to be more strongly held on edge and the knee held inwards without risk of twisting it.  The other foot (inside of a turn) can rock onto its outside edge – keeping the body in symmetry.

Bending the knees and hips when standing on the heels causes the ankles to stiffen and become strong. The anterior tibialis muscles in the front of the legs (shins) contract. Ankles should not “flex” and become soft and weak.

Stratos felt how the centre of mass of the body moved across with the rocking of the feet – in the same direction.

All of this was to help to overcome his tendency to twist the feet into a turn and to improve his grip with the ski edges – which would then permit the development of dynamics.

Dynamics

My standard dynamics exercises were used to communicate the fundamental difference between “balance” and dynamics. (Read more on the fixed Dynamics Page – read “The Magic Wall”) This of course was the key issue holding Stratos back in his skiing and now that he had some support from his feet and skis some basic dynamics would be possible. The freedom and ease of movement that Stratos could feel as the dynamics kicked into action left him clearly amazed and delighted. This was obviously the first time ever that Stratos felt that he could relate skiing to his familiar lateral movements of motorcycling and tennis.

I demonstrated increased dynamic range and pointed out that the ski is more powerful than the skier. The skier’s job is to fall – laterally – and the ski’s job is to bring him back up. The ski always wins!

All movements must be towards the turn centre – always pulling inwards. We first practiced this indoors – foot, adductors and centre of mass all pulling in towards a table. I explained that centrifugal force doesn’t exist (it’s an illusion) and that we have to work with the skis to generate the only force that does count – the inwards force away from a straight line.

Down/Up Timing

The correct timing for skiing is down into a turn and up out of it. This is exactly the same as for a motorbike. I asked Stratos to observe the pressure beneath the feet when skiing with dynamics as the timing produces the sensation of skating – even when not trying to skate. The pressure comes on and off the feet automatically – one leg to the other.

Off Piste/ Border Cross

I explained that the ski makes a banked track (held in place by the ski boot shaft running up the leg) and so it is never “twisted” but runs forwards. To emphasise this effect we used the border cross course where there are actual banked tracks to encourage the right movement.

On the way to the border cross we went off piste into soft transformed Spring snow – so that Stratos could begin to feel that dynamics would support him there and to learn to trust that it would work just as well for him there as on the piste.

One Ski – Rounded Turns

After some practice we could start work on developing the dynamics further and the first thing was to round out and avoid rushing the start of the turns. A good strong stance on the uphill leg at the start of the turn (pushing against the magic wall) gives a smooth round turn with grip and stability from the beginning of the turn. Most skiers try to rush the start of a turn to get the skis around and below them but this is unnecessary and incorrect. The more the dynamics are efficient the more the skier is on one leg and can sustain this. One of he reasons people try to rush the turns is because they are taught with incorrect timing and no dynamics but also they are told to “face downhill”. While facing downhill itself is not a problem it becomes one when those other things are wrong because it is the reason why people then rush the turn to get the skis around below them. For this stage in skiing, even with correct dynamics and timing it is better to just follow the skis (like being on a motorbike) and not to try to face downhill.

Centred Stance

Stratos had tired quads around the knees but this was due to his tendency to end up against the back of the ski boots. I explained how the goal is to be perpendicular to the slope. When standing on the flat or a traverse we are vertical to gravity and there is no pressure either on the front of back of the ski boot. This is the sensation we look for even when sliding downhill by getting perpendicular to the slope. Most people make the mistake of staying vertical all the time and so end up in the back of the ski boots when sliding downhill. This is worsened if they fail to anticipate the initial acceleration on pointing downhill. Once you know what to feel in the boots the anticipation and adjustments are easily performed. You do not “lean forwards”! Our only solid feedback is through the ski boots and soles of the feet.

Stratos skiing with dynamics... early days yet!

 

 

(At Lunch) Atilla the gangster at age 14 making Robert de Niro look like a real amateur. Cigar, braces and Ray Ban aviator shades, metal teeth ornamentation and a killer smile!