Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ersin – Seyhan

Seyhan

Seyhan decided to join us this morning for a few hours of technical input. First of all I watched Seyhan skiing. It only takes two or three turns for me to get an overall idea of most people’s skiing – though with advanced skiers it can take several hours to read their movement patterns, properly separating cause and effect issues. Seyhan’s skiing was comfortable and competent on piste and even in tricky conditions with patches of ice and piled up snow.

Harsh weather made it impractical to focus on careful exercises or explanations – but to improve Seyhan’s skiing would require a few fundamental shifts in understanding. Her tendency to stem the uphill ski, a quick push outwards of two skis when not stemming, absence of hip angulation, lack of movement in the legs, “up/down” timing the wrong way round (“should be down/up”), constantly square stance to the skis (no upper/lower body isolation) were all just symptoms of the result of classic ski instruction. We can’t overturn this without at least some explanation and there are no “patches” to put it right – only fundamental changes will do that. Most skiers incorrectly assume such limitations in their skiing to be a reflection on their own athletic abilities and motivation – but the reality is that it all originates from being taught endless unintelligent nonsense in ski schools – beginning with the ridiculous “snowplough and stemming” to the total failure of the professionals to understand even the most basic physics of movement – namely “dynamics”. This physics is taught to 14 year old children so there is no acceptable excuse for such a dangerous failure of this profession. (In France ski instruction is a state ratified and protected “High Risk” profession where the minister of sport issues a license – even if those receiving it could never pass a high school physics exam – or those who did never understood what any of it was really about)

Given the weather situation I decided to dive straight into “dynamics” with minimal explanation. After only a very brief description of skiing as being based on deliberate “falling” to one side – instead to trying to balance – we went into the exercise where Seyhan had to push against my shoulder and feel the resultant force through her body and leg – once on the uphill side and then on the downhill side. I explained (rapidly) that although when skiing I wouldn’t be there to press on her shoulder – the swapping of that pressure with angular acceleration (cause by the skis) would produce exactly the same level of forces and security through the rest of her body. (Newton’s second law shows that “force” and “acceleration” are interchangeable) I’d have liked to have explained this more carefully but this was not the day for it – when it’s cold you have to move. I deliberately focused on the immediate practical aspects of this issue.

With some forwards speed and then falling over to one side the ski reacts almost immediately to pull you back up and as a consequence generates a turn. There is a slight delay before the response kicks in and this is why people fail to discover this for themselves and usually the only ones who do discover it are experienced racers. We first of all tried this by going straight down the fall line and then falling to one side to create a turn across the hill. No problems there! Next were complete turns – also no problems – so we went straight into using dynamics for linking turns. Like with everything else there is no such thing as perfection – so the most important thing is having the right intention and working mindfully and deliberately in the right direction. Development, once the fundamentals are correctly targeted is very progressive but constant, opening a portal to a lifetime of enjoyable self-discovery (exactly as with progressive martial arts or music). Initially though for some people the switch in concepts brings an extremely dramatic result. I was aware that this leap would not happen for Seyhan because she actually already had a good degree of natural dynamics in her skiing – it was just that this was not conscious and her prior coaching did not teach her to exploit it directly – it was actually conflicting with her natural actions.

In the video the first part shows strong stemming (pushing out of the top ski) and and when properly parallel an outward flick of both skis. This reduces from video clip to video clip as dynamics improve.

Uphill Ski

I asked Seyhan to initiate the turn by standing up on the uphill ski and falling (centre of mass) downhill into the turn. It does not matter which edge the ski is on for starting a turn so there is no need to stem outwards to find the inside edge. Falling into the turn from the uphill edge of the uphill ski in fact guarantees that the ski cannot be pushed outwards. The key to dynamics is that EVERYTHING goes inwards. (towards the centre of the new turn). Once again there was not really enough time to clarify this enough but I think that the basic idea was understood.

Seyhan was able to stand on the uphill ski some of the time – but this was compromised due to her vertical timing being incorrect. She had obviously been taught to come up to start a turn and finish with a downsink and poleplant – standard ski school dogma and totally incorrect. However, sometimes just standing solidly on the leg from before the very start of the turn can help to bring things back to a natural and reflexive movement pattern without any explanation necessary at this stage. ( Like a motorbike – you need to go down into a turn and come back up out of it ! )

Avoiding hip rotation (Core Activation)

Knowing that the session with Seyhan was going to be quite brief I didn’t want to embark on another big subject though I realised that “Skating” was the next thing we should really be looking at. Terrain plays a big role in teaching this too and we were forced away from the higher and flatter training plateau by the weather – so this all ruled out the practicality of teaching skating related aspects of skiing.

Given the above situation I decided to begin to address the “square” stance and lack of use of the core muscles that was inherent in Seyhan’s movements. She was basically following her skis around the turn – probably actually more than following as there might have been some active “whole body” rotation  - so her entire body remained fixed in line with her skis all the time. This is commonly referred to as “tractor turns” when people are a bit more rigid than this. The lack of angulation (angles at hips and knees) induced by this is very limiting. However, there is an up side to it! Following the skis can protect the body because if just the legs follow the skis around then the hip is commonly brought in front of the pelvis and the lower back will suffer progressive damage. Perhaps “tractor turns” are a natural response to an instinctively perceived threat to the body – in the absence of a better solution?

The correct way to use the body when skiing is to isolate and actively pull backwards the hip on the outside leg of the turn – from the start to end of the turn. This sounds simple (and it is) but it is very counterintuitive and has to be learned. Skiing is unnatural in that when angles are made at the hips (through skating in reality) so that turns can be made with greater agility, power and effectiveness the turning leg is effectively forced in front of the body and pulls the hip around with it. This coordinates with a great increase in pressure through the leg  (in addition, with correct timing there is a skating extension of the leg through the end of the turn – adding to pressure). Natural mechanics for the body require the opposite coordination of hip movement related to pressure – the runner’s leg and hip moving backwards and pressure and extension maximising with the hip behind  - not in front. Actively isolating and pulling the hip backwards as the turn progresses sets up the core muscles and spine to deal with forces correctly and by reflex (as in running) – protecting the spine, generating natural hip angulation – isolating the relative motions of the upper and lower body (at the 12th thoracic vertebra – bottom of rib cage) – yet integrating the muscular action of the body as a whole through the core.

In simple terms – just pull the hip backwards on the outside leg – but do not allow the foot or shoulder to also be pulled backwards. The effect should be felt by a stretch (but under contraction) of the abdomen on the same side as the hip and a slight natural torsion of the spine. The tightening and activation of the abdomen creates a “hydraulic sac” with the internal organs and compresses against the spine to protect it. This active repositioning of the hip also greatly affects the ability to transition from one turn to the next – making it far easier to begin a new turn – especially in challenging conditions.

Ersin

The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of The Parts.

Continuing with Ersin for one last session I wanted to try to improve his timing, his awareness of how to apply dynamics, the range of dynamics and the integration of overall body movements – working with skating and the core. It’s funny because I see and feel (“visualising” has both) all of this as one holistic thing – but like all holistic things the “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. I can only however describe it in terms of the parts that have taken me over 20 years of  constant research to be able to properly identify.

The key here is “feel”. Control over the body is mainly reflexive and unconscious. We are also subject to powerful invisible organising principles such as rhythm (and breaking rhythm) and laws of “chaos” - all an interplay between stability and disequilibrium. The skier’s body and gravity provide the basic disequilibrium, the skis and ground provide a “countervailing force” and the brain and nervous system the feedback. Overall this is a “feedback driven disequilibrium system” – exactly as is used in experimental physics for developing chaos theory.

Every one of the 7 billion human beings on the planet is different. Every snowflake is different. Every turn on skis is different. However those differences reveal hidden patterns of organisation  in the form of “fractional dimensions” – or just “fractals”. Mathematics however is NOT reality – it’s just a more precise vocabulary than we normally use (but frequently far less accurate – which is why Astronomer Royal, Sir Fred Hoyle never accepted  the fundamentally mathematical “Big Bang” theory – even though he coined the very name itself!).

Learning to teach well is also a fractal process – with new levels constantly being revealed. It’s the classic Wordsworth “to see the world in a grain of sand”.

All of those qualities are the source of holistic self-organisation. Holistic things essentially build themselves! Humans weren’t “made” by some supernatural idiotic designer (well He would have to have been a demented idiot)! We are just wonderful examples of spontaneous self-organisation – of the sort that Erwin Schrodinger (father of quantum mechanics) called “life”!  in  his classic and very readable book “What is Life” (1944), which  led directly to the discovery of DNA.

Self- organisation works through the operation of a limited (but significant) number of separate parts through application of a limited number of rules. Get the parts and rules right and your skier literally bootstraps into the best skier he can be. Learning is NOT something we directly control or choose. Learning IS self-organisation. Edward De Bono coined the term “Lateral Thinking” specifically to describe how “self-organisation” works in the brain. Learning happens to us when provided with the environment and stimulus. When teaching my aim is to provide the the right environment for growth and only feedback to keep that environment in line.

Even the very shape of an efficient turn on skis is actually a spiral – approximating to the Golden Mean – a fractal and self-organising force in its own right. The joints in our body work in spiral motions.

I know when someone emerges as a skier because I can see it. Can I directly explain what I see? Probably no better than I could explain a piece of music or a work of art. Creating that work of art is the goal of good teaching. The reality is that good skiing is an emergent, holistic property.

The two skiers below – Ligety and Miller are serious works of art – but in their case they weren’t taught ! Their phenomenal athleticism is one “part” that most of us will never have access to – and so also is the specific environment that cultivated their skills. In their case it all sadly gets put down to “natural selection” which is just a clever way of coaches avoiding responsibility for the complete and in their minds “inexplicable” failure of everyone else in their charge ( except by dismissing them as just not having the required talent!).  Start out with a big enough crop (10,000 to give a team of 8 in the USA) and you will find one or two good ones if you throw enough poles at them for 10 years. In my view coaches should be measured by their failures as much as by their successes.

Ligety – Tight Turns – more hip angulation                                                                             Miller – High Speed – more inclination

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ski Boots

Good boots are essential for good skiing. I’m currently using the sports superstore Decathlon’s own brand – which surprisingly works better than any other boot I’ve ever used. The “flex” standards are not universal for boots so the 110 flex of this boot is actually much stiffer than the 130 or even 160 of some other big brand names I’ve tried. The boot is stunningly cheap to buy and the toes and heels are replaceable. The shell fit is narrow (for racing) and so even with enough space to keep the feet warm in winter with good socks. There are no problems when skiing and even during those scary “life or death”  jump turns in nasty couloirs with skis that are too heavy! I’ve simply never had a better, warmer or cheaper boot. When a shell works well it doesn’t need to be tight – except in serious racing. The only limitation here is that there is only a canting mechanism on the outside  of the ankle but not on the inside – so somebody with serious alignment issues might not be able to adjust far enough. It’s worth noting though that club racing boots have no canting adjustment whatsoever – because this speeds up their moronic “natural selection” process! (If you aren’t naturally aligned to the norm then you are already finished!) If you know your foot size with any degree of certainty then order a pair from Decathlon on the internet. It’s almost impossible to go wrong here because the the price is a small fraction of current brand named boots so you’d need to end up with 3 pairs of different sizes to catch up expense-wise.

I find a Euro 42 (US 9, UK 8, JP 27) is usually a slightly too snug fit (toes) usually for a distance running shoe but here a Euro 41 (US 8.5, UK 7.5 JP 26.5) is about right for this skiing boot (though the length of my foot measures 26 cm) no toe damage – no circulation issues – enough room to move the feet bones and muscles but no loss of control. I get a slight bone pain on the outside of the foot but a small expansion of the shell would sort that. Currently I’m working on trying to deal with it through improving biomechanics instead. Perhaps a size 26 would give a more precise fit – with a definite shell mod at the forefoot – but this level of precision is just not necessary and usually causes all sorts of discomfort or temperature issues. If my goal however was specifically racing I’d however have gone for a 26. (In the 26.5 my narrow heels do move quite easily – but this never bothers me when skiing in this boot – and all my buckles are constantly on the very first clip all round.)

The shaft of the boot gives both excellent fore/af t resistance and lateral support.

It’s important that boots can be used effectively without supportive footbeds. Anything that prevents the muscles and bones of the feet being used constructively only presents an obstacle; We have 52 bones in the feet (total for both)– over 1/4 of all the bones in the body. Locking them up and forgetting about them is not the answer – learning to use them is!

Many people believe they have stability and pronation problems when walking and most supportive footbeds are built to limit this. Nobody questions whether walking on raised heels and foot-striking on the back of the heel is even sensible in the first place! Well, to get to the point – it isn’t! Walking on flat shoes or barefoot teaches us to avoid striking the back of the heel on the ground – landing in front of the heel instead. Pronation of the foot becomes a very different story then – just a natural shock absorber. The muscles of the foot are then activated in a different order and by reflex. This is why I run “barefoot” style and although I alternate cushioned shoes with true minimalist ones I refuse to run with raised heels or pronation support. Unfortunately in skiing we have no boots available that can truly deal with those issues – all of them having both heels and ramp angles – but at least we can avoid making the problems worse by adding contrived (and often expensive) inserts.

Skating - Timing

Skis are just big bent skates – with the edges displaced towards or beyond the sides of the feet. I wanted Ersin to return to skating to improve his awareness of timing. Skating is also a strangely “natural” action despite there being no examples of it that I can think of cropping up anywhere in nature. I guess that during the current 2.58 million year Ice Age our ancestors had plenty of experience of skating around – considering that about 90% of this time has been in cold glacial periods. The Scandinavians are supposed to have invented skating about 3000 years ago using animal bones – but why wait until our current interglacial warm period for this? For all we know our ancestors might have all been skating around playing ice hockey a million years ago! Actually this has just made me realise – bone might be a better ski material than wood! Perhaps a matrix of chicken bones with resin? OK – not all my ideas are great!

What I wanted to see was Ersin moving his body through the turns in time with the skating rhythm. People have such a strong tendency to let the body go static and allow the legs to move (or throw them) about that reversing this is difficult. We want the feet glued to the ground and all the forces to translate into direct motion of the centre of mass. Even with the feet glued to the ground it’s still possible to be unable to get the basic timing correct.   During the turn transition (going from one turn to the next) the body must first come up, away from the snow then back down towards the snow into the next turn. This motion of the centre of mass becomes the basic driving force of the pressure cycle on the skis. It feels like each turn is a slow – one legged - trampoline bounce. Try trampolining with no movement of the centre of mass and you’ll quickly catch on to how important it is. We are looking for a powerful physical resonance and rhythm generated through this “down/up” motion.

Ersin was already much improved but there was still a slight tendency to constrain the motion of the centre of mass and allow the legs to retract instead – which kills the resonance (that’s how to stop the trampoline!). I explained that when skiing parallel the way to generate the skating pressure was to use hip angulation actively – literally dropping down into the turn like a brick by being completely relaxed at the hip. Before you hit the ground the skis kick in and stop you from bottoming out. This angulation generates much bigger edge angles and sharper pressure increases (greater countervailing force) so this can allow you to carve tighter turns at lower speeds – which is why Ligety’s bottom is on the ground in his slalom turns. It’s important here to isolate the hip when pulling it back so that the shoulder doesn’t come back with it – or the core will not activate correctly to protect the body and make the overall movement natural. To encourage the core activity I also asked Ersin to make sure the inside leg had the foot on its inside edge (relative to the body) and the ski on its outside edge (relative to the body/ski – not the turn) with the adductor muscles of both legs pulling inwards – exactly as happens during skating! (though with the edge of the skate centred directly underfoot there isn’t so much need for adductor awareness in ice skating).

Off Piste – Applied  Dynamics in Crud

Before stopping for lunch we managed to fit in an off piste run down some steep and tricky “crud” – meaning the snow wouldn’t predictably support the skier’s weight – consisting of a thin layer of fresh snow covering a partially transformed (by heat and sun) base. This is precisely why absolutely nobody was skiing it. This also was precisely why I was making a bee line directly for it.

The better your dynamics, meaning ; the control over hip rotation, the ability to sink actively down inside the turn, the accuracy of your timing, the amplitude of your movement, the control over your emotions, the focus directed internally on your necessary actions – then the more successful you will be in adapting to those challenging skiing conditions.

Ersin did really well – no falls or obvious struggles and no hesitation. Lots of self-correction along the way  but that’s what it’s all about and that’s a job that will never end.

 

Retraction

Ersin had to be alerted at this point to the fact that “retraction” of the legs at the end of the turn is not always a bad thing – in fact it’s very desirable when used purposefully.  We already see how retracting the legs during a bounce on the trampoline deadens the bounce – well in skiing it can be used to remove excessive dynamics from a turn and ensure a more rapid transition from one turn to the next. 

We didn’t go into this in depth because at this stage it is much more important to master the basic skating timing, rhythm and resonance – before then learning to suppress it! Generally when in snow with any depth the basic timing is best – due to the entire ski base loading up and springing you clear of the snow in a complete rebound. Later on we can even add an instant of leg retraction right at the end to soften the rebound and get the legs into a secure form with the knees and hips flexed and feet ahead of the centre of mass – but for the meantime none of this was appropriate.

Our only concession to retraction was briefly in the context of “compression turns” for using on the moguls just beside the Tovière chairlift. This is actually a very difficult exercise to do on flat terrain so I was impressed by Ersin’s success. He was clearly helped by his earlier quick mastery of his edges with pivoting – because once again we were required to pivot from the uphill edges. The compression turn exercise uses leg retraction to simulate the compression from a bump – but on the flat. The skier positions everything – including a pole plant – exactly as for any “two footed” pivot and then starts to flex down to 90° (knees and hips) while moving the body towards the pole. The pivot mostly takes place with the legs flexed to maximum – but in the final phase of the turn there is a full extension of the legs (simulating extension into the trough below the bump). Meanwhile the shoulders are required to avoid any rotation away from the fall-line and control over the core is required to protect the spine. Quite a monster sized handful of things to get right!

The goal here is to develop the coordination required for pressure control in dynamic bump skiing – where the “retraction” is taken over by direct compression of the legs when hitting the bump. Unfortunately, with the recent snowfall and crud the bumps were not in good condition so we couldn’t really work on this properly - but at least we tried. What was good was seeing Ersin managing to reach the full range of 90° flexion while controlling his centre of mass – which is always a very useful exercise.

Conclusion

After this we returned to the skating dynamics because Ersin was making good steady progress and needed practice. – plus it would be his final day of skiing for the season which means the extra mileage is appreciated!  The naturalness of the timing was improving and probably the use of the adductors – but there was a constant tendency for the shoulders to follow the hips a bit too much. This isn’t surprising because it takes quite a while to learn how to isolate and control the core properly in the required manner. If we had more time available I would have properly covered the key aspects of chi-walking/running and cycling to provide the tools to enable practice of this coordination to become an integral part of normal heath –promoting daily life. I can see also that the centre of mass is not following an optimal trajectory and the resonance of the dynamics is not being fully tuned into – but the basic framework has been taken on board and the original major mistakes have all been very strongly addressed. (Hip Rotation, Heel Pushing, Up/Down Timing)

Although we did mostly carving work to access very clear feedback and make it very relevant to skating – the same basic actions apply across the board in all skiing.

Nutrition / Health

For a moment now I’ve been including a brief section in the blog over relevant incidents that might concern relevant nutritional and health issues. Without letting anyone know, during the last three days I had been experiencing an increasingly severe dental crisis – basically a wisdom tooth directly from Hell.

Dr Jack Kruse, who is one of my key nutritional/medical references was the reason why I spent the entire winter practicing direct periodic exposure to cold – for the purpose of stimulating Cold Thermogenesis. Kruse himself – a neurosurgeon – uses this with his surgical patients to reduce their sensitivity to pain and dependence on painkilling drugs and antibiotics. What amazed me here was that although by today (Sunday) the tooth was practically impossible to even touch – I had no trouble whatsoever completely ignoring and mostly forgetting the pain. On Monday morning I was extremely lucky to find a dentist prepared to see me almost immediately and had no argument about having the offending tooth extracted. (The wisdom tooth is the small molar right at the back) True to form it was tough as nails to extract but initially the anaesthetic hadn’t managed to get all the nerves to sleep (even though there was no inflammation) so when pulling the tooth to one side it was like there was no anaesthetic at all. My reaction of course was to “Arrrrgh!” a bit but then I started to laugh! Now Kruse does state the Cold Thermogensis is literally “brain surgery without a scalpel” in that it brings about a lot of neural rewiring. I’m not quite sure what it rewired here but I can guarantee I’ve never laughed in a dentist’s chair before while having a tooth yanked at with a failed anaesthetic and never imagined in a million years that I would. When the needle eventually found the right spot the pain was every bit as intense once again – but weirdly it made me laugh a little again instead of cry out for help.  Two roots predictably snapped during the lengthy extraction and had to be drilled out – leaving me with a nicely beaten up jaw. I was subsequently floored by all of this and had a massive energy dip (hence a long delay in writing this blog entry) – but at no point did I need any of the prescribed painkillers. For about two hours after the operation I used ice on the outside of the jaw and that was all that was required. Throughout the entire event – all weekend and post operation no painkillers were needed. I wasn’t specifically avoiding them or concerned about “drugs” – if I’d required them I’d have used them. Once again Dr Kruse is simply spot on with his advice and observations.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Team Ersin…

…from left to right – Aslan “The Lion” (claims to be aged eight but is really seven and a half), Hudson the ice hockey star and Dakota (who would rather be playing chess).

 

Before we begin – slalom times – Ersin 28.14”, Hudson 31.16”, Dakota 35.16”, Aslan DNF (Did Not Finish!)

Creating Dynamics

Asking the boys ‘”How do you make a turn?” the response was the standard answer – offered by Aslan “Put the button (pole) in the snow and turn around it.” Predictably – for skiing parallel - that was the sum total of their understanding. This is the normal “ski school” outcome. The boys would be skiing with practically no dynamics – trying hard to be “in balance” and very upright. We filmed this – all the boys skiing together (video clip) before teaching them all how to understand and create real dynamics and taking them into a race course.

Skating – Intro

We began making changes with skating – simply turning by skating several steps into each turn. Dakota was the best at this initially. The aim of skating is to get used to the ski tips diverging and then moving the centre of mass inwards during the turn – all the way through. We reduced this down to three skates per turn. All the boys did well – with Aslan doing a great job and never giving up or complaining.

Invisible – Magic Wall

Getting the boys ready for slalom in just a couple of hours meant that we had to move on quickly. To explain dynamics I used the Magic Wall (Fully explained here: http://www.skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/dynamics.html ) We did a few exercises with the boys pushing against me to understand how hard they needed to try to “fall over” and push into a turn. We did one turn from the fall-line out to the side and then straight into linked turns. Of course – despite trying to “fall over” the boys didn’t! The Magic Wall works and their skiing started to come to life.

The goal here was really to combine skating with dynamics. In the video clip Hudson nails it first time! The idea is to skate directly downhill and then introduce dynamics (falling inwards) while continuing the skating. The dynamics converts the skating into skiing! Dakota wasn’t so comfortable with the dynamics and Aslan made a great attempt but needs more skating experience.

We practiced the dynamics with skating timing and all the boys were clearly much more dynamic and so ready to tackle slalom.

Slalom

The rules of the slalom course had to be explained and then a course inspection carried out. The snow was slushy and the course rutted so I side-slipped the it a few times to try to flatten the worst of the ruts to prevent an accident. Aslan wiped out once so I took him down the rest of the way – but next time he was completely undeterred by his fall and asked to go by himself. He wasn’t strong enough to stay in the course where it was steepest (black run) - but he never fell over again.

After the first run by Hudson and Dakota I asked them what they were thinking during the descent. Dakota replied “nothing” and Hudson “turning”. Despite their protests I impressed upon them the need to “think” and be mindful about their body movements – about skating and dynamics. Hudson in particular caught on and improved by several seconds. Aslan and Dakota were really working in the right direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pivot

After lunch break the weather closed in and so I wanted to slow down the skiing a little. Realising that it might be pushing things slightly too far I decided to introduce “pivoting” to the boys. They could all manage short turns – Hudson with a strong outwards heel push, Dakota with limited control over his speed and  Aslan somewhere between the other two. I rapidly demonstrated the “upper ski pivot” and when giving feedback explained about being on the uphill edge of the ski but the downhill edge of the foot.

Dakota did a really good job here and managed to pivot correctly despite the lesson being very brief. Hudson had a fascinating surprise in store though – he did the pivot backwards! Despite seeing me pull the front of my ski downhill and into a normal turn – Hudson pulled the tail of his uphill ski downhill and into a spin backwards. Later on I realised that he had picked this up from our earlier 360° spins on the flat from the fall-line – where the tails need to move outwards and downhill to spin around backwards! Being an ice hockey player and so skiing with a tendency to push the skis outwards into a hockey stop – I could see why Hudson had this overwhelming tendency to interpret things in this direction. It’s even more important then that he learns to understand the requirement to pull everything inwards! We tried working on this by pivoting on bumps – but the limits of concentration had been well exceeded by now!

Skiing down the mountain I deliberately went to a very steep black run where there is good protection with safety nets. I wanted Aslan to get experience of holding himself “inwards” on steep  turns – so that he would understand physically how to hold a tight and steep slalom turn. Aslan managed to ski this well and he would probably have managed to stay in the slalom course after this. All the boys had massively increased dynamic range by the end of the day and had acquired a different way of understanding skiing.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ersin– Slalom

Today was a  highly technical day for Ersin and a lot of concentration was required! Although Ersin felt that he needed to improve his pivoting it was clear to me that the fundamental issue involved was the “evolution” of the turns – the “purposeful working of the centre of mass”. Ersin had no bearings here or clear reference to work from. When pivoting this issue is generally rendered too subtle to be learned – which is why it is normally acquired through about 10 years of violent race training (with an incredibly high drop out rate). Instead, we could intelligently exploit carving to build the appropriate awareness because the feedback and forces are very strong and clear – which when combined with the right information leads to a far more level playing field – and chance for very rapid success for all ages and aptitudes. Ersin’s slalom benchmark time is 28.88 seconds (Silver) after only three runs.

Carve – Plough Exercise

We only needed to work on one exercise – but on several aspects that could be applied to it.

The principle was to provide a slow motion platform for integrating skating with dynamics as would be applied in a race course. A wide snowplough would be used for the support.

With the plough facing across the hill the shoulders need to face downhill – because this is simulating “skating downhill”. The body moves (downhill) across  the skis with all the weight bearing on the lower (inside) ski – which acts as a brake – feeding very slowly into the turn) the uphill ski is pulled onto its edge. Body mass must be moved strongly towards the centre of the new turn – which at this point means facing downhill and extending the body downhill. In effect the carving ski is behind the body now (uphill).

As the turn evolves the hip (carving ski) must be strongly pulled backwards to allow the centre of mass to sink (gradually creating hip angulation) as gravity begins to build up pressure. The leg swings around to come in front of the body – but without pulling the hip along with it. The skier’s body is still solidly over the inside ski – which is now the uphill ski – and the shoulders are still facing downhill.

The goal here is to learn how to first of all get the body down and into a turn and then how to maintain this against increasing pressure as the turn evolves. This way when skiing the centre of mass can be used actively to form the turn and control speed though developing an efficient line.

Ersin had clearly been previously taught to carve with lateral movement of the hips and the body facing the outside of the turn. This makes it impossible to skate and to move or maintain active use of the centre of mass. Only very long turns can be maintained in this manner and with the centre of mass being used reactively. Here we were aiming to make the whole evolution of the turn dependent upon a proactive use of the centre of mass. The Centre of Mass has to effectively drive the entire turn and this has to be done consciously.

Ersin succeeded in improving his awareness of the role of the hip (being pulled backwards) – we did some revision of how to use the hip properly (Chi – Hips) and how to correct the pelvic tilt  - raise the pelvis at the front and sit slightly to relax the hip muscles. The improved hip use allowed greater hip angulation to develop during the turn.

I explained later that all motion should begin at the centre – the pulling back of the hip re-aligns the leg so that the adductor muscles can be easily used and the foot rolled onto its inside edge.

To help prevent Ersin’s tendency to face his shoulders and hands too much to the outside of a turn (all the way round) I asked him to try to have one hand either side of his INSIDE ski during the turn. He can be seen doing this spontaneously here in the bottom slalom photo. This helps to drive the centre of mass inwards more effectively.

Boot Canting and Alignment

One of Ersin’s ski boots was canted differently from the other – so this had to be corrected. Asking Ersin to sit on the edge of a chair  - hip joints relaxed and legs completely straightened out I placed the boots at walking width apart. Both boots had to be adjusted to have canting at the maximum to increase edging – thus giving a flat base for the soles of the boots. This simply conforms the boot shape to the skeleton in the strongest position – when then body cannot compensate.

The boots have very thick footbeds inside which prevent active use of the feet – but I was worried that removing them would create too much space.

Stance – Foot and Boot use

We looked indoors – boots off – at how to stand to activate the anterior tibialis and to make the ankle strong. Standing just over the front of the heels this muscle contracts when bending – forcing the bending to occur at the knee and hip instead of at the ankle. Also – when standing with the ankle strong like this the subtaler joint below the ankle can be used to rock the feet from edge to edge. I made sure Ersin could feel the distinction between collapsing the ankle, twisting the knee inwards – and rocking the foot, pulling the knee across laterally with the adductors and a strong ankle.

With the boots back on he could feel how the boots would give a strong support when pushed against with the shins and a strong ankle – but how this was not the same a squashing the boot by collapsing the ankle (bending when on the front of the foot). Ersin later reported feeling this strong stance while skiing.

Leg Retraction (Wide Stance)

Although for the slalom Ersin had managed the skating “downhill” and great angulation holding the body down into the turn – his dynamics into the turn were not so positive. To encourage the feel of powerful commitment at the start of the turn we used a very wide stance – retracting the lower leg to move across the skis and strongly extending the upper leg to thrust the body downhill into the new turn. The wide stance gives confidence to develop this powerful action and the understanding that the turn initiation must be very active with the centre of mass. Earlier on Ersin was waiting a moment to feel pressure and support from the outside ski before fully dropping down into the turn. This needs to be reversed – dropping down is what then generates the force through the immediate turning effect of the ski. There is a short delay before this kicks in – enough to stop most people from ever discovering this.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Alistair–Off Piste

Today was about taking Alistair out of his comfort zone and leaving the realm of theory and exercises. Skiing is about confronting the physical constraints of the mountain together with the emotional constraints of the mind. Progress here is never easy and never rapid – but every little bit gained yields insight, changes paradigms and wakes up the desire and ability to learn even more. This is where the real value and enjoyment of skiing is to be found – though initially it might feel more like some form of self imposed medieval torture.

I had three messages for Alistair today: Dynamics, Dynamics and Dynamics!

Work the turn! Work the skis! Make the turn purposeful, fully evolving each and every turn from start to finish.  Move that Centre of Mass (CM)! Move the body! Come up, out and over that lower ski – let it support you out into the perpendicular and then let gravity pull the CM into the next turn. Swap support legs by reflex once the CM has gone over the lower leg (we did an exercise with Alistair pushing against me to feel when the legs switched – after coming over the lower ski).

Don’t just move into a turn and then brush off the speed with a skid! Turn almost back uphill and use hip angulation (or inclination at higher speed) to drive the CM down into the turn as forces build up – then use this pressure to control the CM lifting up and over the downhill ski to finish. Never go static when linking turns – always bending or extending – always directing the CM inwards or outwards.

With short swings don’t kill the dynamics – bounce! Use leg retraction (lifting the knees) on steeps with both jump turns (short swings) and dynamics in deep snow. Find the rhythm! In deep snow the rhythm and resonance are slower but much more powerful – look for them and keep moving. Skis lift you up very powerfully in deep snow (the whole base is used) so always try to err by moving the CM more inwards and driving the CM harder inwards during second part the turn (after the fall-line).

Emotions try to stop you from moving – they make you hesitate and paralyse your muscles. They create a defensive veil that stops you from seeing what really needs to be done. They make you move in ways that stop the CM from leading – such as throwing the body (and/or skis) “around” the turn – which stops the CM from going into the turn!

Speed is controlled by line and the effective evolution of a turn – by directing the CM – constantly. Hip angulation and the likes are just details to help to achieve this. Speed is not controlled by brushing off energy through skidding and holding the CM static.

We had very limited short sections of suitable snow available to work on but Alistair soon managed to make rhythmic pivots – controlling his speed on shallower terrain and then string together a few well evolved dynamic turns on steeper and deeper snow. That’s good progress by any standards!

A couple of nice turns in deep snow…

Not moving into the turn far enough with the centre of mass – either at the very beginning or during the evolution of the turn…

How the “sitting” stance for deep snow (or bumps) keeps you relaxed and on the fronts of your ski boots – not “leaning back”…. …it’s all to do with either facing downhill or decelerations during the turns.

The Grande Motte seen from mid “Col Pers” at Le Fornet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ersin – Off Piste

Glacier source of the Isère…

Ersin managed to do a good job off-piste, applying his new skills from yesterday’s session. When the going got a bit tough the old “survival” mode would kick in, but there were moments where the improvement was very visible.  Haluk was in cruise mode on his “Automatic” Atomics – but he also managed some very good moves and shows obvious improvement – even in a year dominated by injury. Persistence is what counts – through the bad times! This wasn’t a “technical” day, just a day of safe guiding/skiing but everyone was busy working constructively on their skiing and enjoying the sun and fresh snow – particularly through Col Pers.

My only technical comment here is that Ersin needs to continue to work generally on awareness of an active centre of mass – especially when things get tough, steep or otherwise scary. This should be cultivated on piste – through carving, skating – or in racing poles.  Haluk needs to use the centre of mass more at the start of the turn – instead of using the knees to get an early inside edge. The centre of mass (inclination) should be the main source of edging – if and when edging is required! This issue is probably linked to the often over-flexed ankles – which causes the knee the move inwards a bit too much… a project for next year perhaps!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ersin - Off Piste / Centre of Mass

Snow in Le Fornet had been blasted by high winds and so it was never going to be easy to ski. If Eskimos are supposed to have names for over 30 types of snow – then in the skiing world this one is called “educational” snow!

Although I was more focused on safety – the very high winds having formed the new snow into unstable slabs on top of a sun crust base (Avalanche risk 4) -  I was asked to observe Ersin with a view to eventually working on developing his skiing. Basically anyone who can stay on their feet in snow like this can ski and at first it’s actually quite hard to see anything “wrong” other than the snow itself.

The problem with giving a “critique” is that it’s easy to list symptoms  - which can easily be related to – but but not so easy to explain the underlying cause – which usually cannot be related to – hence the reason for the problems in the first place. I did mention the underlying cause was that the dynamics (motion of the centre of mass) in and out of the turn were faulty – but at this stage that’s a completely meaningless statement and so a list of symptoms had to come out as follows: Ski tails being pushed outwards to the side, hip rotation, having to jump to substitute for good dynamics at the end of the turn, postural problems (right side). I only picked up on a few key points but the reality was that the entire basic mechanics of the turn were fundamentally incorrect and there is no way to explain this without it being a full blown lesson – because it needs a different perception altogether.

ChiSkiing (Core Activation)

Following our last run off piste I rapidly looked at the issue of hip rotation with Ersin – explaining the difference between classic  “upper/lower body separation” and how it compresses the ribs towards the pelvis and disconnects the two halves of the body as the hip comes around in front of the pelvis. Then I had Ersin pull back his hip – holding the shoulders/ribs stationary – so this time he could feel a stretch of the abdomen and activation of the core muscles. I explained that this is the direct way to confront hip rotation – you pull it backwards during the turn instead of allowing it to swing forwards in front of the pelvis (making sure not to also pull back the shoulder or the foot). I demonstrated how the “separation” relates to old slalom technique (solid poles) and “integration” relates to modern slalom (breakaway poles).

We stopped for a coffee once Haluk started to cave in to back and knee pain. I’ve been telling Haluk for a while now that the reason for disc and joint degeneration is nutrition – and Fortunately Ersin who is also strongly interested in nutrition can back this up and add even more pressure to Haluk here!

It is surprisingly difficult to switch the mental mode from “guiding” to “teaching” because each is a job with very different responsibilities and focus. After th coffee break and re-focusing I chose a point of reference that would be meaningful from the start. The underlying principle I wanted to work on was regarding the control over the motion of the centre of mass – but the best way to enter into dialogue in this case would probably be to address the “pushing out” of the skis – through introducing the “pivot”.

Pivoting

There is a dedicated page on pivoting where detailed explanations can be found - here: http://www.skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/pivot.html

Ersin was exceptionally quick to pick up the pivot – essentially pulling it off correctly on the first attempt – for both an uphill ski pivot and a downhill ski pivot. Until it was pointed out to him he was unable (as is normal) to see that the ski was kept on the outside edge for the first half of the turn. My real goal was to get him to slide the ski inwards (instead of pushing it outwards) - into the new turn – it being impossible to push it outwards while being help on the outside edge. I then briefly mentioned the adductor muscles and that it was really the ski following the centre of mass into the turn. This was an exercise guaranteed to alert Ersin to the fact that there was a whole type of use of the skis and motion that he was until now unaware of. I know that experiencing this can be impressive – but the reality is that it is just the start of discovering “dynamics” and how to use the centre of mass to drive and control turns.

After lunch we picked up the pivot exercises once again but this time in more depth. I rapidly explained that we try to stand on the front of the heel just below the ankle so as to be able to use the joint (subtaler) beneath the ankle for rocking the foot. The aim was to stand on the uphill edge of the uphill ski and foot at the same time – then rock the foot onto its downhill (inside) edge while the shaft of the ski boot would hold the ski on its uphill (outside) edge. This separates the “edge of the ski” from the “edge of the foot”. The foot rocking was then related to the adductor muscles and going up through the glutes all the way to the core. The idea was to use the core to pull the ski (with all those muscles engaged) into the turn – using the ski pole to control the entry. I showed how the lateral pull of the adductors held the knee inwards in a strong and supportive manner – while going on the front of the foot, flexing the ankle and pushing the knee inwards was very unstable and weak. We did the brief exercise of pulling laterally against a ski pole with the tip of the ski to ensure the correct feelings were being recognised.

Even when using the downhill ski and pivoting on the “wrong edge” the same muscle movements need to be made – but towards the centre of the body – not the centre of the turn in this case. This clarifies that the turn is actually controlled exclusively by the centre of mass moving.

Ersin understood all of this but when actually skiing with it there was a problem. Even though he was moving everything “inwards” the timing was ineffective and there was no real understanding of “moving the centre of mass”. Ersin had it ingrained into him that skiing was about keeping the centre of mass stationary and moving the legs instead – which is a standard error of teaching. It was clear I would have to move into teaching “timing”.

(We had tried some short swings and jumping to make edge changes in mid air – but  the relevancy of the exercise was not connecting with Ersin.)

Skating (Timing)

Having explained the illusion of “centrifugal force” to Ersin it was time for him to feel how we generate the reality of centripetal (inwards) force. I got Ersin to push hard against my shoulder with his and explained that this was how to drive the body either into or out of a turn. The body has to be moved and the visual “stationary” appearance of the upper body in skiing is a visual illusion. The best way to feel the power needed is to skate turns – with three skates inwards making a turn. (I checked that Ersin could skate properly across the hill first). There is a strong motion of the centre of mass downhill to start the turn then it gets harder to move inwards as speed and gravity effects build up. Ersin connected with the feeling and managed to take this down to two skates and finally the correct rhythm from one skate – which resonates with the down/up pendulum effect of the centre of mass falling into a turn and rising back up out of it.

We then brought the pivoting and skating together to give control and power when pivoting on a steep slope. The push up from the lower leg supporting the body coming up and out of the turn – then the pulling inwards and pivoting into the next turn. Now Ersin was starting to feel how the centre of mass connects and drives the turns and how the skating principle is fundamental even if invisible to the untrained eye.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Vitamin D fix!

Almost Spring! just a few more days to the 21st March and the official arrival of Spring – but when cycling around the hills the locals are all out preparing their vineyards and fruit trees for their coming growth. Today was the first day when the sun has actually been warm and I almost felt too hot climbing with a base layer beneath my cycling shirt. It felt good to be out cycling today – getting some exposure to the sun and production of vitamin D - and  tomorrow it will be powder skiing in Le Fornet at Val d’Isère – where the micro-climate is still adding to the fresh snow. Still almost two months of the ski season to go and great skiing available now. No more need to use my trusty but trashed old Zag “Big” rock bashers to protect newer skis.

I’ve been cycling in shorts and T-shirt regularly all winter to work on “cold adaptation” and it has been superb! Today it even felt disappointing that the temperature is climbing. Across the valley are the North facing slopes of Les Arcs – at the Peisey west end of the ridge – the valley to the right being spanned by the cable car to La Plagne. There is snow still down to the valley floor 600 vertical metres below at the Isère river (Isère at 600m altitude here).

Although I wasn’t going really hard on the climb it was a good day for working on technique. There’s always a way to make a workout useful and enjoyable and mindful activity is always enriching, good for removing stress and great for stimulating creative thought. Taking the lead from the recent evolution in my ski teaching I realised – same as with the last running session – that there was the need to activate exactly the same sequence of muscle activation starting from the core. The adductors have to contract and in the case of pedalling the quads above the inside of the knee have to work. This “pulling in” feeling is probably related to the natural rotation inwards on the femur as the hip pulls backwards (natural in running – conscious in cycling or skiing!). In skiing the adductor issue becomes extremely obvious due to the rotation of the femur being exaggerated as the ski is turning the leg in front of the body. This is probably why I never noticed it in running or cycling before – yet lack of awareness of this issue has previously led me to metatarsal foot injuries due to it affecting footstrike (when running barefoot or with minimalist shoes). In cycling I realised that this new awareness of femur alignment stemming from the core (initiating movement from the core) was noticeably increasing my power and efficiency with the pedal stroke. During the leg recovery (pulling up on the pedal) the hip comes forwards and the femur has a slight and relaxing outwards rotation – though only enough for the knee to track forwards straight.

What’s interesting is how each sport – in my case Skiing, Cycling and Running, feeds new awareness to each other, due to slightly different emphasis with each activity.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Alistair Day 3–Dynamics

Today’s overall objective was to work on “end of turn” dynamics for off-piste application and bumps.

Checking Alistair’s progress at the start of the session, despite the obvious progress, some problems were immediately obvious and especially visible when carving. Developing the dynamics would also have to involve addressing those specific problems.

Two images extracted from video show the symptoms of an underlying problem. On the left we have whole body inclination with knee angulation but no hip angulation. On the right we have an artificial “hip angulation” formed by a lateral displacement of the pelvis. Not only is each side completely different but neither is correct. This would clearly be a priority to sort out – but as all of it directly affects dynamics then whatever the solution it would be possible to achieve it working within the general framework of developing dynamics. Carving, although improved from last week, was still not strong with the start of the turn being very ineffective or missing. At this stage I made the decision to proceed with directly working on dynamics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today we worked on five  fundamental elements:

Dynamics (Exit - “End of Turn”)

Core Activation

Centring (Alignment)

Independent Leg Action

Dynamics (Entry – “Start of Turn”)

Dynamics (Exit - “End of Turn”)

Until now we had not worked at all on the dynamics of the second half of the turn. There are two aspects here of critical importance:

A: The ability to use pressure (combination of gravity, the lifting power of the ski, extension or flexion of the legs/hips (simultaneously or independently)) to control the motion of the centre of mass coming out of the turn.

B: The ability to lower the centre of mass towards the snow while working against accelerations and gravity during the last half of the turn – to increase pressure – prior to ending the turn.

In reality there are many variations and possibilities – but the options are functional and structured. Problems with angulation or inclination will strongly affect both A and B above. During the session we would work on “Core Activation” so as to attempt to sort out those particular issues – as are very visible in the two photographs above.

Today we would focus on the two most basic movement patterns – those mostly associated with 1: off-piste (difficult snow) and 2: bumps. The off-piste requires the normal “skating timing” of flexion/extension – and the bumps requires a “retraction timing” of extension/flexion. In all cases the actual centre of mass always follows the pattern of down/up (relative to the snow) – because this is fundamental (…a bike falls into a turn and comes up out of it.) There is very little deviation from this principle. Working on Core Activation and stance in carving would enable us to confront “retraction timing” through developing it from independent leg action – and then to take it into the context of bumps with a two footed pivoting platform.

Jumping

We began work by revising short swings and jumping. Alistair clearly hadn’t done his homework here because he struggled. When training for my own skiing examinations while working as a ski teacher in California I used to start each day with between 400 and 600 consecutive short swings – taking them to exhaustion so as to encourage the body to find efficiency for itself. Practice, practice, practice! We recommenced without the skis – just jumping – blocking the upper body with the ski poles in front and then swinging the feet in the air – left – centre – right etc. After repeating this on flat terrain with the skis on we then started to jump around turns – with several jumps in the same direction. Alistair needed to be reminded that this is all about moving and directing the centre of mass and it is controlled by effective use of the ski poles!

The jumping UP motion is NOT the start of a turn. People have an emotional default setting that makes them believe that any jump has to be to start a turn. The jump is the end of a turn or a traverse.

Jumping takes the centre of mass either out of an existing turn –  or out of a traverse with the aid of first deliberately bending to facilitate the spring up and out from the vertical towards the perpendicular (to the slope). Alistair had not yet appreciated this very important distinction. The continued swinging of the skis or pivoting (after landing) into the new turn should not be confused with the launching upwards from the grip of the uphill edges of the skis. This is all about controlling the centre of mass and actively bringing it out of the turn or the vertical stance of a traverse.

We then worked on jumping to make complete turn transitions – changing edge in mid-air, taking off from the uphill edges and landing on the downhill edges.

Alistair was now asked to stop the actual jumping but in place of this to simply extend the downhill leg (or both legs) - almost jumping - so as to actively come out of the turn right over the lower ski. This exercise was taken into full blown “hanger turns” where the entire turn transition was made on one ski (downhill ski).

All of the above exercises were intended to develop an awareness of the need to actively come over the lower ski to complete a turn. We need to be aware that the end of a turn is what sets us up for the next turn. While this is constrained and controlled effectively with pole use when pivoting – it is a far more powerful and dramatic action when moving forwards in fluid skiing.

In the video Alistair is showing good rhythm derived from his new Exit Dynamics and his stance accordingly improves – with much less “sitting” or being left in the back seat with his centre of mass. (However there was still a problem connected with accurately controlling the build up of pressure during the turn and this would only become clear later on through working on the Core Activation – without correct angulation you can’t accurately build up the pressure required for an effective directing of the centre of mass – hence the continued “back seat”).

Off Piste

Skiing off-piste on steep or bumpy terrain was immediately rendered easier with the new dynamics. Going directly into messed up, crunchy, crusty off-piste snow with strong dynamics posed no problem for Alistair. The key here is that the worse the threat of the snow is the more you have to commit to standing on that lower ski to launch the body downhill across it. This is an emotionally challenging thing to do – but amazingly rewarding because it always works!

Dynamics is in fact the master key to always nailing your off-piste turn.

If in doubt revert to big Exit Dynamics. When snow is of good quality and offering no serious resistance then pivoting is ideal. Obviously there is a crossover here where various degrees of blending between dynamics and pivoting are possible – depending on snow quality. The worse the snow the more dynamics are obliged.

Core Activation

Although Alistair had opposite problems on his right and left side we managed to cure both issues by working simply on improving posture and the integration of the upper and lower body through activating the core.

When working on the jumping earlier on I had reminded Alistair of the need to avoid winding up the spine in a compressive manner by allowing the outside hip to come around in front of the ribs. I reminded him that the correct movement to protect the body was to pull the outside hip backwards – stretching the lower abdomen instead of compressing – and activating the core muscles instead of closing them down. I allowed this to be overlooked with the jumping because there was just too much to coordinate at this stage. Now however we were working on static exercises with the skis off so the “core” issues could be properly addressed. “Core” issues are exactly what this means – not just core muscles – but central to everything.

Foot Forwards Technique

In the photos at the top of this post when Alistair turns left his right leg is trailing and he is falling onto his left leg. This is typical when somebody tries to create angulation through a lateral displacement of the pelvis. This is also a sign that the skier is not actively pushing the outside foot forwards. To ensure that Alistair was familiar with the correct sensation for pushing the outside foot forwards we started to work with the skis off – pivoting around the inside leg/heel – while pushing forwards the outside skil boot on its inside edge in a natural arc – scribing an arc in the snow.

Left Leg

With the left leg the big hip rotation was obvious – with Alistair being unable to keep his weight over the central pivoting support leg later in the turn. This is a standard effect of hip rotation. Attempts to correct this with Core Activation caused the knee to move outwards. This happened due to incorrect pelvic tilt/posture leading to a breakdown of Core Activation when on this leg. When Alistair corrected his posture he could feel that the pulling back of his outside hip felt different – which he related to a rotation hinged on the supporting hip of the other “support” leg”. What he was really feeling was a twisting centred on the spine – but because the other leg was static and supporting the entire body everything would have to swing around somewhat on that leg. This correct Core Activation produced a natural hip angulation.

At one point we stopped so I could allow Alistair to feel the difference in abdominal contraction reflexes due to posture. When lifting up against a strong resistance with the pelvis tilted down at the front the lower back hurts instantly. With the pelvis tilted upwards the the abdomen contract creating a “hydraulic sac” which protects the spine. You can tell if this alignment is correct simply due to whether this reflex works or not. Correct Core Activation is dependent on this alignment and of course helps to maintain it.

Many aspects of correct or appropriate body mechanics in skiing are about ensuring that reflexes work in your favour - and are not deactivated or even working against you.

Right Leg

With the right leg the Core Activation immediately eliminated the lateral displacement of the pelvis.

On both sides there was now natural angulation with the ability to both pull the respective hip backwards and simultaneously push the foot forwards (the actions are after relative to each other!).

With this functional hip angulation in place I explained to Alistair that we could now use it to rapidly move the centre of mass up and down – the hip acting as a hinge for that purpose. The down motion would allow a better build up of pressure during the second part of the turn and thus correctly set up the Exit Dynamics. The correct angulation would also facilitate those exit dynamics directly and in athletic terms – by reducing unwanted muscle tension.

This was the first time we were able to work on part B of the “Exit Dynamics” - B: The ability to lower the centre of mass towards the snow while working against accelerations and gravity during the last half of the turn – to increase pressure – prior to ending the turn. In other words Alistair could use this to improve turn control and stance together – (avoiding that “back seat” issue)

Centring (Alignment)

Prior to succeeding with correcting the left leg, when sorting out the posture we had to use the Core Activation to correct alignment. When Alistair pulled back his left hip his left knee went outwards. The pulling back of the hip should activate the adductors and pull the knee inwards – facilitating the foot rolling onto its inside edge. The core/hip action re-aligns the body. Supportive foot-beds should be avoided in the ski boots so that the feet muscles can work properly and actively.

Until now we had worked from the feet upwards – but now it was time to reverse this. All motion (both global and of relative to the rest of the body) should begin a the centre. (In boxing – a punch comes from the hip not the hand.)  Activating the core by pulling back the hip begins a cascade of events leading to the adductors pulling in the knee and the subtaler joint rolling the foot onto the inside edge. Meanwhile the entire centre of mass is moving down and into a turn – or being controlled exiting the turn.but with the same muscular support all the way through.

Independent Leg Action

Given that all our work on Core Activation was being applied to carving it was logical to exploit carving for introducing “retraction timing”. In addition, Alistair was still struggling with feeling the carving a the start of the turn and could not maintain a wide stance so this issue could be addressed too. In carving we can use a very wide stance which allows independent leg action to be experienced – giving a good stable and secure support for building body awareness and dynamics along with carving skills.

Standing stationary across the slope with the legs wide apart I wanted Alistair to move the upper body directly over one ski by flexing that leg and extending the other one. When doing this the Core Activation had to be correct. This was a new feeling for Alistair and gave a whole new meaning to “wide stance” and Independent leg action.

Going through a carving turn – towards the end with the outside leg fully extended and the centre of mass close to the snow towards the turn centre – the goal was to exit the turn by flexing that extended leg. This creates a reduced upwards motion of the centre of mass as it exits the turn – but it is still upwards. When there is a lot of pressure at higher speeds the leg is not just “flexed” under load, it is actively retracted and the body is propelled (at a tangent to the arc) out of the current trajectory over the skis. Some people refer to this as a “cross under” of the skis – which is inappropriate terminology because we are always focused on the motion of the centre of mass and moving it actively. It’s just a faster way of transitioning from one turn to another – but is can use a lot more force from the extending outside leg. It can be done with either on leg or two when in a close stance.

Dynamics (Entry – “Start of Turn”)

Independent Leg Action naturally leads to a greater perception of dynamics a the start of a turn. When the downhill leg is retracted then the uphill leg has to be actively and powerfully extended to get the centre of mass down into the next turn.

Alistair had no idea just how powerful this has to be so initially he was still missing the starts of his turns because he was waiting for pressure to build up against the ski before really letting himself fall into the turn. The pressure needs to come directly from both the power of the leg extension and the speed of the dropping down and inwards (either angulation – for rapid turns – or whole body inclination). There is actually a drop in pressure when falling/dropping inwards due to gravity – but gravity is so fast that the ski will edge and respond with powerful supporting feedback way before the body reaches the snow. There is a moment of “faith” however required before this connection is made. Most of the time the leg extension problem is the opposite – instead of a moment of “lightness” there is nothing but immediate pressure – pushing the centre off mass downhill, requiring legs like tree trunks and enormous power.

Alistair was developing a feel for all of this but often his upper body orientation was blocking him due to the shoulders being puled back along with the hips. Statically - with a wide stance - we worked on Getting him to separate at the ribs so that the shoulders would be over and facing the tip of the inside ski while the hip (outside ski) was pulled backwards. When looking down while skiing it should be this inside ski siting central between the hands – not the outside ski. This immediately allowed Alistair to extend his dynamic range down into the carved turn.

Alistair had now improved his posture, angulation, dynamics (entry and exit) and so his carving was taking shape and his stance changed completely.

Mikaela Shiffrin Audi FIS Alpine Ski World 29SMslDmaFHl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bumps

Leaving bumps to the very end of the day was not an ideal scenario. I explained and demonstrated a “compression turn” on the flat – staying on the uphill edges through the turn (edge change in the fall line). Alistair had difficulty flexing knees and hips to 90° while moving the centre of mass into the turn – probably due to his history of weak pole use. Soon however he had the coordination along with the full extension towards the end of the manoeuvre. This exercise has a slightly different timing from the leg retraction we used in carving because the retraction here is being increased or maintained when entering the turn.

The feet are kept in a close stance and legs work in unison – returning to the two footed pivot. In this case what we look for is not a “retraction” but an actual “compression” from the bump itself. At slow speed we don’t get compressed so we have to artificially retract – which doesn’t feel natural. However practicing the timing and applying this in good bumps means that when some speed is possible the compression should happen automatically. Compression / retraction here is more through the whole turn transition – the bump itself giving pressure during a continued flexing instead of an early extension of the legs.

It helps to sometimes allow a retraction of the heels during compression so that the ski tips can be pointed down into the next trough.

Chi Walking

Right at the end of our session at 5pm we had to remove the skis to walk up a short hill – the perfect opportunity to look at Chi Walking – especially as at the bottom of the pistes there was no danger of being driven off the mountain by irritated, overbearing and bad mannered, grim faced French ski patrollers. (as frequently does happen!)

The reason for looking at Chi Walking is because Core Activation is derived from the principles of this correct mechanics of walking. I have adapted the key aspects to fit it to skiing (in some very counterintuitive ways) and hence solved the major issue of how to protect the lower back (having had major surgery twice now on the spine myself there is a high level of motivation in this direction on my part!). Learning to walk this way creates the opportunity to practice and develop the correct awareness and mechanics at all times – all year. Running is totally enhanced by the same process – but it takes a lot more time to evolve the new skills. (many years!) With walking the key changes are instantaneous.

Alistair took about 5 minutes to “get it” and then felt how it was much easier walking uphill. I’ll not go into the details of Chi Walking detail because there is a dedicated page to it here: http://www.skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/chiskiing.html

Barefoot – “Road Runner”

Later this evening I went for a 10k run with minimalist (barefoot style) trail shoes and used Chi Running technique. Having been working from the core with skiing – focusing on teaching this – I found myself copying the exact same actions and sequence of motion when running. The difference when running is that the leg extends behind when the hip goes backwards. Working from the core outwards I found myself controlling the adductor muscles, aligning the leg and controlling the foot (in this order) so as to avoid dropping the forefoot and landing on the outside edge of the foot. I thought about how the “barefoot” shoes are an incredible help for accessing corrective feedback through the feet and how in skiing this is so similar to the importance of avoiding supportive foot-beds. It’s just unfortunate that there is no way to remove the heels from ski boots. Heels are only any use for catching stirrups in horse riding – being the reason they were originally invented – otherwise they are a pure disruptive nonsense.

When running, one key aspect is lifting the heel up high behind. This works along with the pulling forwards of the knee and hip – altogether - like a pulley system. Get if right and it feels like “Road Runner” with the foot literally giving the sensation of going in a circle behind the body. When done correctly it feels effortless like a well oiled ball bearing. In a very real way the “leg retraction” in skiing is the same act of profound muscle relaxation and efficiency. During the run I could feel how the effective mechanics caused the spine to be erect and the glutes and lower back muscles to be both active and supportive. This reminded me of the upright body of Michael Johnson the 400m legend – now I understand what’s going on here! (at least some of it!)

Nutrition

Teaching and skiing all day, with having to think deeply, creatively and coherently…  Remembering every detail, without tiredness or energy swings… Driving one hour each way to the mountain and back then writing and editing a complex blog – can probably only be properly handled when on a ketogenic diet. My breakfast was at 6:00 am and the next food was at 7:00 pm – with no hunger, a very clear head and and no physical or mental fatigue.

When on the mountain the temptation is to eat sugary energy bars, stodgy lunches and sugary or alcoholic drinks. This is not only destroying the energy levels in the body but the clarity of the mind – yet carb addiction makes it practically impossible to do otherwise. We get away with it for a while when young – perhaps! Perhaps not! If only people knew – the best drug on the market is 100% natural – ketones! Made from fat! 

Part of the key to good metabolism is “Cold Adaptation”. Simply allowing the body to experience cold – over the period of a few weeks - boosts fat metabolism and develops the capacity for Cold Thermogenesis. Thermogenesis (spontaneous heat production) is conventionally attributed to food – protein giving a high rate of heat production. However at a more profound level the body adapts properly to the cold only in the absence of carbohydrates (summer food) and the absence of round-the-clock central heating and warmth. Tolerance for the cold rises dramatically and sensitivity to pain is greatly reduced.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Leen Day 4 - feeling the rhythm!

This morning Leen reported having picked up speed and frightened herself yesterday afternoon. No crash or damage but just a scary loss of control. Leen had never felt any fear while skiing with me and so was surprised at this arising. Yesterday however when filming our final video clip with Leen finding her own line down the hill I saw her tendency to pick up speed and referred to it at the end of the blog entry under “Choosing a Line”.

Rather than go through revision I decided to use our time to work on issues that would resolve the tendency to lose control as rapidly as possible. I wasn’t really sure of the cause – other than pure lack of experience on skis – but due to Leen’s excellent response to coaching we did rapidly manage to resolve the issue. I never quite got around to discussing “line” itself because I followed an intuition signalling to me that the problem was either due to tension or some technical weakness – or more likely a combination of the two – rather than an inability to read the mountain and terrain. After all the terrain was very basic and we had skied it together many times – so experience of choosing a line wasn’t really the problem.

We worked on the following fundamental elements:

Active Legs

Dynamics (End of Turn)

Upper/Lower Body Integration

Rhythm

Active Legs

Jumping

Tension is paralysing! Yesterday on video we could see that Leen’s legs were not moving very much and there was quite a lot of tension present – even when skiing fully in control of speed. When Leen was trying to work on choosing her own route she forgot to focus on her skiing movements and this caused her to lose the dynamics at the start of the turn – sometimes stemming the uphill ski outwards – and accelerating too much downhill making it difficult for her to get the body into the turn from then on and control the rest of the turn. The extra tension from route finding was enough to cause emotional actions to take over and the Centre of Mass was no longer able to direct the turn.

To begin to address the tension issue I wanted to make Leen aware of how static her legs really were. This is absolutely normal at this stage of skiing development. On flat terrain with skis off I asked Leen to jump – by bending first at the knees and hips (not the ankles) and extending the legs straight while in the air to really launch the Centre of Mass upwards – landing by flexing the legs again for softness.  With both poles in the ground and shoulders fixed facing forwards the feet were swung in one direction then the other. This was then repeated with skis on. Landing pressure should be near the midfoot – just in front of the heel – as this causes a reflexive strengthening of the ankle.

The jumping was then repeated when sliding slowly forwards on skis – but this time by swinging the skis into the turn and jumping several times. The aim was to get used to freely jumping while sliding. Loosening the legs and body up like this is a great way to unlock and release tension. Simply being aware of the need to make the legs work is something that all beginner skiers are required to learn.

I explained that this jumping was exactly like the pivoting that we worked on two days previously – the same mechanics but with the skis airborne! Everything had to work inwards towards the turn centre. I demonstrated a 180° mid air swing of the skis, which is an extreme and more athletic move that might be required when stuck in a very narrow passage way.

Jumping clearly allowed Leen to take the benefit of the pivoting effect and make her turns much tighter.

Chi Walking

While we were working on the legs and jumping I realised that we could also begin to address “walking” correctly – with all of its incumbent side issues such as posture, alignment, body management (upper/lower body integration) and turn initiation. Leen was able to feel the amazing effect of Chi Walking and how it makes walking uphill effortless. This exercise was being used in order to encourage leg use in general and mainly to work on Leen’s tension. The real relevancy of the subject was being saved for later when we could bring it into skiing directly. There is a summary of the subject here under ChiSkiing… http://www.skiinstruction.blogspot.fr/p/chiskiing.html

Jumping to represent the preparation of a turn from a traverse or the conclusion/end of a turn.

Applying the jumping to skiing I wanted Leen to see the jump as being from a traverse – by bending and then springing up – mainly getting the jump from the lower ski. If turns were going to be linked without a traverse then the jump would be considered the last part of a turn – the coming up out of the turn.

Leen’s tendency at first was to allow the turn to begin and then try to jump. This mistake makes the jump happen at the beginning of a turn and causes a loss of control. It only took a short while to sort this out and Leen was soon jumping at the correct time – before the skis were heading off downhill.

Dynamics (End of Turn)

Using the lift of the ski from the end of the turn

We had not just been working on making the legs active – there was another more important purpose behind this work. Until now we had only worked on the dynamics for going into a turn – but I had never mentioned the dynamics required for getting back out of a turn. Visualising a motorbike falling over to go into a turn – we also see that it has to come back up out of the turn. Skiing is exactly the same – only it’s on a slope and that seems to confuse everybody! It’s the lifting power of the ski the brings you up through the end of a turn – partly due to the effect of resisting gravity being maximum at the end of the turn and partly due to the ski/slope geometry increasing the edging angles. This power needs to be used constructively and the use of the legs – not quite jumping but just standing up instead – helps this to work to lift the body up to complete the turn. The skier is obviously then going to find it easy to then stand on the uphill ski as the centre of mass has already come out of the existing turn (skier now perpendicular to the slope instead of vertical).

Leen managed this very well and on the video she can be seen working with this new aspect of dynamics and gaining even more control over the tightness of her turns – without actually jumping. What started off as a jumping exercise has evolved into improved dynamics and an improved understanding of skiing.

Upper/Lower Body Integration

Applying Chi Walking to skiing – protecting the back and facilitating the turn initiation.

First of all we had to correct Leen’s posture with appropriate pelvic tilt and relaxation of the hip joints. The pelvis had to be tilted up to allow a reflexive contraction of her abdomen when the body is under load (getting her to pull upwards against my body weight).

First of all I demonstrated classic “upper/lower body separation” with the hip coming around the turn (shoulders not turning) and showed how the ribs compress against the pelvis. This problem is amplified if a skier stems or pushes out the outside ski and creates a problem which is commonly referred to as “hip rotation”.

Next I showed how by actively pulling the hip backwards (left hip if turning right) the space between the ribs and pelvis was stretched instead of compressed. The hip is moving relative to the upper body in the opposite direction now. This activates the core muscles and protects the body – plus it makes turn initiation much easier. Leen skied with this and immediately felt the turns became more flowing. When videoing it however – despite all of this improvement she picked up too much speed again and momentarily lost all the technical advantages she had been developing. This however exposed the fact that the initial control problem still remained. When tension built up and stemming took over the loss of control was still present.

Centring

One interesting point cropped up with the Upper/Lower body Integration. The pulling back of the hip activates the adductor muscles by re-aligning the leg – making it clear that commencing the action from the body centre (core muscles) is the best way to control the adductors and the rolling of the foot. Not only were we directing the Centre of Mass but all our actions were focused on beginning from this centre.

Rhythm

Control over speed.

I realised now that everything else had been eliminated the reason for Leen’s loss of control was that she was still unable to link turns using her dynamics. Control over speed comes from rhythm and racing is all about  rhythm and rhythm changes for this reason. (Slalom racing regulations stipulate a maximum of 6 turns of the same rhythm and minimum of 3). Now that we had developed dynamics for both going in and out of a turn it would be an easy step to develop rhythm. Using a demonstration of the “Hanger turn” I showed Leen an exaggerated version of finishing a turn completely on the lower ski – coming over the top of it and and changing to the new outside ski on the next turn quite late.

The goal was to avoid a traverse and instead make one turn flow directly into the next – using the energy from one turn to flow into the next. It’s this easy of entry into the “next” turn that really controls the speed. The final part of the video for today shows Leen linking turns with a good rhythm and looking fluid and active. This is truly excellent by any standards for only the 4th morning on skis!

Leen’s previous loss of control had been due to her only having the choice of either turning slowly and traversing or going slightly faster and trying to link turns without the full set of dynamics and understanding of rhythm – generating tension, stemming and loss of dynamics instead. The added pressure of her focusing on route finding was the catalyst for it all to fall apart. Bear in mind that most people would not normally be concerned with such problems at this stage because they would still be stuck in a horrible snowplough and not linking nice parallel turns in a good rhythm! Leen did not have the defensive mechanisms of the snowplough or deliberate stemming to rely on for security so her tension when encountering uncertainty was fully understandable. Understanding and feeling rhythm should sort this out in a constructive way.