Thursday, May 14, 2015

Les Trois Cols 2015

100% Keto Racing

Today was going to be my first pure ketogenic race – with no carbohydrate drinks or any food at all for that matter during the event – only plain water. Having participated in the 2013 version of the event (Les Trois Cols), at which time I was obliviously addicted to carbohydrates, there would be a great opportunity for comparison.

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Stress

True to form, with Chris as a companion there was a significant amount of stress in the build up to the race. Now that I know to expect this it’s much easier to ignore. The evening before we arrived at the race registration building at 7:57pm just 3 minutes before closure when they were packing up and just managed to get our timing chips and numbers for the race in the morning. At least this spared us the horrible queuing process in the morning – which was just as well because despite a relatively late morning start (9am) we were about to end up at the sharp end of the stress zone again as usual. Chris had a couple of plastic bottles with glucose liquid in his pocket and shortly after starting the drive from the hotel to the race start he felt the liquid leaking through his clothing. Nothing is more distracting when driving than goop flowing through your clothing and all over the seat so this then provoked the missing of a turn off and getting lost. My Sony Z1 telephone GPS came to the rescue rapidly as the car GPS system was not so great and we made it there with 5 minutes to spare after getting the bikes ready. Chris was on the long 150km course and I was on the short 100km course and the long course start was 15 minutes earlier at 8:45am. Once Chris was gone I decided to make use of a handy public toilet right there on location. It was one of those awkward “hole in the ground” French jobs that you can’t easily squat on with cleated shoes. (Even worse with ski boots on!) I needed to go because I was having an attack of the “runs” and so this was a great opportunity to deal with it. Cycling bibs require you to remove your shirt and in this case place it on the ground – near the door entrance. Half way through the operation the lights went out completely and I couldn’t find the switch. I probably even missed the target not being used to squatting. Before opening the door I pushed the button for the water to clean the toilet but it came out explosively and soaked my feet even though I was standing already at a distance. The flood surged forwards and I just managed to grab the shirt and telephone before they were soaked – only my right foot being drenched. Finally getting out of that room I was glad to see that everything was still clean and more or less intact. I’d not have thought it was possible to have any more stress after Chris had gone but somehow it was just continuing. Next thing is that my ANT+ cardio system seemed to be picking up everybody else’s signal instead of mine – so my heart reading was not displaying the same on the telephone app as it was on my watch (Mio Fuse Optical wrist HRM). It seemed to dump the signal from the Fuse and take the signal from whoever else was closest. Still, it was too close to the start of the race to mess with anything. ANT+ is not supposed to do this. I could have switched to Bluetooth 4.0 but that could have brought another set of problems so I didn’t bother even trying. In the end I only forgot two relatively minor things – sunscreen and anti-friction cream for the bottom. I had two full water bottles – with just plain water - and this turned out to be perfect for the 100km permitting me to go to the end without stopping.

The 100km course had two main climbs the first of which would be timed. Overall climbing was claimed to be around 1700m. The mountains to the South West of Lyon (Le Tour de Salvagny) are considered “middle mountains”. They aren’t as high or steep as the Alps and the altitude in general is lower with the temperature higher. The course was changed from the 88km course two years before but the new course is a better distance and with more climbing as it used to be only 1300m.

 

Race

The start of a race is always tough. You always think that if you start near the front it will help – but catching up with them by slipstreaming others fighting their way forwards is probably no more difficult than just trying to hold on with the guys up front anyway. Those races always start out full bore – probably with a bunch of dopers in front. My start was a bit slow as I was quite far back in the crowd due to the distractions that had been occupying my attention up until that point. When we got going I started my own clock on the start line and then set about catching up.

Ever since going ketogenic I’ve missed the “carb buzz” that carb loading had provided at the start of any race. Basically the carb buzz appears to let you start off strongly without even warming up. Today the lack of a warm up was really evident as the legs just felt like they were partially seizing up. This feeling is now normal for me as it happens in every training session. Perhaps some people are like this even when loaded up with carbs but I never used to feel any need for a warm up before. Prior to the race I’d managed 19 consecutive days of training alternating daily between running and cycling. The entire time I’d felt tired during training – though once in running there was a fast and strong performance. There had been one or two strong cycling days too but most training was in a slightly fatigued state. I’d chosen to have a rest day on the 20th day – the day before the race. Already by evening of that day the legs were starting to feel like they had some strength so it seemed that the actual race might not be the total nightmare I was anticipating.

In the event it only took ten minutes or so for the legs to be warmed up and for my heart rate to be in the anaerobic zone (160+ bpm). That just doesn’t happen unless you are properly recovered and ready. The first 31km would just be a non stop battle of catching up and trying to hold on to a fast group. This included the first timed climb which I managed in 21’23” and came 33rd in age category out of 78. There was a constant problem caused by catching up with the group just as one or two were dropping off the back. I’d then be stuck with the guys falling off the back and have to begin the solo struggle all over again – or just ignore them completely and continue alone. Eventually the group whittled down to nine and then five. The final five were flying and I went with them for the next 20km – never going in front. There were two riders in front of me who were terrible at cornering – a guy and an girl. They would slow down on the bend and then sprint to catch up with the others. Constant accelerations were killing me so in the end I had to force past them to ensure a better line and less loss of speed.

When we arrived at the second of the two main climbs I was a bit shocked to find myself dropping all of the others. Normally it’s the complete opposite and I’m the one who is dropped. This turn of events was completely unexpected. However, just before the end of the climb there was a brief plateau and descent and the others caught me up – my strength beginning to fade now. There was no “energy” crisis and I wasn’t hungry but physical tiredness was creeping in and the power to stay with the others was waning. The difference wasn’t great but when they took about 100m on me during the last bit of the climb I couldn’t recover the gap. From then on until the end this would be my mode – a reduced power setting. The body wasn’t doing this to conserve fuel or tyres as in Formula One but to conserve some physical homeostasis that can probably be best related to a lack of training and mileage. In total I've only accumulated 1067km on the bike this year and 380km running. What saves me is that most of the cycling has been on climbs.

From then on there was a small collection of individuals who seemed to come and go around me. Each had a strong point and weakness. Some were light and so good climbers and others would struggle on the climbs or descents and then be strong on the flats. The net result was that most of the time there was somebody either in front of me for slipstreaming or someone behind getting a much needed tow.

About 8km from the end there was a sharp turn with a sign saying 14% gradient. This would destroy anyone who didn’t have a decent climbing gear ratio available (as was the case for Chris!). The climb was not terribly long in real terms though it felt interminable as most torture probably does. That climb didn’t do me a lot of favours and then I started to lose some of the guys around me as they pulled ahead. Then around 4km from the end I came around a tight corner to the sight of a whole bunch of guys stuck at a closed level railway crossing. Fortunately I was only cornered there for a minute but they had been held up long enough for me to catch up and there were not many people directly behind me for them to be able to catch up too. I certainly came out of that glitch well and had recovered enough with the minute long break to be able to go ahead and stay ahead of most of them all the way to the end. There was nobody chasing me to the finish line.

 

Results Comparison

2013 88k, 1300m climb, 3hrs 20’, 26.4 kph, Hr Avg 158, Max 174, GC 209 / 251, Age cat 37 / 55

2015 99k, 1700m climb, 3hrs 34’, 27.8 kph, Hr Avg 159, Max 183, GC 258 / 382, Age cat 41 / 78

5.5% Speed increase.

17% General Category improvement.

15% Age Category improvement.

 

Conclusion

There are so many factors involved in racing that it’s almost impossible to draw any accurate conclusions. The main interest here was whether or not the long term ketogenic diet was having a positive effect or not. Well, a 5.5% increase in speed is very significant. It’s for certain that if all the signs were towards poorer results it would be the ketosis that would automatically receive the blame – so it might as well in this case receive the credit.

My only consumption during the race was plain tap water – with two 600ml bottles. There was no need to stop for refills despite temperatures up to 25°C in the sun. Breakfast at 7am had been a high fat ketogenic meal and nothing was eaten during the race or post race (until 6pm). There was no hunger or energy dip experienced.

My ketosis level before the race was a BAC (body acetone concentration)  of 0.04%. After the race for 3 days this went up to 0.05%.

There were no cramps, leg pains, abdominal discomforts, bottom irritation, back pains, neck/shoulder pains or any of the usual problems that can arise during a long race.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference for me was a constant positive state of mind throughout the race. There were no dips in morale and it was all enjoyable and competitive. There were a few moments of shared teamwork with strangers and a great atmosphere altogether.

Long term ketosis isn’t only a dietary state – it’s an epigenetic mode. The aim is to modify the external environment – food supply, exercise circadian cycles and temperature – so as to influence the cellular environment (hence altering hormones). In response to the cellular environment changes there is an alteration of the DNA molecule. DNA code doesn’t change – it isn’t re-written! The code is simply interpreted differently – some genes being switched off and other switched on. This switching alters the state of the DNA molecule. Some foods manage to do this very rapidly – such as coffee! Coffee causes a cascade of events resulting in a massive production of the body’s own antioxidants. The upshot is that when in long term cold adapted ketosis you feel like you are in a different body – especially if you are previously used to carbohydrates and addicted to the energetic “buzz”. Getting used to this new system is not necessarily easy (even after adaptation). Most of the apparent performance benefits of ketosis are not immediately obvious. High carb comfort eating is also paralleled by high carb comfort sports performance – giving the illusion of fitness while simultaneously leading the body towards rapid degeneration. Ease off on the exercise and stay with the carbs addiction and you end up like Maradona with half your stomach being cut out to control your weight. There’s plenty of well paid doctors around willing to cut you apart – rather than just tell you the obvious – to dump the sugar and wheat.

If there is an apparent absence of elite medal winners in ketosis it’s perhaps due to two things. First of all the ketogenic athlete probably won’t be doping. Secondly the vast pool of athletes from which natural selection is taking place is vastly inclined towards selection from the sugar consuming population. Those with real talent in a ketogenic state may simply remain completely hidden and they may never even know it.

Last year due to misleading information – particularly on the part of Dr Fuhrman and other “low fat” vegan medical protagonists – I lost a lot of excess body weight through fasting each week and then returning to a low fat/high carb diet. This meant my body was never in ketosis. Ketosis is a natural antioxidant state wich protects the heart and major organs while at the same time protecting muscle from wasting in a fasting state. During the summer last year I lost 30lb in weight but saw absolutely no performance improvement in cycling – even for climbing. Weight loss in the low fat/high carb mode is a complete disaster. Had I remained with this disturbingly difficult diet on a restricted caloric level afterwards not only would it have been seriously difficult I would have given up for sure and due to all the muscle loss all the fat would have returned but very little muscle. Fortunately I became wise to this nonsense (which I now believe is a deliberate misguidance) and found out about ketosis. Over the winter ketosis prevented any more muscle wastage, allowed excellent dietary and weight control without caloric restriction, suffering or more muscle loss. Now that Spring is here and Summer is arriving it appears possible to properly rebuild the muscle lost last year – without all the fat reappearing. I may even fast on occasion but when in a fully adapted ketogenic state – to protect muscle tissue. When training I’m noticing that I have an impulse to train every day – even when a bit tired. Science shows that training in a fatigued state is every bit as beneficial for final performance as training in a fully recovered state. When on carbohydrates I felt forced to take at least two rest days per week. After this race the following day it was snowing and miserable but I had no great trouble getting out for a 10k run. The run wasn’t fast but the legs felt good. Next day on the bike – same thing! The legs, body and morale felt great – even though in recovery mode it was still impossible to raise the heart rate. Even on the third day, when running felt better, heart rate was still relatively low. It should take about 4 days for recovery from a hard race anyway – but it’s nice to be able to exercise your way through this period. (4th day I did manage to get back up to 160 bpm on the bike)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Luke 5

The sun was shining, the air was cold and the snow was fresh so today was Off Piste day – not a technical session. This would be the opportunity to take advantage of all the hard technical work.

Leonie was physically tired from yesterday and so was stiff and tentative on her first off piste run but soon loosened up and recovered her confidence. Both Luke and Leonie had a re-calibrated set of goals now and so were actively self-correcting and letting me know each time they became aware of something new.

Luke

Luke figured out that he was weak on his right foot (due to past foot pain) and that contributed to his frequent failure to stand on that foot at the start of the turn. However he appeared to suffer much less metatarsal pain now since avoiding the collapse of the ankle and this was allowing him to experiment. Luke also gradually managed to relax his outside leg more instead of locking it at the hip – however all the flexion appears to be at the hip and almost none at the knee. This development however did allow him to control his turn radius and speed better. The first off-piste video clip shows how the rigid leg caused an uncontrolled acceleration – and the second clip shows far improved dynamics, range of motion and control of rotation. This still didn’t prevent a brief lapse of concentration from ending up with crossed skis (weight back) and a proper face plant. Luke skied hard and was completely wiped out by the end – despite eating an extra pain au chocolat.

 

 

Leonie

Leonie made amazing progress and once she had loosened up manage to bring rhythm and dynamics into her skiing on steeper off-piste. Her range of motion with the legs changed dramatically – with a good reduction of her (until now) chronic passive rotation (tractor turns). This is exactly what we had been aiming for.

Even more impressively Leonie coped emotionally with steep sections and didn’t once freeze up. She explained that clearly understanding the pivot had made a great difference to her confidence.

I’d explained that the pivot is for braking – always staying on the uphill edges of the skis and using the pole to hold back and control acceleration from gravity. This way of skiing is directly in the fall line and can involve jumping when the snow is not good or it is too steep or narrow. Serious steepness still requires some dynamics even for pivoting because the angle of the slope will prevent a change of edge anyway. In addition on the steep it’s best to retract the feet beneath the body in jump turns – to buy more time to swing the skis around – and to avoid excessive bouncing. We used jump turning today in tricky steep snow and Leonie negotiated it well. (Full dynamics – passing through the perpendicular and changing edges before starting the new turn develops more acceleration and is used in racing or off piste in snow where pivoting is impossible. The speed would be exclusively controlled through the line/direction of the turn.)

It would have been better if Leonie had managed a closer stance for a two footed pivot  - but the stance did generally narrow down naturally by itself as the legs softened and rotation came under control.

 

 

 

 

Back on the piste everyone was tired and Ella, who joined us after lunch, was recovering from a very late night out. Slightly sloppy skiing from everyone was acceptable with the general level of tiredness so there is nothing to criticise in the following video. Ella’s knee felt better when she remembered to pull everything “inwards”.

Both Leonie and Luke had better control over the downhill hip position on this tricky descent than in the previous couloir…

Spindrift due to wind at high altitude….

When waiting for Luke and Leonie to catch me up after a short stretch of hiking I was taking photographs of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley when there was a rumble and roar – obviously an avalanche somewhere – purely by chance my camera was pointing directly towards it…

Conclusion: A successful day!

(All music in the videos - Afro Celt Sound System – naturally.)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Luke 4

We started the day heading towards the glacier to try to break through the fog. The first run from the top of Solaise down the “L” gully would be a warm up and opportunity to revise and consolidate technique. After this run – we took the chairlift from the bottom of the “L” up to above the mid station at Le Fornet and then proceeded to ski down off piste – starting out on excellent snow and being able to pivot freely – but then ending up in dense fog and unable to safely advance. Due to my familiarity with the terrain we escaped without any lost time and made it back onto the piste without incident.

Feet

Inside the Signal restaurant with boots off we set about looking at how to use the feet properly. When standing facing me in socks and when asked to bend Luke bent his ankles and pushed his pelvis forwards locking the hip joints. It’s safe to say this was happening in his skiing too – with the weight on the front of the feet and the ankles collapsing. First of all I asked Luke to stand on his heels (toes still touching the floor) and then bend – with no weight shifting to the fronts of the feet. This forces the bending to take place at the knees and hips – causing the ankle joint to stiffen and the anterior tibialis to contract. From this stance the subtaler joints can be used beneath the ankles to rock the feet – in this case both onto their inside edges. While moving the bottom over to one side to place it on a bench (during the exercise) this showed Luke’s hip to once again be locked up. Actually relaxing the hip and sitting on the bench freed up the joint. This is the sort of freedom and relaxation required at the hip joints.

Off Piste

Off piste in good snow in the Pay’s Dessert Luke managed to ski some deep soft snow very well – with a good rhythm and improved mechanics. Leonie also managed well – perhaps her best yet. Unfortunately in the following video the snow was not as nice and this threw both Luke and Leonie back into survival mode and old habits. Luke is locking his hips and rotating into the turn, weight back. Leonie is just following the skis  (passive rotation) and losing rhythm and has the skis too far apart to make a stable platform. Basically neither Luke not Leonie are using enough range of movement in the legs and hips. Correcting this would become the main focus of the rest of the session.

The window of opportunity for off piste was quickly over as fog once again engulfed us. With Luke’s problems proving intractable and  Leonie struggling to break through to the next level the focus returned to technique for most of the day. (The last hour and a half of the day provided a lot of skiing where this work could be applied and appreciated)

Hips

It was apparent that both Luke and Leonie had trouble at the hip joints – but with some different issues. Luke was locking up the hips and Leonie was rotating. I first tried a skating exercise  - skating straight downhill - but saw that it was going nowhere so changed plan immediately. We did a static exercise instead with skis off – right leg planted in the snow facing downhill – left leg placed behind the body and swung forwards in an arc – wile the hip was pulled backwards. This provides the full range of feeling of the leg completely changing from pointing outwards behind the body to inwards in front of the body and terminating with sinking down low driving the centre of mass down and into the imaginary turn ( simulating building up pressure before the very end of the turn).

Despite this exercise providing the full range of motion required at the hip joints it didn’t have a noticeable effect when returning to skiing.

Dropping Into a Turn

I explained that relaxation at the hip can be used to simply drop down the centre of mass rapidly into a turn at the initiation. The relax/drop action is rapidly met with a reactive pressure from the outside ski despite the initial moment of free-fall. This exercise seemed to be understood but had minimal results for the time being.

Short Swings

We worked a little on jumping on the spot – but Luke had a tendency to bend in preparation by bowing with a hollowed lower back and poor posture – instead of using the quads (as when indoors working on the feet). I explained that the jump was the end of a turn or traverse (not the start) and the subsequent swinging of the skis downhill would be just a mid-air pivot. Initially we did this just to make turn transitions but then the idea was to link the jumps with no hesitation almost in a bouncing action.

Leonie’s initial attempt at linked short swings was revealing as there was no pole use at all – which fits her main limiting issue currently – being unable to sink appropriately into the turn (thus avoiding rotation).

Luke’s attempts brought us closer again to fully understanding his anomalies – because he was clearly trying to pivot his skis around an axis somewhere towards the tails of the skis – so the tips were coming up high in the air and a strong active rotation of the body was being used. This issue clearly stems from many years of defensive leaning back and then forcing the skis around with a whole body rotation.

Leonie improved when making a determined effort to get down and over her ski pole and Luke worked at trying to bring his pivot axis forwards – also helped by determined pole use.

Pressurising the fronts of the skis

To help Luke discover the turning power of the fronts of the skis we played about with stance – hanging in the fronts of the ski boots. This was tried both by standing up on the balls of the feet (extended ankle) and when on the heels. We took this into “rocking” fore/aft during the turn – beginning the turn by tilting forwards onto the fronts of the feet and skis – and ending by coming back onto the heels. Gradually Luke started to feel that his skis actually had a front half that could be used for something.

Core Activation – upper/lower body separation

Leonie revealed – due to hip pain – that she was somehow falling short of understanding the “chi-hips”. It’s clear that Leonie also has trouble maintaining posture and neutral pelvis – which is probably why the issue became confusing. The pelvis must be held (usually up at the front) in “neutral” to allow the pressure reflexes from the feet to trigger contraction of the deep abdominal muscles and muscles surrounding the spine. Those reflexes cause a hydraulic sac to compress around the spine which then distributes any vertical shock load over this entire cross-section instead of just through the spinal column. When the hip is correctly primed – pulled back – there is an even more intense contraction of the abdomen.

When I altered the emphasis of my description Leonie could finally see the correct action. Taking the rib cage and immobilising that in space the idea is to allow the entire pelvic basin to rotate beneath. This twists the spine slightly up to the ribs (12th thoracic vertebra) – which is the true location of upper/lower body separation.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Luke 3

Off Piste

After a warm up on the bottom part of the Face we immediately took advantage of the new layer of fresh powder on the Bellevarde plateau. The reason we have been working hard on technique is to enable real skiing – in real snow – just like this.

Ella immediately panicked at the idea of going off piste – but the fresh snow was perfect for pivoting and the base beneath had frozen during the night and was solid. Unfortunately I had woken during the night with a headache and this translated into a slightly grumpy mood – so Ella didn’t receive much sympathy and was told to just get on with it. Everyone skied well in the powder – including Ella – so hopefully this should contribute to increasing her self-confidence.

Both Ella and Leonie were also given a hard time for constantly snowploughing when getting on and off the chairlifts – the most certain way to guarantee having the feet taken from under you and to end up with a snapped ACL. Mr Grumpy was on a roll…. 

We had to take advantage of the snow and weather opportunity so there was no time at this point for technique – but everyone had a good enough level to be able to gain useful experience and to enjoy the snow (for the most part!).

…. anyway when Luke finally did manage to ski a steeper and slightly deeper pitch he reverted to survival mode (start of video clip) – mainly due to not being able to see anything at all due to very poor contrast. The reality is that there is still a lot of work required on technique – so after a drinks break and with the weather starting to close in we shifted back to focusing on technique.

Revision

Luke was able to remember some of the key points that we had worked on yesterday – but revealingly, not all of them! There were several bits missed out. The problem here is that it’s a complete system: Stand up on the uphill leg – uphill edge – pulling the hip backwards – realigning the leg and pulling inwards with the adductor muscles – rolling the foot onto its inside edge – moving the centre of mass into the new turn.

Our goal was just to practice this mindfully for a moment on the piste to get back to where we were yesterday – before moving on.

Inside Ski Pivot

Our off piste adventure demonstrated to me that everyone needed to move the pivoting skills forward so as to have a two footed platform – but in order to get there we would first of all have to develop the “Inside Ski” pivot. The pivot is made from the lower ski which is on its uphill edge. The foot is rolled onto its uphill edge too – this shows that the adductors always pull inwards towards the centre of the body – not the centre of the turn. The turn itself is controlled by the motion of the centre of mass – with the ski pole preventing gravity from taking over. Initially the task is to stop the ski changing edge too early but the hardest part is finishing the turn on the ski after the edge change because most people fail to keep moving the centre of mass inwards to compensate for the change in geometry, edge angles and relation to gravity. In fact the exercise is also a very useful lesson in dynamics and how to work the centre of mass through the turn.

Two Footed Pivot (Close Stance)

Going from being able to pivot on the inside ski to coordinating two skis together as a single platform is now very easy to do.  The goal is to use the adductor muscles now to keep the feet and skis close together – this provides a wide flotation platform for soft snow. The close stance is also very important for bump skiing where the if the feet become separated the body can be tossed around unpredictably. This was also the problem everyone had been having off piste with the outside ski sinking in and pulling the body out of the turn inappropriately. The close stance corrects such issues.

Ella managed this very well off piste showing significant improvement. Later on when she became too tired and lost concentration this all disappeared and she reverted to pushing out her skis again with a wider stance.

Two Footed Pivot (Wide Stance)

When using two footed pivoting for direct fall line skiing on a narrow piste it’s far better to use a wide stance – each ski pivoting independently but simultaneously. This way the real work is being done by the outside ski which takes nearly all of the pressure and the legs can turn independently in each hip socket giving greater freedom of movement.

Dynamics (End of Turn)

Moving away from the pivot to dynamic flowing turns we continued yesterday’s work with Luke on “end of turn” dynamics – passing the body over the lower ski to complete the turn. I supported each person in turn physically moving the body (stationary) into perpendicular over the lower ski. When there is significant forward momentum this is how dynamics have to be employed to efficiently enter into the following turn on the inside edge of the outside ski. This is a major key to racing and for skiing off piste in difficult snow (when the ski cannot pivot) where it  guarantees success in starting each subsequent turn – but requires great commitment. I wanted everyone to have this option for future off piste skiing and for going into the slalom course at some point. Luke required it also for ensuring he would make the turn on his right hip correctly – however this eventually stopped working when his left foot developed a very painful metatarsal arch and he simply could not stand on the leg properly. This then revealed the real reason (the feet) why he could not support the end of the turn properly on his left leg (leading to a big rotation to compensate when initiating the following turn to the left).

Working the Centre of Mass (Purposeful Turning)

To control the turn speed and feel the correct build up of pressure Leonie had to work on using the hip angulation to sink into the turn during the second half of the turn – building up pressure – to then use this to come back up and out over the downhill ski. The shape of the turn and work with the centre of mass has function – which gives control of speed.

Inside Leg – Outside edge

When skiing at higher speed with longer arcs – or carving – its important to still use the inside edges of both feet – even though this means that when inclined the inside ski will be on its outside edge – but the inside edge of the foot. Leonie clearly understood this. I was asking her to do this to prevent her edging the inside ski with the outside edge of her foot – which was artificially widening her stance in a manner that blocked her centre of mass from moving freely inwards.

Foot Mechanics

Luke’s painful metatarsal arch indicated to me that he was collapsing his ankles during the turns and relying on the ski boots for support. I first of all checked his alignment – which was fine – then re-explained how the feet work. Pressure should be focused beneath the ankle – front of the heel. This allows the anterior tibialis to contract (muscle next to the shin bone) and lock up the ankle joint so that the leg supports itself ( along with the active use of muscles in the feet). The foot is then rocked laterally from the subtaler joint beneath the ankle. None of this can function if the weight goes onto the ball of the foot with a flexing ankle. Luke found the sensation completely different – so clearly had not been using the feet correctly. The inappropriate use of and pain in the right foot clearly contributed to the main anomalies in his skiing.

Seated Stance

Right at the end of the session I saw that Luke was now unable to flex his legs effectively when working on his feet – but it was probably just due to pain by this stage. I introduced the seated stance principle regardless – just in case it could help. With skis off we stood facing downhill – sitting but feeling that even on the heels the relaxed legs came firmly against the fronts of the ski boots. This is how is deep snow and bumps we manage to place the centre of mass behind the feet without leaning backwards.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Luke 2

Today was a fairly extensive technical program. The goal was to fix as rapidly as possible all the stemming and rotating issues so we began immediately, taking advantage of the improvement in weather.

One Leg

I decided to start by securing the initiation of the turn on the outside leg. This means standing up strongly on the uphill leg – prior to beginning the new turn. Once standing up on the leg, which raises the lower leg off the snow, you then allow the foot to roll onto its downhill edge as the body falls over into the turn. The ski remains on the uphill edge initially so that it cannot be stemmed in any way. Yesterday we had already started work on feeling the isolation of the edge of the foot and edge of the ski – and how they are separate things. This took practice as nobody was used to the sensation of really standing on the uphill leg to initiate the turn – something which takes commitment and confidence and is somewhat counter-intuitive when plunging down a hill.

The end of the turn is an up motion (bike coming up out of a turn) so you need to stand up on the lower leg at the same time – thus actively stepping onto the uphill leg. It’s a natural walking action. This can also be condensed into perceiving it as a single action – standing strongly on the uphill leg at the start of the turn and then sinking into the turn on it – to stand back up on it again at the end when stepping onto the other leg.

Core Activation

Once everyone was more or less comfortable turning on one leg I decided to move directly to working on activating the core muscles. Not very long ago it came clear to me that the way to communicate this to people is to stand behind them and hold the foot and shoulder while they pull their hip backwards on the same side. Sometimes postural adjustments need to be made but today there wasn’t much time needed on this.

I showed how the pulling back of the hip aligns the leg, activating the adductor muscles and assisting in pulling the foot onto its inside edge. The aim is to do this immediately on standing up on that leg to begin a new turn – and to hold that hip relationship throughout the turn – preventing the damaging action of the hip being rotated around in front of the ribs.

Everyone immediately connected with this new feeling and when skiing down the Face de Bellevarde they all noticed the ease that it brought to the turn transitions.

 

Centring

From this point onwards we were aiming to ski mindfully, focused on the centre of the body and initiating movements from there – both muscular, internal movements and global movements of the body. The first action to make is to pull the hip back when standing on the leg then feel the adductors and foot engage as the centre of mass moves into the new turn.

We spent some time using pivoting to work on awareness of how to direct the centre of mass – always inwards towards the turn centre. There is only centripetal (inwards force) produced when skiing and we have to direct everything inwards to generate this – no stemming or pushing outwards. The centre of mass drives the turn – and the organisation of the body just supports this.

Working from the centre of the body – has the strange effect of also centring the mind and helping to focus internally. Mindful activity is necessary for effective and rapid training and skill development – reprogramming the unconscious mind so that new automatic patterns can take over. Apart from the meditative aspects of centring the mind (removing distractions) there is a whole process initiated leading to perceptions changing and developing on a constant basis. Awareness just grows – and this accelerates over time – apparently endlessly.

When we skied with this aspect of dynamics Leonie managed for a while to identify a resonance – where the skis lifted her back up out of the turn and into the next one. It’s when things start happening to you – instead of you trying to generate them – that you know you are on track! Feedback like this has always served me personally as clear confirmation when working things out.

In the video above Ella is not allowing the turns to develop from standing on the uphill leg solidly. There is a “snatching” and braking then traversing instead of a smooth arc. There is limited leg movement, core activation and dynamics – also indicating a partial failure to form the turn on one leg and shape the turn purposefully by directing the centre of mass.

Leonie is moving well and applying everything that we were working on clearly – but she was not closing her turns and so gained too much speed. We worked on the “line” after this – turning almost uphill to complete the turn and control speed – lifting the centre of mass up and out of the existing turn.

Luke was struggling on his right side with trouble with rotation – though his left side was much better. Once again the turns were not being worked strongly or purposefully.

Off Piste

We explored a little off piste but Ella was feeling a bit too fragile. The feedback from the skis is much more powerful off piste and this can frighten people initially – but all they need to know is that movements need to be amplified to cope with this. Ella’s weakness is currently in dynamics so she just didn’t feel secure and the snow wasn’t forgiving enough to allow for timid dynamics or to facilitate pivoting actions. Tomorrow we will work a little on dynamics directly to prepare everyone for a more aggressive approach with such challenging snow – though the basic mechanics and principles remain unchanged.

Carving

Our final run touched on carving where the Core Activation can be much stronger and more pronounced than in any other aspect of skiing. We didn’t really spend enough time on this but I wanted to show how the lower and upper body integrate through the core much more extensively than we had looked at until now. I used the “plough-carve” exercise to begin to introduce the basic movement pattern and Luke did quite well with this for a first attempt. I won’t cover that here because we will return to that in greater detail again – repeating it a few times over the next few days.

On the final descent I asked Ella to stop adding an automatic “downsink poleplant” because it was preventing her from coordinating the timing with her legs. This is exacerbated when there is a break in rhythm and a traverse added between each turn. When Ella started to link the turns more she was able to stop poorly timed pole planting.

Luke – End of Turn Dynamics

Finishing up the day I skied behind Luke for a while to see what he was doing and saw a large rotation on the right side. This prevented Luke from using any of the technique he was working on for his left turns. My hunch was that this was caused by him naturally avoiding allowing the body to complete the turn by moving freely over the left leg – due to him being right handed. We hadn’t worked on this aspect of dynamics yet – as we had focused mainly on pivoting and internal mechanics. When sliding with forward momentum however pivoting won’t happen so we need more complete dynamics and so I demonstrated to Luke how to move over the lower leg. This immediately cured his rotation problem and allowed him to stand on his right leg correctly.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Luke 1 …work to be done!

Luke, Leonie and Ella returning for a late season long weekend  manage to make it to Val d’Isère in time for a very useful couple of hours skiing  – despite starting the day in the UK at 3:30 am. That’s a pretty good achievement on its own.

We only had a few runs in some fairly poor weather before finding ourselves on the narrow Mattis red run – with its fair share of bumps and ice. Ella had started out afraid due to having missed skiing altogether last year and having recently dislocated a knee. However she soon recovered her confidence during our first few runs on easy pistes. Everyone was challenged by the difficulty of the Mattis run so it was a good idea to video this. Even if with some practice everyone would have skied better the advantage here is that the video captures the main weaknesses very clearly so that they can be identified for working on tomorrow. We are best to strengthen the skiing before considering venturing off-piste.

There are a lot of positives in the skiing  - like good dynamics for instance – but here I’m focusing on the issues that need to be fixed ASAP!

Hip Rotation                                                                                                                                 Stemming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stemming / Weight back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stemming / Weight back / Skis crossed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The common denominator here is the tendency to always try to get the turning ski on its inside edge from the start of the turn – as in a snowplough, stem turn or flowing parallel turn. This doesn’t work well for pivoted turns in bumpy and steep terrain – hence the problems encountered here. For Luke this translates into accelerations which leave him in the back of the ski boots – for Leonie it causes strong hip rotation and big defensive stems and for Ella it causes a loss of control over speed and line.

We need to work on clarifying the necessary skills to overcome those issues – and we will get into that properly tomorrow. Meanwhile the two hours today was used constructively to get Ella her confidence back and to return everyone back to full skiing mode.

To encourage pivoting and to stop everyone trying to systematically feel for the inside edge of the ski at the start of the turn we did one exercise only on pivoting. Standing on the uphill edge of the uphill ski (poles for support) I asked everyone to allow the foot to roll onto its downhill edge inside the boot – separating the edge of the foot from the edge of the ski. This is what allows the ski to be pulled inwards into the new turn – instead of pushed outwards in a stem. The separation of the foot edge and ski edge is critical – but only one component so tomorrow we will work on other supporting aspects of the pivot and how to change perception of the entire process in a way which easy to focus on and repeat.

Monday, March 30, 2015

ZAG Comes Good!

Be careful when buying skis over the internet! I’d purchased a pair of ZAG Bigs at a great price in 2012 from ColoradoDiscountSkis.com – and while had been waiting for them to arrive from the US I ended up on a pair of K2 Kung Fujas – which became my main ski for the next two seasons. The Zag was placed aside for future use and meanwhile I used an old pair of Bigs for teaching and rock bashing – particularly this season due to the severe initial snow shortage. All of this meant that I never really looked closely at the new Bigs when they arrived.

Finally this year I chose a good value set of touring bindings to put on the new Bigs and get them ready for the snow improving. Taking them out for the first time at Tignes I was shocked to see that two of the binding screws were pushing through the base material. Initially this looked like a major mistake by the Ekosport.com technician who had mounted the binding. On taking the ski back to Ekosport the technician eventually spotted that one of the skis had been constructed with the core the wrong way round – so the thick section was near the front instead of under the foot. The only solution was to take them to the ZAG offices in Chamonix.

Initially there was some confused communication with ZAG “after sales service (SAV)” and it looked like a global war was about to start – but after that was sorted out ZAG replaced the skis and shipped them directly to me. The culprit appears to have been a rouge factory in Taiwan which allowed a condemned batch of skis to escape through the back door onto the market. The shop which sold them would have nothing more to do with them and refused all responsibility – citing their standard 14 day returns policy. I’d go along withe that if the skis weren’t put fraudulently on the market – but to be honest this is going a bit too far by the shop. I certainly wouldn’t risk buying anything from that source again. From now on ANYTHING bought online will be thoroughly checked on arrival. Anyway – ZAG were very good in the end and didn’t let me down. Unfortunately the “Big” has been discontinued so the world will in future be deprived of this brilliant design of ski – but if this pair lasts as long as my old ones they will still be in use 10 years from now!

30 cm of fresh snow

30 cm of fresh snow in Le Fornet today – and much more to come! The weather has just decided to be weird this year – now reverting to winter conditions at altitude. Of course – after recent extreme heat we do need the snow to be replenished…. (photo yesterday)

Cycling (Max heart rate confirmed at 188 – increase from 172 !!!!!)

Three days ago I went out on my bike in shorts and racing kit in the cold - first time for 10 days due to circumstances. I felt weak at first and when plodding up to the first km point at a hairpin bend I spotted a fully covered up mountain biker only about 40 m behind and catching me fast. That's always too embarrassing a situation and purely out of ego driven self preservation I instantly stepped on the gas and my heart rate went up from around 140 to 165 average. When you do this the game is to never look back because the guy trying to humiliate you (or driving your own paranoia) and using you as a target will sense that as weakness! Also by never looking back you always imagine the worst - that he is right on your tail - so you just don't ease off. About 30 seconds into this nonsense I was already regretting it as there were still 7.4km left to climb.

Only 6 km later I saw from turning another hairpin that my sustained acceleration had put a full kilometre between us - but now I couldn't ease off because there was the chance of actually getting a good time for a change at the top. As it happens the time was 34:40 - and I think this is the first time I've been back beneath 35' since the 2103 season and all the fasting and diet work last season.

Right at the finish there is a short steep climb so I accelerated up it to the end - as hard as I could sprint. This now confirms my new max heart rate genuinely has moved up to 188 bpm (from 172 early last year) not just for running but also for cycling. I've seen it twice in running but didn't trust it - thinking it might be the wrist strap optical heart rate monitor doing something weird when sprinting - but on the bike the arms aren't flying about like mad. Heart rate max is not supposed to increase at any stage in life - it's only supposed to reduce. I’m attributing this change entirely to the ketogenic diet despite never having heard of such a thing happening. All I know is that the heart is up to 28% more efficient running on ketones.

 

Running

The day following the 188 bpm bike experience I went running in minimalist trail shoes. Once again the body would be suffering from the long layoff so the running muscles would not be in great shape. I wanted to know specifically if the body had recovered from the hard bike ride or not. One issue that’s been concerning me is whether or not stored glycogen in the body plays a positive performance role after a short layoff. If running on this occasion turned out to be a struggle it would imply that the sugar hadn’t had time to replenish on the ketogenic diet – which supplies hardly any carbs. I’m relying on the body itself producing carbs.

Surprisingly this turned out to be the fastest run of the year – 51’29” for 10k – and although this caused muscle pain due to the layoff it demonstrated that performance for me is not dependent on accumulated carbohydrate stores.

Both cycling and running this week made me aware of the need to focus now on the mental side of performance. It’s hard to sustain a strong effort over a long time – and to know that each session it all starts over again. Years of battling with losing fat turn you into a plodder instead of focusing on performance. This year there is no fat to lose!

Skiing

Yesterday’s skiing session was with Gareth – but we spent more time laughing than actually skiing. I tried my old Fischer World Cup parabolic slalom skis and they felt horrible. Gareth was shown some recent evolutions in my teaching – including the “snowplough’ carving/hip-control  exercise I used with Ersin – but his dyslexia prevented him from getting his head around that one on this occasion. We also looked at the complete connection from the centre of the core through the adductors to the foot – then pulling the skis inwards into the turn with the centre of mass.

I physically held Gareth so that he could feel his hip being pulled backwards and not the shoulder or foot. Gareth needed to pull up his pelvis at the front to make this work properly – his posture being unstable.

We also worked on the separation of ski edge and foot edge (inside the ski boot) so that he was more aware of this than previously – because I noticed that he was always searching for his inside edge when initiating a turn. I told him to ignore which edge his ski was on for starting a turn – because it is irrelevant.

This “active adductors and inside of the foot” principle for both legs simultaneously was taken into carving – but the weather began to misbehave and cut the session short.

Ketogenic Bread!

Yes it’s possible to make bread without wheat and with very few carbohydrates.

This recipe (discovered by a friend) is so useful that I’ve decided to post it here:

1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup milled linseed
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

combine the above and then mix in the following:

5 eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil or butter
1/8 cup water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (or balsamic)


Bake for 40 mins at 325F (160C) in a small greased and lined loaf tin until a knife comes out clean.

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.