Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Started yesterday's barefoot run with real enthusiasm - I really looked forward to it - but it was not easy in the end. The first run three days earlier had been great with no pain in the calves. Two days later however there was a mild case of D.O.M.S. (delayed onset of muscle soreness) in the calves but nothing much. Yesterday - third day since the run it felt right to go for another run. Wrong! Ten minutes into the run and it was a case of I.O.M.S - replacing with "D." with "I." for Immediate! Regardless of the pain I kept up the run for 32minutes this time and one day later and the pain has subsided but the legs are tired. It will be interesting to see if I can add more D.O.M.S. to this pain tomorrow. 

There is obviously a muscular imbalance in my legs that this should be happening so perhaps the best approach is to see the barefoot running as a sort of corrective therapy and to let it take as long as it takes to overcome the pains - and to try to stay progressive and avoid the temptation to push too hard.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mental Battle

Amazingly - running "barefoot" yesterday with the Vibrams prevented any nasty calf muscle problems today and so despite having slightly lower energy levels I was able to profit from the remaining sunshine and get out on the bike for a good workout again.

Mental Toughness
It was a mental battle to keep up the effort and compared with three days ago I lost 3'34" on the total 1800m combined ascents, but finished finally only 1'52" behind due to handling the descents much better - getting up to 72kph without bouncing around too much in the saddle and feeling more confident on the hairpin bends.

Heart Rate Training Zones
Starting to get back into looking at performance levels etc. I see that in my Sportstracks training software I've left the heart rate limits based on a 185bpm maximum. That max value was verified several times over the winter using the indoor Tacx trainer and it hasn't budged - but it's a heck of a lot more impressive looking if you choose a much lower max heart rate and so it looks like you are training in all those super high training zones! According to common medical advice I shouldn't push my heart above 168bpm and the "Carmichael Training System Field Test" carried out to the letter - put my max at 173, but in racing and training - with increased fitness it gets more easily up to 185 all the time. It's definitely a confusing issue - but I feel good when at 185 and take care not to over breathe - so this season's training will be based on zones calculated from this figure - and it will be tough!

Pedalling Technique
Sill unable to decide on the right saddle height. had to lower it 10mm to exactly the same height as my Tacx indoor trainer because the first few outings of the season already started to hurt my back. The drop in height has certainly put that problem right. The lower position appears to bring some pedalling advantages but it's hard to say. By dropping the heel on the down-stroke the glutes can be used when climbing and also the ankle can bend and the calves can be used too. This seems to take some strain off the quads and give more power. On the upstroke it's as if the hamstrings can work a bit along with the psoas muscles to contribute to the pull - taking advantage of the leg stretching out more at the bottom of the stroke with the heel being down. last year I just yanked everything up on one side at a time but this was pulling my back apart. Now I just pull the knee towards the chest - and by using all the muscles it feels like a good strong abdominal workout and it's a good feeling. Whether it's optimal for efficiency I haven't a clue.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Barefoot Running

OK, even by my standards this is eccentric! My first ever run on "barefoot" running shoes - the new Vibram FiveFinger "Bilika LS". Not only was I embarrassed at the thought of being seen in them but I was worried that they might be horrible to run in and I might either get hurt or just not be able to run.

My expectations were totally off the mark - they felt great!Although I didn't want to use a heel strike I found that with the flat shoe the foot naturally avoided landing on the heel and there was no need to try to run on the balls of the feet at all - it just happens. I had set out to run for only 5 minutes as a test but did a full 20 minutes actually running on gravel and loose stones and that was no obstacle at all. It just felt great to have the feet so light and unencumbered yet strangely safe and protected. Running felt very much more natural than in any other shoe I've ever worn.

No they are not ballet shoes - they are real men's running shoes!

The biggest surprise to me was that running "barefoot" is so natural. That sounds a bit daft really because I think we should expect it to be natural. It seems that the only reason we use a heel strike when running is because we have shoes with built up heels in the first place. One thing I know for sure already is that by getting rid of the heel strike it will put and end to flipping over on the ankle and ripping then ankle tendons apart. For a long time now I've been sceptical about how everything is equally "ramped" to ridiculous angles in ski bindings and boots. I'm starting to think that this issue in skiing might be just as unnatural as it is in running - where the most expensive running shoes have the highest heels.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Today Bugra was on his own as the others had decided to be lazy. Bugra is clearly physically fit and also keen to learn to ski well. His decision was a good one because he was in need of one-on-one coaching and feedback and as a result made excellent progress during the day.

Yesterday Bugra's individual characteristics had not changed much during the day. He was still very tense, static, stiff, "two footed", a bit hunched or crouched with the hands held too low and often caught out by leaning backwards on the back of the ski boots and the adductor muscles were not being employed at the start of most turns. For this reason I chose to focus on getting the legs to work properly though the development of skating skills. The main objective would be to get Bugra skiing on one leg instead of two.

Learning to Skate
On flat ground I asked Bugra to skate towards me. It was obvious that he had not previously learned to skate so all the movements integrated into skating were totally alien to him. Later on I pointed out to Bugra that his stance when skating looked more like someone riding a horse - with the knees bowing outwards - than someone skating - with the knees coming slightly inwards. Skating on ice skates or Rollerblades comes quite naturally because the edge is directly under the centre of the foot. With skis the edge is several centimetres towards the inside - with some skis even a few centimetres further inside than the actual inside edge of the foot. For this reason some people find their knees forced outwards when they try to skate with the skis diverging. Correcting this is just a case of awareness and coordination - the knees have to be pulled inwards by using the adductor muscles up to the groin - so that the inside edge of the foot inside the ski boot flips over the ski onto its inside edge with a form of leverage - so that it can be used as a solid platform for propulsion. This  can happen quite naturally if there is a resistance to skate against. I took a ski pole and held it across in front of me then placed my skis between Bugra's and asked him to push me along. Simply trying to get the traction to push makes the skier pull inwards with the adductor muscles to get purchase on the edges. Once Bugra had managed this I explained that to accelerate in skating all he had to do was imagine I was still there to push and as he fell forwards the force that was against me would be replaced by an acceleration. In this manner Bugra started to skate correctly. Teaching someone how to use in-line skates (Rollerblades) I'd use a similar method - perhaps a shopping trolly with a heavy weight in it so that the skater has something to hold on to for stability and security and something to push against.

Integrating the Skate Into Skiing
The first step towards using skating in skiing is literally "stepping". Standing stationary across the hill I asked Bugra to step uphill and with each step to fully transfer the weight to the leg he was standing on. he had no problems with doing this. Predictably it wasn't so easy however to do it when moving. Bugra's steps were more like a shuffle than decisive confident steps. Persisting for several passages, traversing the slope, he became more comfortable with stepping while moving - realising that the two can be separated. This "independent" use of the legs is of course fundamental as a part of skating - accepting acceleration and motion while standing on one leg. Once the stepping was functioning we left that behind (though we used it later) and moved directly on to skating.

Skating Around a Long Circle on the Flat
On flat terrain I introduced the idea of progressively skating around a turn - stepping to the inside with each skate as a means of displacing the body to the inside of the turn. This is how cross country skiers have to change direction as those skis do not turn due to pressure. Amusingly on his first attempt Bugra actually stepped outwards in a circle displacing the skis as in a stem or snowplough with the tips converging instead of diverging. I've seen this happen before so was easily able to explain what was happening and Bugra quickly corrected for this.

4,3,2,1 Resonance
The next stage was to apply the skating to turning on a proper slope. To begin with we used 4 or 5 skates towards the inside of each turn. Steadily decreasing the number. I wanted Bugra to make sure he started the turn with a skate downhill and didn't avoid separating the skis. When the skis diverge like this you are placing the inside ski so that you can easily stand on it and slide. The wider you spread the skis apart the tighter the resulting turn. Bugra was a bit concerned about where all of this was leading but he didn't have to wait much longer to find out. Eventually we were down to one single skate per turn - and so the turn and the skate could simply blend together. Skating timing (down then up) is precisely the same as dynamics timing - toppling in/down and then back up/out of a turn. The untrained eye cannot identify this, but anyone who feels the connection find it to be an unmistakable physical sensation - because it is a resonance.

Winding Back to the Stepping Up
Despite the progressive exercises Bugra didn't connect with the resonance so we had to take a step backward and try another approach. We returned to stepping uphill during a traverse then doing this at the end of each turn. Once standing up on the uphill edge of the top ski Bugra had to stay on that leg and allow his body to fall downhill into the new turn - completing it by stepping back uphill onto the other leg. This is another approach to developing the use of only one leg and it helps to make it easier to understand how the skating mechanism works. From this exercise Bugra understood the function of the movement. I explained that it was not always necessary when skiing to literally step back uphill - the up motion is really to be used in aiding the dynamics - aiding the body to come up out of a turn. We practised turning with one skate and included a clear stepping uphill at the end to clarify the issue. This is an old technique that was used in racing - called a "step turn". There used to be a full repertoire of step turns and the one that we were doing would have been called an uphill ski parallel step turn. Unfortunately and unwisely such things are not taught any more in national systems.

Direct Method
Yesterday we had a brief attempt at the direct method, but today with a few hours of skating around it would be a lot easier. The idea is to skate directly downhill and then introduce dynamics to the inside of each skating stride. The ski starts to turn the skier strongly and so the need to diverge the skis to remain skating disappears and the skating seamlessly converts into skiing. Unfortunately, due to apprehension at skating downhill, Bugra had a tendency to forget his skating and to start riding his horse again. He did however start to sense the rhythm and resonance.

The Slalom Test
Bugra was now able to feel like he was skiing on one leg at a time - which I pointed out to him was exactly what he felt right at the start when I asked him to push against my shoulder - it's a consequence of good dynamics and stance. You don't have to try to ski on one leg it actually happens to you when everything is in the right place. With this progress it was obvious that Bugra would have the potential to go faster in slalom and better his 39 seconds from the previous day. The only problem is that he would go faster in the course and so be confronted with the difficulty of staying in the course - which is exactly the sort of feedback that a good racing course provides to enable you to adapt and progress.

The first couple of runs Bugra did have exactly that problem because he wasn't reacting quickly enough to his new speed. I explained that he had to move his Centre of Mass into the new turn much earlier than he currently thought was necessary. If he waited until close to the gate to move then at this speed it would be too late because by the time the CM moved he would be well past the gate. This is how skiers become aware of the real physical parameters involved in skiing and how it is necessary to change perception of how and when to move. The battle then becomes one of dropping into and staying inside the turn as it progresses and the forces build up trying to lift the skier up and out of the turn inappropriately. We only had time to work on the first issue and also Bugra changed his line near the end of the course where he had been overturning unnecessarily. Bugra reduced his time to 36 seconds.

Skating in Racing
Yesterday I mentioned that the reason a very good slalom skier appears to face his upper body downhill is because he is literally skating straight down the mountain. His skis are however driving him laterally out to the side, but if he turns his body with this then he can't skate and literally can't propel himself. For our skating exercises and dynamics I kept it much simpler and requested everyone to just continue to follow the skis around the turn. Skating is not the only benefit of facing downhill, it also makes it possible to create angles at the hip called "angulation" which facilitate both the entry and exit of the CM in a turn - and also greatly aids driving the CM deeper down into the turn when required for either generating speed and control of direction in racing or for braking or setting up a new turn in pivoting plus the permitting the use of the abdomen to drive the pivot.

View across the valley to Cugnai. 
Fracture line of a fatal avalanche (previous week) can be seen.

Off Piste / Dynamics Part 2
Heading down to lunch at La Daille I decided that we could fit in an interesting off-piste run - all the way down. Bugra was a bit thrown off by the steepness and narrowness of the start of the descent and suddenly understood why I had been teaching the pivot yesterday! Of course we hadn't looked at the pivot this morning so he felt too apprehensive to attempt it. Needless to say we were set to be a little bit late for lunch - but lunch was not our priority! Further down the skiing area widened and Bugra felt much more confident to use the dynamics and independent leg action. I pointed out that perhaps the most important action off piste was the push up from the lower leg at the end of the turn. This push up of course is the same as we had been working on with the skate and stepping. Here however it was most important - when applying this to dynamics not to step back up the hill but to do the opposite - to use the push up to come up and out right over to the perpendicular - so that the entry into the next turn would happen easily even though the ski would be on the inside edge from the start of the turn. Basically, if you use dynamics off piste then you have to go the whole way - any half hearted effort will fail miserably.

Pivoting with Independent Legs
Removing the skis and standing on the slope facing downhill with the heels digging in to the snow and feet apart I showed Bugra how the legs can rotate independently below the pelvis. The front of the foot swings either inwards or outwards. The feet look like windscreen wipers when you look down at them. Doing this with the skis on is not quite so easy. The aim is that the body does not turn and each foot/ski does an independent pivot. This way, facing completely downhill, the skier always has the feet below him on the mountain - so there is always security and a pivot can be executed without difficulty. Remember the pivot requires the first half of the turn to be done on the uphill edge of the supporting ski or skis. Bugra couldn't get this so we stopped it and returned to the standard pivot. I had been intending to continue to develop the theme of independent leg action that we had been working on all day with bringing it strongly into the pivot - but Bugra wasn't quite ready for this yet. We reverted to a bit of revision of the standard pivot and continued to work on other aspects of independent leg action.

Stepping Uphill in the Pivot
The pivot uses reduced dynamics so as to avoid changing the edges of the skis before the fall line. Regardless of this the pivot still shares the same need for a strong push up at the end of the turn - but this time, instead of being used to lift the skier out of a turn and drop immediately into the next turn with strong pressure on the inside edge - it is used to impede the flow of momentum downhill and the energy goes into un-weighting the skis - removing pressure. The extreme example being the short swing. The pivot is in effect a "braking" form of skiing  - a way of turning very short radius if required even on the steepest of slopes and a way of preventing undesired accelerations.

Clarification of Foot Use
Bugra was unsure how to use his foot/leg to start the pivot. I'd explained this yesterday but it had been lost within the vast amount of information he was trying to absorb. The important issue is that the skis are placed below the body on the mountain. For this reason it is simplest to have the feet together. If you separate the feet then the uphill ski tends to spread further uphill and change edge - which is what we don't want. Keep the feet as far down the mountain as possible. You stand on the uphill ski and let the foot roll over inside the ski boot onto its lower, inside edge. The adductor muscles are also tensed exactly as when using dynamics. The ski however remains on its uphill edge due to the rigid shaft of the ski boot. The ski will begin to slip downhill when you do this and all you have to do is now swing the front of the ski inwards. In reality even that is not always necessary - just moving the CM slightly downhill is enough to cause the pivot to take place.

Short Swings Revisited
Bugra saw me do a short swing off piste to turn in a nasty spot and then realised that he was going to be stuck himself! We spent some time working of the coordination of the short swing. The way you jump is important - it must be from a flexed position and the legs must fully extend in the air and then flex again on landing to smooth out the shock. Bugra and a choppy jump so we worked on smoothing it out. We didn't get his coordination perfect but he did improve the synchronisation of the two skis in the air and understood the movement better.

Pivot on Bumps and Steeps
We spent a moment repeating yesterday's exercise of pivoting on the bumps to accustom Bugra to steeper terrain in a less intimidating environment. Moving over to the steeps off piste Bugra was able to correctly execute the pivot now - whereas prior to the lunch break he was completely stuck in such a situation.

Staying Inside the Turn
Our final exercise involved working on the end of the pivot - being able to hold the body deep inside the turn until it is appropriate to let it spring up and out. This is perhaps the most important part of the pivot and it can't be achieved if there is any body rotation during the turn. This also can't be learned until the other aspects are in place. Above I mentioned how facing downhill is a valuable skill when used correctly. Here I wanted Bugra to feel how it would allow him to sink into a turn and load up his skis and also generate stability and control in the pivot. One important aspect of this in the pivot is that it places both skis well below the body on the mountain and makes the pivot into the next turn spectacularly efficient. To give Bugra this sensation I had him point his poles downhill and I pulled them. He had to turn his bottom uphill, stretch his arms out towards me and pull - letting his CM fall uphill. He could resist me effectively and had no problem holding his adductor muscles tight. When he turned side on to me (simulating rotation) he could not resist any force.

Black - Slushy Bumps
Finishing the day we put everything to the test on a black bumps run that everyone else was avoiding. To negotiate this correctly Bugra had to use the pivot and a good strong push up. He skied it effectively and realised that he could not have done this prior to this afternoon. Progress was good!

Haluk in Col Pers

Getting ready to drive up to Tignes to collect Haluk, this was the early morning view that greeted me at my doorstep. I believe the moon's orbit is so close at the moment that it is 14% larger than usual.

Haluk's last day of skiing in March so we set out to try to find some decent off-piste. With an avalanche risk of level 4 (out of 5 max) we would be staying high altitude and finishing early. Apart from that the main aim was to stay away from any heavily loaded steep and convex slopes that were catching the sun directly. Most of our skiing was done on East facing slopes which had maximum protection from the prevailing wind and the afternoon sun.

North West facing slope on the descent from Col Pers. This avalanche is much bigger than it looks!
Notice - no people - only wilderness!!!

Haluk's skiing has improved a lot technically this year so despite having a back problem he was able to negotiate the very tricky snow conditions without it being detrimental to his back. A year or two ago this would not have been possible in such conditions. The snow was wind packed and sun crusted with big changes every few meters so it is very easy to get caught out in this. Haluk used strong dynamics to ensure his turns but also tried to use a small amount of pivot in the start of the turn so as not to jam the skis on edge too early. He was definitely softer in the hips as a result of his improved technique and the smoother skiing kept him out of trouble. For many years I've been saying that when skiing is done skilfully and correctly then it is very therapeutic for the back - when it is done badly it is very dangerous for the back. 

For me, instead of resorting to powerful dynamics to ensure stability I chose to work on pivoting - the challenge being to pivot smoothly in seemingly impossible conditions for any ski to pivot. Several times I gave up and returned to dynamics just to be safe. My legs were a bit tired too from an intense cycling workout the previous day so they were not 100% cooperative. During the descent one clear solution came to mind and it was to accelerate the feet and legs ahead - from the level of the stomach. This forced the skis even further downhill than normal and increased the length of time they could remain on their uphill edges - enhancing the pivot effect. The effect was very powerful and reduced the need for an overtly strong push up or dynamics regardless of how variable and difficult the snow was. 

For a long time I've been telling Haluk that people who take risks on the mountain for adrenaline are generally focussed that way because they are not developing in other ways - i.e. technically. As your skiing gets better it also becomes more interesting and there is more than a lifetime of creativity to explore within this - without risking cutting that lifetime short. Today's challenge of negotiating very treacherous snow - and making it fun and enjoyable - was a perfect example.  However you need to have a certain level of skill to appreciate this.

After two different routes down Col Pers it was time to head away from our peaceful national park wilderness and join the others for lunch and the slightly contrasting ambience of the local rave party!

Notice - no wilderness - only people!

Bugra, Ataner & Cüneyt

After a brief warm up run took a moment to observe each skier. All three skiers were at a very similar level, but each displaying very different characteristics. Ataner was clearly moving his body towards the outside of each turn and was unstable as a result. Cüneyt had a strong tendency to push his heels out and he started each turn with an up motion and finished with a down-sink and pole plant - so although this looked respectable on a good piste it was all the wrong mechanics for anything more challenging. Bugra had already had a brief lesson on dynamics and this was clearly visible in his skiing so he was the only one to move his body clearly in the right direction - but his legs were totally static and he skied overall in a two-footed and crouched stance. Despite all of the above differences it was still clear that I had to begin with teaching dynamics.

I used my standard approach to dynamics - with stationary static exercises to begin with. My shoulder acted as a support so that each skier in turn could lean and push against it. I stood uphill of each skier in turn and then asked them to push with their shoulder against mine, noticing that pressure would build up on the foot furthest from me. Accelerating rapidly across towards me would give instant pressure on that foot. Moving across slowly would have the opposite effect with weight going on the other foot. The idea was to show the different effects of acceleration of the body or centre of mass (CM). Accelerating the CM to the left puts pressure on the right foot. Pressure is sustained on the right foot by continuing to press hard against my shoulder - or when actually skiing because the ski causes the body to be continually accelerated towards the centre of a circle.

People are afraid and do not consciously think to move in this way when skiing, because they are determined to "stay upright". They are taught to think that they should remain in balance. You can actually get pressure on a foot when in balance by moving the centre of mass directly over that foot. (which is what Ataner had obviously been previously taught to do) Balance and placing the CM over the foot both belong to the subject of "statics" and this is exactly the wrong thing to do for skiing. The skier has to enter a world "dynamics" which is the mechanics of "disequilibrium". The skier has to intentionally fall over - to the side when moving forwards. The next exercise we used involved  doing this when moving forwards -  and falling over to one side - causing a turn in that direction. Gradually complete turns were made and then they were linked together. 

Dynamics comes from Newton's second law; F=MA. Any unbalanced force will be related to an accelerating mass.

Dynamic Range
I explained that the skier's job is to fall over and the ski's job is to bring the skier back up. The ski becomes more powerful the further over the skier falls and eventually the skier finds a limit beyond which he cannot fall. For people not used to dynamics this limit is around 15 to 20 degrees maximum. The skier should not be worried about "balance" and not falling - the skier should be worried that he simply cannot fall into a turn and stay there without being lifted up and out too soon. The number one task for a developing skier is to increase his "dynamic range" and learn to fall over further - but this is a life long development task. The first requirement is to become aware that this is the objective and it is the complete opposite of the mistaken belief that the skier should remain upright or be concerned with "balance" in any way other than avoiding it.

Off Piste
Once the basic dynamics had been grasped it was time to head off piste into powder and put it straight to the test. This was a bit of a shock to the system for all of the skiers! Ataner quickly took me out by running straight into me when I was standing still. Bugra did a really impressive head-plant and somersault and Cüneyt kept on losing his skis. I explained that the lifting up power of the ski was much greater off-piste due to the entire base loading up with snow so that hey had to force the CM even more into the new turn and try to keep it there. Unfortunately apprehension tends to make people freeze and so the exact opposite happens - they don't move any CM anywhere. The result was predictable with bodies pretty much all over the place. Ataner, who had really caught on to the dynamics quickly and clearly was definitely having the best results here - apart from having almost killed me. 

At this point I explained that it was best to just follow the skis and not try to face the body downhill. dynamics are simpler to execute if the body just follows the skis around - and the snow conditions were soft and easy so this would work fine in those conditions. The timing for the turn comes from the dynamics so I asked that no pole plant be used - because most people are taught to sink down and plant the pole at the end of a turn and for dynamic skiing that is inappropriate. (This particularly concerned Cüneyt who had the wrong timing at the start) The skier topples into a turn like on a motorbike and comes back up out of the turn - so this is where the pattern for timing comes from. At the end of the turn the skier has been brought up and out from the turn centre - so he shouldn't be bending down and sticking the pole into the snow.

Indoors each skier removed a boot so as to see how to use the feet correctly - at least at a useful basic level. Summary as follows:-
  • Stand on the heels to strengthen the ankles so as to bend only at the knees and hips.
  • Rock the feet - edge to edge - from the sub-taler joints (beneath the ankles).
  • Activate the leg adductor muscles- foot/aductor/Center of Mass - all pulling same direction.
  • Do not lean on the boots - either forwards or backwards.
In addition to showing what should be done I also demonstrated what not to do and why. Standing on the whole foot and bending the ankle as most people appear to do spontaneously causes a complete weakening of support at the ankle and causes the skier to lean on the ski boot consequently losing support from the leg.  I demonstrated also how the correct stance - which causes the CM to move backwards when bending (as in sitting), actually does not place the CM behind the feet due to the gradient of the slope. Place a chair on a steep slope and you can't sit down on it because you can't get the CM back far enough- even with the body in a "sitting" position bent at the knees and hips.
Dynamics + Feet
After studying the feet I asked that awareness and use of the feet simply be added to the dynamics already developed. The feet need to be rocked to the right when the CM is accelerated to the right - and the adductor muscles in the left leg would then be active - "pulling inwards".

Introductory Slalom
Prior to lunch we had enough time for a brief introduction to slalom. I explained the rules for safe use of the training area and how to use the timing system in the course. We had one slow run though with everyone following me on a slow and high line cutting close beneath the gates. The directive was to ski technically with the gates indicating the direction to drive the CM towards. Any difficulty experience in the course indicated a failure to get the CM accelerating towards the correct pole at the correct moment.

Skating Timing
We had a brief look at skating and how it compliments dynamics. Simply skating off downhill I then started to move my CM towards the inside of each stride - to show that this transformed the skating into skiing. Skiing is really just skating with dynamics added - because the ski can sustain an inwards acceleration of the CM longer than an ordinary skate can. When the ski starts to turn me strongly the actual skating by the legs becomes invisible to an untrained eye - though it never stops. Good skiing is constituted from a combination of dynamics and skating. Everyone had an attempt at this with Ataner having the best result. Cüneyt had the most trouble because his previously learned timing was the complete opposite.

Dynamics Part 2
Prior to leaving the subject of dynamics I explained that there were actually two parts to dynamics - entering the turn and exiting the turn. Up until now we had only looked at entering the turn. If we see a motorbike entering a turn it leaves vertical and drops down - then it comes back up to vertical when exiting the turn. Vertical is perpendicular to the road. In skiing it is not so simple because with the slope the vertical and the perpendicular are different. For this reason the turn is not completed when the skier is in vertical - but only when the ski lifts them up and right out to the perpendicular. This means that is is necessary to remain on the downhill ski right up until the ski is flat and the skier has fallen beyond vertical into the perpendicular and cannot escape from falling into the next turn. You would be standing on the lower leg and falling with nothing below to stand on - so it is scary at first - until you learn that it works and it's easy to then just switch legs and take over with the new outside ski in the new turn. Each skier appeared to understand the principle and to carry it out to generate a more flowing turn transition. I explained that this was a key in being able to use dynamics effectively off-piste. The sensation felt when doing this manoeuvre is that the body passes over the top of the lower ski (perpendicular to the slope) and the edges change prior to the new turn beginning.

Standard procedure was used to introduce the pivoted turn. After demonstrating I explained that if the skis were kept downhill of the CM then the turn could be initiated on the uphill edge of the uphill ski - with the ski slipping into the turn in a pivot - aided by the adductor muscles swinging the front of the ski inwards and the CM also moving in this direction - but without the CM crossing over the skis as required for dynamics. The idea is to turn with the outside ski remaining on the outside edge until it reaches the fall-line and then goes momentarily flat before changing edge to the inside edge. In the dynamics the outside ski had been used as an accelerator but here is is always used as a brake - it is always on whichever edge is uphill.
I demonstrated that in this manner either very short turns could be executed or rapid turns on steep terrain without picking up any speed. I showed that either or both skis could be used to pivot - provided they were always kept lower on the slope than the CM - so that the skis remained on their uphill edges at all times. Pivoting is why some skiers - such as bump skiers - ski with their feet close together - because it is one way to ensure that they both stay below the CM on the slope - and because either or both skis can be used as a pivoting platform. Racers and people carving tend to use a wide stance with feet apart because that way they can access the downhill/inside edge of the uphill ski easily for acceleration.

Facing Downhill
With the pivot I showed how by facing downhill the stomach muscles could be solicited for swinging the ski into the pivot. Following the skis prevents a strong muscular action from being used with the pivoted turn - so it is best not to follow the skis for this technique. Facing downhill also permits the CM to drop in further into the turn due to increased hip angulation - thus building up more pressure on the lower ski but keeping the body stable and secure inside the turn - though we didn't have time to look at that aspect properly.

Short Swings
In order to try to improve the simultaneity of the swinging of the two skis I introduced "short swings", jumping up to exit a turn and then swinging the skis into the new turn. Everyone found the coordination for this to be difficult and that is normal. I demonstrated how the use of a good downhill pole plant helped to prepare for the jump by using the pole as a support. The pole effect is similar to jumping beside a table while using the table for support with your hands on it - it makes it easier. The main aim in doing the short swings was to encourage a strong "push up" exactly as in the skating timing and also the simultaneous swing of both skis. 

The only difference between a "pivot" and a "short swing" is that the skis stay on the snow during the pivot. The push up or the jump up serve to remove pressure from the skis so that the initial pivoting is made easier - this being especially useful in deeper or difficult snow. The jump is useful when the snow surface is really poor or difficult and it is necessary to turn in a steep confined place.

Pivoting on Bumps
Near the end of the final descent we came across some bumps so I showed how the skis pivot naturally on bumps. Bumps are formed by skiers literally braking - so bumps are made to fit the pivot. When standing on top of the bump the ski tips and tails are in the air - just like during a short swing - so the procedure is obvious. It is still emotionally difficult to "pull inwards" with the adductor muscles because the natural desire is to push outwards in defence as you plunge downhill over the bump.

One Ski Skiing
We completed the lessons with a brief session of skiing on one ski only. Needless to say nobody could quite yet manage this. To be able to do this requires the ability to pivot in both directions on the same ski and requires a developed coordination and understanding of edge control and the relationship with the motion of the centre of mass. We were working in this direction but it would take at east one more session to get to this point. If this is not developed correctly then the ability to execute this manoeuvre well does not come naturally to skiers even with many years of experience.

Earlier on the pivoting exercises had been interrupted for a moment to give a brief introduction to carving. The reason for doing this was purely to raise awareness and complete the picture. Short swings are the extreme for starting a turn on the uphill edges - with a reduction of pressure on the skis - and carving is the opposite extreme, starting turns on the downhill edges with a major increase in pressure from the start. I showed how to traverse on the edges of two skis - turning uphill and leaving two clear railed tracks in the snow. Everyone was able to do that. Rocking the feet and moving the CM into a turn, while standing sharply on two edges, I showed how to link one turn to the other while leaving complete railed tracks in the snow - no sideways movement of the skis on the snow whatsoever. Predictably no-one could do this - it takes time and care to develop this skill, which is the basis of modern ski racing and the real purpose of carving skis. At this stage only Ataner could even perceive the difference in the tracks we were making in the snow and identify the difference which distinguishes carving from everything else.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    Spring arrives and the shorts come out.

    First bike workout in shorts and short sleeves. It felt warmer than several races were in the middle of last summer even at 1300m altitude - yet it's only the second day of spring. Hope that the snow at 3000m is still good for skiing off piste tomorrow. Equalled my best time from last year for the 51km local circuit with two hard climbs - despite being about 5 kilos heavier due to carrying all my winter blubber.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Mike & Alex Day 3

    Fortunately for Mike and Alex the weather had finally turned in their favour with sun and good cold snow. Clear skies at night cause the snow to cool much lower than the ambient air temperature due to radiation loss - as much as 14°C lower than the air! This temperature drop freezes and stabilises the snow pack to some extent. There was enough soft fresh off piste for us to be able to venture into it later in the morning - staying on gentle gradients and safe slopes.

    Pivoting on the Face de Bellevarde
    Today we warmed up with pivoted turns on the Face de Bellevarde - mainly because the black run was in good condition and also because the extra steepness actually helps when developing the pivot - at least at certain stages of development. Mike had the basic idea of the pivot - at least he understood that it was important to avoid getting onto the inside ski edge too soon in the turn. The steepness of the slope made it easier to visualise the placement of the skis downhill from the centre of mass. The pivot can only be executed if the feet are kept downhill of the body. Mike was unaware however of his strong tendency to stem the uphill ski further uphill (uphill of the centre of mass) and place it on its inside edge. 

    Visual Feedback
    Rather than repeat my feedback to Mike I asked him to look at his own feet during the turn. Common advice is for skiers to avoid looking at their feet - but there is nothing wrong with doing this specifically for a purpose. The advice generally given is to stop some people from staring at the ground and then becoming paralysed by the consequent miss-perception of speed. By watching his feet Mike could see clearly what was going on and this immediately stopped the stemming and permitted efficient pivots to be carried out on the top ski. Some of the pivots were better than others, the problems being due to slightly failing to keep the centre of mass moving to the inside of the turn - but we would work properly on that aspect later.

    Abdomen and Upper Body Rotation
    Planting my pole between Mike's skis I asked him to raise his uphill ski slightly off the snow and to pull the inside of the tip against the pole. Facing straight ahead Mike would only feel a slight muscular activity from his adductor muscles - inside of the leg up to the groin. Turning the upper body to face downhill he would feel a much stronger force coming from the combination of the abdomen and the adductor muscles. This is the force required to swing the ski into a pivot. Mike's tendency was the opposite - to face across the hill and to corkscrew the upper body  directly into the turn. This had to be changed so as to have the body already facing downhill and then be able to unwind the tension from the feet upwards through the body. Ideally the only rotation experienced for this is in the legs - at the hip joints.

    Patience or Panic
    Mike had a tendency to panic and then force the turn initiations. This is a normal response to anxiety about getting through the "acceleration" phase of the turn as rapidly as possible. Unfortunately this anxiety results in inappropriate rotational and twisting actions to try to force everything around as fast as possible. To correct for this you need to be aware first of all that it is happening and then have an alternative plan. The correct turn initiation is made by patiently accepting the initial acceleration, ensuring that movements are clean with the centre of mass and that only appropriate "inward" forces are applied through the legs. This can also be improved by understanding how the pivot provides a braking is  action. The outside ski slipping into the turn with a sideways skid and so slows acceleration during the start of the turn - maximum acceleration only taking place directly in the fall line during the very brief and rapid change of edge. The next demonstration was designed to make this issue clearer.

    Skis as Brakes or Accelerators
    Moving onto a shallow slope I demonstrated some fundamental theory that lies behind the pivot. Over the years I only gradually became aware of how the pivot functions and part of that process took place when developing better forms of snowploughs for beginners. (Note that today I very seldom use snowplough with beginners for several reasons). For a snowplough to be useful it has to act as a brake - because that is the whole point of using a snowplough. The standard advice is to stem out the uphill leg and place the "outside" ski on its inside edge, then to transfer weight to it - usually by moving the centre of mass over it (corresponding with statics). This effectively turns the outside ski into an accelerator and puts the skier into an immediate and eventually life long panic. In addition the act of stemming out the uphill leg is training a disastrous and inappropriate muscle coordination pattern. The correct use of a snowplough involves first of all setting up the plough shape in advance - skis converging at the tips with the tails out as far as necessary to place the skis on their inside edges. The important aspect relevant to us here is that during a turn the centre of mass actually moves slightly towards the inside of the turn - placing weight over the inside or downhill ski at the start of the turn. This same ski is also flattened slightly as a result of this movement an so it can side slip towards the turn centre relatively easily. This ski can then be used to support and feed the skier into the turn while at the same time acting fully and effectively as a brake. Crossing the fall line the geometry of the mountain slope will cause weight to transfer to the new "lower" ski and for the turn to be completed with this ski taking over - also however acting as a brake because both skis were only used on their uphill edges and with a drifting/side-slipping action characteristic of any plough manoeuvre. The point to understand and perceive here is that the "pivot" serves to exploit the skis as brakes - not accelerators. Accelerators are useful for racing - but not for all skiing. With this explanation Mike gained a new perspective on pivoting and felt that the penny had dropped regarding understanding the whole process.

    Lower Ski Pivot
    Following on from the snowplough exercise we went onto the "lower ski pivot". Mike was still getting tangled up with his inside ski most of the time during the turns so this exercise was intended to correct that. The lower ski pivot is effectively a turn executed on the inside ski only. Taking the lead from the snowplough all the weight this time is transferred to the lower/inside ski at the start of the turn and the ski is kept on its inside (uphill) edge. A strong downhill pole support is required to get the centre of mass confidently over far enough to get the ski to slip into a sharp turn. Unlike the snowplough though an edge change is required in the fall line and for this the pole use is critical for encouraging the centre of mass to continue to move inwards towards the turn centre and to compensate for changing slope geometry. This exercise was addressing critical issues of both edge control and centre of mass control. One of the problems evident with Mike's lower ski pivot is that when it went wrong there was a clear upper body rotation and attempt to "force" the turn. This would happen to the extent that the uphill ski would actually cross over the lower ski in the air. Essentially this is the same as an uphill ski stem - but with the ski not even on the ground!

    One Ski Skiing
    Mike got on top of the lower ski pivot very quickly and so the next stage was to stay on the same ski and turn the other way - linking turns on one ski only. This makes clear the relationship between edge control and centre of mass. 

    Simultaneous Swing
    Returning back to "normal" skiing on the outside ski I explained that although the turn was not now being executed on the lower ski it was necessary to swing it into the turn simultaneously with the outside ski - as if it were being used with weight on it even though it was weightless. Mike got it straight away and did his first clean pivoted turns unobstructed by the inside ski.

    Two feet or one?
    I explained that because the pivot can be carried out on either ski it can also be carried out on both skis. Off piste in deep snow it can be very useful to keep both skis close together to act as one pivoting platform - but the body must still coordinate itself as if it was supported on one leg only. When people stand directly on two feet in skiing it causes a breakdown of overall coordination.

    Off Piste Stance
    Progress was rather rapid and without much time available to consolidate - however the next step was to apply some of this in anger - which meant going off piste.

    I explained to Mike (after the first face-plant) that it was best to adopt a slightly different stance when in deep or difficult snow. Imagine sitting on a chair in a room. Sitting down the centre of mass goes backwards. Now place the chair on a steep slope facing downhill. Sitting on the chair is now impossible because the centre of mass can't go behind the feet! Adopting the same posture while facing downhill permits the skier to keep his feet below him on the mountain - without any "backwards leaning" enabling easy access to the pivoting qualities of the skis. 

    Keeping the feet close together gives access to the support of the "two footed" pivoting platform - but for this to work well the turns should be quite shallow and kept close to the fall line. Keeping the feet close together and finishing turns across the hill causes the pelvis or entire body to rotate. It's not essential to keep the feet together but where the gradient is gentle this helps to keep the skis on the uphill edges all the time - and of course this is where it is not necessary to close the turns off much anyway.

    If the feet come apart as will happen in more aggressive steeper fall line skiing where the turns are closed off properly - then the windscreen wiper effect of independent leg rotation is required to maintain the full mechanics of the pivoting action. The steepness of the hill however permits the feet to come apart with no risk of easily catching the inside edge and losing the pivot action.

    Loading up the Ski
    Mike had a couple of falls off piste - mostly due to lack of familiarity with the environment but at least one fall was clearly from the outside ski being edged and the body not being far enough inside the turn to deal with the consequences. When the skis are edged in deep snow the "lifting up" power of the skis is much stronger than on the piste. That's because the entire base of the ski loads up with pressure and under foot the ski bends almost like a trampoline. The hip flexibility we had been working on improving from the start contributes to being able to sink down and into the turn so as to prevent the ski from pitching the skier up and out of the turn too soon. This can also be achieved simply by following the skis and toppling over laterally - but not with the same control as with the pivot and with hip angulation/anticipation (facing downhill) involved. Despite down-sinking into the turn also loading up the ski even more the trade off is improved stability and control over when the ski rebounds the skier back up out of the turn. Coming back up out of the turn the skier can achieve an "unweighting" effect making the skis light on the snow and thus facilitating the start of the pivot into the next turn along with a downwards motion of the centre of mass as it starts to descend into the centre of this new turn.

    In carving this same "loading up" move dramatically increases the G forces in the turn and dramatically tightens the turn radius. When carving the skier is moving the centre of mass over the top of the skis to change edge at the start of the new turn so there is no "unweighting" involved. In addition the legs can be used independently to insure that maximum pressure is gained from the dynamics and fully exploited at the turn initiation.

    Saturday, March 19, 2011


    Two days since the last run and the DOMS (Delayed Onset Of Muscle Soreness) were still so significant today that it affected my skiing - there was no energy there and it hurt. Amazing that I can ride my bike hard and effectively for three hours with no significant after effect the following day and yet 20 minutes of forefoot running and I'm destroyed!

    Next step is I'll reduce it to 15 minutes and see what the effect is. I'm happy to build this up very progressively because cycling will be my main sport this summer and it's a good opportunity to change running style without having to stop any current running routine. Still waiting for the Vibram FiveFingers to arrive - The minimalist "barefoot" running shoe with the horrendously expensive price tag...

    Mike Day Two

    The weather today did not obey the instructions of the weather forecasters. Instead of sun we had snow. Despite the humidity the air temperature was not low so although proper snow fell the underlying snow pack remained humid and not frozen. We stayed on the piste because visibility was relatively poor with fog and snow plus there were plenty of things to work on.


    Our main objective was to continue work on loosening up Mike's hips and stance in general. 

    Pushing Up Timing
    Straight away it was clear that Mike's timing had a tendency  to flip around when he tried to ski on steeper terrain. He had a built in tendency to extend up at the start of the turn instead of at the end. When changing to down/up timing it is normal for this to flip back involuntarily. Some people have  great deal of trouble even just being aware of which timing they are using - but Mike was well aware of when it was going wrong. A strong push up was required from the lower leg to assist the power of the ski at the end of the turn to bring the skier up and out of the turn. Next turn starts with a down-motion.

    I was concerned specifically by Mike's inability to stand comfortably on the skis without the legs bowing outwards. This issue was obviously linked to his "pushing out" tendency and twisting the foot into the turn - but it also appeared to be that he didn't have a reference regarding what he should be feeling instead. For this reason we did some side stepping up a steep section and sure enough Mike's lower ski slipped away a few times instead of gripping during the steps. Mike's bottom had to be turned to face uphill slightly and then the adductor muscles used to pull the upper leg (lower ski) inwards and create a strong stance over the inside edge of the lower ski. Mike felt a lot of muscle tension when doing this but my impression was that it was only because of being unaccustomed to it.

    To encourage an even stronger effect I had Mike point his poles downhill (with his skis across the hill) and pulled his poles hard while he adopted the correct stance. When he permitted his centre of mass to fall uphill he was able to hold his adductor muscles in well and to prevent his hip from rotating outwards. He could basically hold a very strong position so that proved that there was no physical impediment towards doing this correctly.

    Fall line Pivoting
    Employing the work done on the stance we developed this further with practise on pivoting. With skis off we stood on the heels facing downhill - both feet at the same altitude on the hill. We worked on rotating the legs independently - like car windscreen wipers - and preventing any motion of the pelvis. Rotation of the legs was in the hip joints only. I pointed out the "swinging" effect of pulling the feet in one direction or the other when standing on the heels - and how this changed to a "twist" outwards of the heel if you placed the foot on the toe. Mike realised that he was used to doing the latter and needed to change this. I demonstrated how to use this in skiing with very short pivoted turns and Mike made a good effort copying. The idea is that feet apart like this prevents the whole pelvis from having to swing around in the turn as it tends to do when the feet are closer together. The leg rotating in the hip socket would permit Mike to separate his upper and lower body and to create the "angulated" stance he was looking for through the turn. 

    We continued to work on pivoting in the fall line. When Mike was getting a bit caught up on his inside ski I suggested two options - one being to stand on it and do the turn on it (lower ski pivot) and the other being to stand solely on the outside ski instead. Mike predictably found the second option easier. Using a strong pole support we worked on getting the centre of mass further downhill to start the pivot even more easily without any edge change. This is tough to learn but Mike did fine with it. - it's not  something anyone gets first time. Completing this exercise I simply asked Mike to pivot on the outside ski but to remember to actively swing the inside one from the start from the start of the turn.

    Timing and Pivot
    Combining the work done so far we did a few short swings. Here all the correct basic aspects have to be correct. There has to be a strong push up (as at the end on a turn). The power comes from the lower leg and although the legs are independent they must act simultaneously - both for the jump and the following swing of the skis. The jump up is equivalent to coming up out of a turn and then the swing of the skis into the new turn takes place - a swing inwards - facilitated by the skis being airborne. This "lightness" or "unweighting" is also useful at the start of any pivoted turn. If in error (or through incorrect teaching) the skier extends upwards at the start of the turn then this lightness cannot be achieved and in tricky snow the pivot will not work. Please note that racing turns require the opposite - they require more pressure at the start of the turn not less. The jumping "short swing" makes the action very clear.

    Hockey Stops
    To reinforce the down-sink and pulling inwards of the hip we practised linked hockey stops on steeper terrain. Mike tended to react the opposite way by straightening the lower leg, stiffening and rotating his upper body uphill - instead of completing the stop with the shoulders facing downhill. This clearly showed that we were tackling the appropriate issues. 

    Traverse - Pivot
    The final exercise was to traverse - holding correct "anticipated" stance and then pivot into a turn by rising up out of the traverse in preparation and then starting the turn by sinking down and pulling everything inwards - to hopefully end up in the same stance traversing in the opposite direction. Mike is trying to do this in the video posted above - but basically it went completely out of the window (except the very last bit). The video here only serves as feedback regarding the issues that need to be properly addressed.

    Proactive Dynamics
    At the end of the session I touched on the subject of "proactive dynamics" and that although Mike was trying to get into the right position and drop into the turn - this was no where near the amount of vertical movement (down and into the turn) that was really required. Racers learn this dynamic range through exposure to physical constrains of turning around poles: Don't move enough and you are straight out of the course. The recreational skier is not aware of how much motion is required to make the entire "system" active and fully functional. The down-sinking skier actively generates his own dynamics that permits a greater range of function and possibility with the skis - also creating stability, security and the power to spring back up out of the turn at will. The turn takes place so quickly it's as if the skier doesn't realise that the geometry of the hill is rapidly changing the ski's edge angle - gravity is lining up against the skier and the power of the ski to spit the skier out of a turn has increased exponentially.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Mike & Alex day 1

    Flying in from London in the morning then hiring a car from Chambery airport and driving up to Val d'Isère to be ready for your ski lesson at 1pm - is all quite an achievement in itself. In Alex's case - perhaps just a little bit too much though as he later fell asleep on a bench at the top of the Funival at 2689m altitude.

    Mike had done amazing well to get here and ready in time - but what was less obvious was how to wind down, forget all the pressure and just focus on skiing. Poor visibility at the beginning didn't help. Realising that Mike had been on the go for a long time and probably hadn't had a break of any kind I suggested he stop and have a drink and just chill for a moment before we try to go any further.

    Mike was as stiff as a board and was aware of it. Watching mike I could see that he was trying to use dynamics correctly to initiate the turn but would often stem a bit instead. There was a definite pushing outwards of the outside leg as well. It occurred to me that his stiffness was due in part to the desire (unconscious) to get that new outside ski onto its inside edge - which would often generate the stem instead of good dynamics. Knowing Mike's skiing already I found myself asking myself "What is the most important issue here?". Mike knows a lot of the theory, so why is he not consolidating and is regressing instead. When you learn something that works correctly you don't regress so easily. 

    At this stage I feel that the best way forwards is to get off that inside edge and to work on the pivot as a general way to loosen up the hips, legs and down/up motion. Removing the desire to edge that ski also removes the desire to push the leg outwards - which in turn allows the legs to become much softer. This is in fact a much less tiring way to ski even for very high level skiers - so there is no reason why others shouldn't benefit from it too.

    Alex bravely staying awake long enough for one last ski down the mountain

    I had Mike hold the handles of his ski poles while I stood below him on the mountain and pulled him downwards in a side-slip. Mike had to keep both feet below him on the mountain. When Mike was slipping I asked him to swing his ski tips downhill with me still supporting him and the feet downhill of the body at all times - so he could feel how to enter into a turn in this way. The exercise appeared to work. Mike became more relaxed almost immediately and was soon able also to work again on pulling "inwards" with everything during his turns. By the end of the session he was already back to his previous level and probably had a better understanding than before. This should set him up well for tomorrow's continuation.

    Back home in the valley the new buds have arrived on the trees. A couple of days ago on Wednesday when I went for a bike ride there were no buds there!

    Thursday, March 17, 2011


    Short 21 minute run again with the focus on technique and nothing else. The long term aim is to develop the ability to run "barefoot" technique over long distance.

    • The main objective was to run purely with forefoot landing and no heel strike
    • Next on the list was nasal breathing all the way
    • Working on using the psoas muscles to lift the leg up and forward while using gravity for propulsion with a forward inclination of the centre of mass
    • Lifting the heel high so that the lower leg is easy to swing forward and to drop the foot into place
    The observation doesn't escape me that this running technique (essentially POSE technique) is very similar to the key issue in performance cycling - that is the focus has to shift to lifting up the knees by using the psoas muscles. The efficiency gain in cycling is incredible with this but I suspect that with training it will be even greater in running because gravity can play a more effective role in the propulsion.

    First Serious Climb of the Year

    First Serious Climb of the Year

    The first climb was from 600m up to 1250m altitude. Amazingly, despite it still being winter there was a bee on the road at exactly 1000m altitude. All sorts of wild Alpine flowers were already starting to appear despite there being nothing surrounding them other than dead winter vegetation. Air temperature was high enough so that with correct clothing cycling was enjoyable and not cold. The second climb up to Notre dame du Pré  (1310m) from Moutiers (480m) is usually a killer as there are some really steep sections. I stayed focussed on pulling up on the pedals with the psoas muscles and was able to complete the climb without a drop off in performance. I'd dropped the saddle height 1.5cm to 71cm (above crank axel measured along the down-tube axis) making it the same as for my indoor Tacx trainer setup. This seemed to remove back strain but didn't compromise performance or the ability to "pull up" on the pedals. Dropping the heel a little during the downstroke seemed to permit more leg muscles to be involved in the pulling up phase. I'd noticed that some pros have their saddle high and keep their toes pointed downwards all the way through their stroke - but this seems to be less powerful in both the upstroke and downstroke. There must be a good reason for them doing this - but for me it only seems to damage my back.

    Endurance Training

    Barefoot Running

    Our early bust of summer weather prompted me to start running again - but with a view to avoiding injury and building up again slowly from scratch using forefoot running. For the first attempt I ran just 20 minutes on relatively flat Mizuno running shoes - btu still ended up almost unable to walk the following day due to calf muscle pain. Discomfort lasted for about four days, during which time I've ordered a pair of Vibram "Fivefinger" barefoot - running shoes. The hope is that with no heel raise on the shoe my heel will be in a lower position while running barefoot and this will remove the strain from the calves making the whole process more natural. Attempting to run barefoot style with running shoes incorporating a ramp angle or raised heel may be causing mechanical problems.

    Prior to the start of last season I had been trying to develop a forefoot running style with normal running shoes and switched back to a heel strike with disastrous results - plantar fasciitis - which gave me excruciating pain under the right foot when skiing all season long. The injury did not happen when working on the barefoot technique - but on changing back to using a heel strike over long distances (18km plus).

    Bike Training
    First serious hill climbing workout of the year.  The first climb was from 600m up to 1250m altitude. Amazingly, despite it still being winter there was a bee on the road at exactly 1000m altitude. All sorts of wild Alpine flowers were already starting to appear despite there being nothing surrounding them other than dead winter vegetation. Air temperature was high enough so that with correct clothing cycling was enjoyable and not cold. The second climb up to Notre dame du Pré  (1310m) from Moutiers (480m) is usually a killer as there are some really steep sections. I stayed focussed on pulling up on the pedals with the psoas muscles and was able to complete the climb without a drop off in performance. I'd dropped the saddle height 1.5cm to 71cm (above crank axel measured along the down-tube axis) making it the same as for my indoor Tacx trainer setup. This seemed to remove back strain but didn't compromise performance or the ability to "pull up" on the pedals. Dropping the heel a little during the downstroke seemed to permit more leg muscles to be involved in the pulling up phase. I'd noticed that some pros have their saddle high and keep their toes pointed downwards all the way through their stroke - but this seems to be less powerful in both the upstroke and downstroke. There must be a good reason for them doing this - but for me it only seems to damage my back.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Starting "barefoot" Again

    Barefoot Running
    Our early bust of summer weather prompted me to start running again - but with a view to avoiding injury and building up again slowly from scratch using forefoot running. For the first attempt I ran just 20 minutes on relatively flat Mizuno running shoes - btu still ended up almost unable to walk the following day due to calf muscle pain. Discomfort lasted for about four days, during which time I've ordered a pair of Vibram "Fivefinger" barefoot - running shoes. The hope is that with no heel raise on the shoe my heel will be in a lower position while running barefoot and this will remove the strain from the calves making the whole process more natural. Attempting to run barefoot style with running shoes incorporating a ramp angle or raised heel may be causing mechanical problems.

    Prior to the start of last season I had been trying to develop a forefoot running style with normal running shoes and switched back to a heel strike with disastrous results - plantar fasciitis - which gave me excruciating pain under the right foot when skiing all season long. The injury did not happen when working on the barefoot technique - but on changing back to using a heel strike over long distances (18km plus).

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Biking again

    Taking advantage of the sun being out to ramp up the fitness level !

    Another bike ride today - 81km, 1035m climbing in 3hrs 25mins. I'm sure this weather won't last much longer. The Photos are from around Albertville. Used the bike to collect my van from a garage in fact - it was in there due to starting difficulties - just a relay switch that has grilled a circuit board. This is why I'm staying away from electric gears for the bike - the great thing about a bike (and skis) is that it's 100% mechanical. Just like I'll never buy electronic books in preference to a proper book that doesn't need to be switched on.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Justin March 2011

    Justin's Development

    Justin does not get to ski as much as he would like these days. His freedom is being gradually nibbled away by corporate life - but that's OK. Somebody probably has to do it! 

    No 1 "Corporate" rule is this: Don't ever give anyone the power to sack you - it will definitely corrupt them
    No 2 "Corporate" rule is this: Don't ever become a boss because it will definitely corrupt you and render you completely stupid though you won't realise it.

    Justin has been working on his skiing for some time, but his two weeks skiing a year limit plus a permanent desk job both conspire to drain any significant skill that his body has painstakingly acquired and turn him into a physical mess in general. Still, to his credit Justin was not overweight from munching doughnuts behind his desk and he doesn't smoke - which proves that not only does he have a brain but he knows how to use it. Realising that Justin has a keenly functioning brain was a cue for me to pass him my camera for the rare opportunity for someone to video me demonstrating without having to give a course in digital photographic equipment use and then waste an afternoon on trial and error photographic and videographic botch ups. I just gave the camera to Justin and predictably he got it right first time despite never having seen the device before. I gave him a 10 second window to work it out though - knowing that he would come good if I didn't give enough time for his chronic dyslexia to kick in.

    It's not by chance that the two toughest types on the planet to teach are male dyslexics and female lawyers. Male dyslexics are truly excellent at anything you instruct them to do - but then they later muddle everything up completely and permanently because they lose a grasp of what is really relevant. It's like the "lawnmower man" got into them. Female lawyers just don't really get it - it's not part of their inner universe and never will be. Regardless of how weirdly wired up the neurons are - through either birth or programming - all it does is make the teaching challenge more interesting...

    Pivoting Exercises

    Demonstration of Pivoting - Slow then Rapid

    The pivoting exercises were carried out towards the end of the day to try to improve Justin's off-piste performance. Let's be clear here - Justin is a good and strong skier - well above average for even strong skiers. The point is though that as you get better you simply uncover the potential for learning a whole lot more. Joking aside - Justin has assimilated a lot of useful skill. The stuff he needs to learn now though is very tricky to learn well.

    Loading up the downhill ski towards the end of a pivot turn

    Independent Leg Action
    We focussed on independent leg action because I wanted to try to encourage this in Justin's skiing in general - for carving as much as pivoting. Skills are directly transferable from one aspect of skiing to another - and generally if a skill is missing in carving the same skill will be missing in pivoting. Removing the skis I got Justin to feel the legs rotate like windscreen wipers in the hip sockets by facing downhill and standing on the heels with both feet at the same altitude on the hill. Justin normally skis in a two footed way with his pelvis following the skis around the turn and often a twist in his spine to compensate. Using the pivot to develop independent leg action is a great way to unlock this problem. He was later able to coordinate this in a pivot with the skis on. 

    Push Up
    An emphasis with the pivot was the push up from the lower leg. Off piste this push up brings you up and out of the turn and makes you lighter and more able to pivot the start of the turn as you feel like you float into it. This push up is best initiated from a position deep down into the existing turn - building up pressure on the ski from a safe uphill position with the Centre of Mass well inside the turn. This needs the hips to be relaxed to drop the Centre of Mass down and in far enough and for the lower leg to be "pulling inwards" right up until the end of the turn - so as not to lock up any muscles. Good upper/lower body separation is required and that's partly what I was aiming for Justin to improve with his exercises. The push up from the lower ski feels like the body is coming both up and out - downhill - and the key point now is that you DO NOT cross over your skis. The skis must remain downhill and be actively swung into the new turn through both using the momentum of the whole body and the adductor muscles pulling the outside ski "inwards". Sinking into the new turn the body must drop down to the inside strongly to set up the pressure cycle for the next turn. Edge change for the skis takes place ideally in the fall line. The turn can however be reorganised so that the turn apex and main pressure build up is more to the "side" rather than downhill but without the overall mechanics changing. This makes for more fluid skiing - the same way that this timing creates the fastest passage in a race course. Just aim to complete the turn out to one side then let the skis ride back across towards the other side and use the momentum across the hill.

    Justin's Skiing Odyssey

     Race Turns

    Justin's off piste skiing was basically an unmodified race turn. Well - he did modify it but not intentionally. The timing was completely out with the whole of the start of the turn being carried out going upwards instead of downwards and into the turn. The race turn works extremely well off-piste but it must be done correctly for it to work. This timing would then produce a sudden build up of pressure late in the turn where Justin would then have to deal with the consequences - often breaking at the waist as a result. This erratic pressure cycle makes skiing a bit unpredictable - especially if you are on short slalom skis off-piste - as Justin was. Much of Justin's two leggedness, lack of Upper/lower body separation, rotation and lack of stability were all stemming from this fundamental error in timing. Racing turns mean that you ski on your inside edges and that means commitment to good appropriate timing. The body must pass cleanly across the skis so that the skis change edges before the turn begins and the centre of mass must accelerate down and into the turn to generate pressure against the outside ski right from the start of the turn.

    Justin is on top of it here - in every sense

    Race Course
    In the race course Justin is clearly not proactively moving his Centre of Mass though at least he is not staying up high through the start of the turn as he is when skiing off-piste. The basic underlying problem is still the same in that there is not an active control being established though using the Centre of Mass. Rotation and other problems with the skis drifting sideways etc. all stem from the initial failure to drive the Centre of Mass down into the proceeding turn - and then to hold it in there. In the race course the body is just passively falling into the turn - and much too late. Don't wait until there is pressure under the feet to let yourself fall in more - be proactive and drive down and inwards - even if there is no initial pressure or you think that none will follow because your act is too extreme - it isn't - it NEVER is.

    Justin looking sheepish after a spectacularly bad performance

    Justin's special power? He is "hologram man" 

    Val d'Isère seen from Le Fornet on this day