Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Taha Day 8

Very cold, windy, foggy and snowing! Must be Anthropogenic Global Warming!

Gulsum's Comeback
Gulsum returned to the slopes again today and skied stronger than ever. My guess yesterday that tiredness was at the root of her lapse of confidence was correct.

Cagatay's Frostbite
The bad weather called for a descent to Les Brevieres at 1550m altitude, sheltered from the wind. Before heading over to that sector I had to test out Gulsum close to home and so we took the Tufs lift up to the Tovière (2695m) - a fast chairlift that takes only 10 minutes at most. We were hit about half way up by a relentless wind and even though it didn't feel too extreme Cagatay was complaining. He wasn't sitting next to me so I couldn't see him but when we got off the lift I could see straight away the white patches on his face and ice covering them. I stopped him, took off my gloves and covered his face with my warm hands to melt the ice. On his right cheek the skin below the ice had gone hard and it took a minute to thaw the skin completely. This is second stage frostbite - still only affecting the surface skin and so not serious or permanent but perhaps enough to bring up a blister in a day or two from now. Cagatay had a balaclava available but didn't like wearing it. I don't blame him because I can't wear them either - but he was happy to wear one after this incident.

Taha's Quad Pains
Until lunchtime we were only really skiing blue runs (one red at the end) to help Gulsum recover her confidence. This was also an opportunity for the others to mindfully practice all the stuff they had been learning. Taha noticed how bending was relieving much of the quads pain he was dealing with. Now that he can't stand bolt upright balancing against the back of the boots he needs to discover how to move and support himself efficiently through relating his stance to dynamics - which involves flexion/extension.

Pole Use - Upper/Lower Body Separation
In the afternoon, rather than go straight back up into the weather, we stayed low and worked on technique. Indoors I'd discussed upper/lower body separation - showing mainly how the entire leg can rotate in the hip socket. Gulsum tried this and was able to feel the full range of the leg rotating without the hip or pelvis rotating with it. I explained that the leg is not rotated by the skier but it is rotated by the skis. The difference here is crucial. Cause and effect must be identified. I showed how flexing down into a turn is easy when the body does not follow the skis around the turn. Standing between a table and a bench I could not lower myself onto the bench when standing side on to it - but if I turned my bottom towards the bench - without moving the feet, I could sit down on the bench - very much like sinking down into a turn to hold the centre of mass to the inside. 
Upper lower body separation really goes all the way up to the rib cage (12th vertebra) with a twisting possible all the way up to the rib cage as a continuation of the rotation of the femur in the hip socket.

Basic Turns
Without the opportunity to dwell on this subject we went straight into developing pole use for pivoting. This requires upper lower body separation so it's as good a place as any to start with. I explained that poles are not so important for racing turns at high speed and with big dynamics. Our aim was to develop the pole plant - for use in fall line skiing - when the skis always stay below the skier and act as a brake on the uphill edges. 
The pole is planted directly downhill of the feet and holding the grip strongly between thumb and two middle fingers the lower leg can be lifted to place the body weight squarely on the pole and the upper ski. Correct upper/lower body separation creates "angulation" where the shoulders are over the lower ski and the bottom over the upper ski. This causes the ski to remain on the uphill edge and for a pivot to be easily executed. The skier then has to ensure that he doesn't rotate the body through the end of the turn and can go back into an angulated stance with upper lower body separation for the next turn.

Wrong Ski Turns
Starting and completing a pole assisted turn from the lower ski (inside ski of new turn) requires an even greater commitment and angulation - so it makes for an excellent exercise. 

Short Swings
Jumping mainly from the lower ski - both skis being swung downhill and inwards simultaneously when in the air. The jump simulates the end of a turn - not the start of a turn. The pole is used to support the jump - like putting your hand on a wall to jump over it. We took this into linking 10 short swings with rhythm and bounce. Taha was the only one able to use his poles properly when doing this - even though his rhythm was a bit hesitant. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Taha Day 7

The weather was calm so to start the day we took a ride up the Tignes funicular to the Panoramic. I suspected that Gulsum might have a negative reaction due to the tiredness in her legs at the end of yesterday - but there was the option of blue, red or black runs down the mountain. Unfortunately I anticipated correctly and Gulsum had a complete confidence crisis immediately. Although she regained her confidence shortly afterwards we decided that it was best for her to have a rest day and return to the slopes strong tomorrow.

Ice on a cable - hidden somewhere inside...

Skating Muscles
Prior to skiing back down to Tignes I took a moment to teach Taha how to skate properly using the correct muscles. This is done by facing each other - Taha with skis apart and diverging and me with  skis together and parallel. I hold a pole across in front of me to give Taha something to push against and he then has to try to push me along the flat ground. The was so alien to Taha that he would just bend the entire torso over double and not step his feet forwards. Initially he also let his knees point outwards too. I corrected his knees to point slightly inwards to access the adductor muscles (skating muscles - along with the hip extensors) and then we managed to sort out the coordination and keep the upper body upright. Then Taha continued the motion without me in front and soon managed to skate correctly.

Bending Correctly at the Knees and Hips
Despite a shaky start the rest of the day went very well. All three were failing to flex correctly - keeping the legs stiff and bending forwards at the hips - dipping their shoulders. I had to think of a way to encourage correct flexion at the hips and knees - and correct placement of the upper body and arms. For some time now I've used the analogy of sitting on a chair facing downhill to explain how the feet are in front of the body but directly under the centre of mass on the mountain when in a seated position.  One way to achieve this stance is to ski without skis on. Before that though I had everyone bending and jumping on the flat - skis off. The trick was to stand on the tips of the boots when bending - thus allowing the body to compress vertically.  This simulates very well the correct sensation during the dynamics of skiing. As usual there was zero flexion of the ankles required to achieve this. Cagatay was still breaking at the waist a bit but we had to move on. 

Taking the stance and vertical movement into slalom Taha was clearly able to make this work. He was not trying to go fast due to having tired legs - but he made a clear change to his skiing.

Mete was making progress in the slalom but was getting late in his line. I explained that he shouldn't aim directly at the gate because this would force him to turn late - he had to aim slightly higher so that he would turn in towards to gate and pass beneath it. Once the line was being worked on he then had to know that to stay in this line he would have to move his body to begin the turn much earlier than he realised. If you wait until you think it's time to turn then you are generally already far too late and by the time you move you are already past your target. Part of training is about changing perception of timing so that you can act sooner. Cagatay was still steadily improving his timing and his line by himself so I just let him get on with it. He had been told to go a bit closer to the poles and that was helping him to take a faster line.

Off Piste Challenges
After lunch we did some safe but steep off-piste sections. There is enough fresh wind packed snow around to stop anyone from sliding off down the mountain if they fall on the steep sections. Taha was struggling with his quadriceps burning out now that his stance has been changed with good ski boots and he can't stand upright and pressed against the back of his boots. Cagatay was still locking out his outside leg and breaking at the waist even off piste - but was surviving all the same. The off-piste sections were steeper than any black runs and everyone enjoyed the challenge. Considering that only a week ago the boys had completely "forgotten" how to ski this is pretty good progress.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Taha Day 6

Boots Special
Today turned out to be a "boots" special. Gulsum and Taha had been sold poor quality boots some time ago and it was becoming clear that the boots were inhibiting progress. Gulsum's boots turned out to be at least two sizes too big and at flex din 50 Taha's were the softest "beginner's" boots I've ever heard off. Cagatay's boots were also not supportive and in addition they were soaking wet inside when I pulled them apart to look at them. All three had been finding it almost impossible to avoid leaning back against the boots when skiing and after changing the boots all three were able to stand correctly. Cagatay showed the biggest skiing improvement immediately on changing the boots. Taha bought the Atomic B120 (flex din 120) especially produced for a wide foot but maintaining high performance.

The flag of Savoie

Skiing past the Folie Douce we skied to the rhythm of the techno rave party music. They use specially insulated speakers to generate earthquake proportion bass sounds outdoors. A bottle of champagne there costs 4500€ and apparently they have no shortage of sales.

Gulsum's First Red
Today's first ski was for Gulsum. We took the Les Lanches chairlift which meant that she would be skiing a very long red run which starts at the bottom of the Grande Motte glacier. I deliberately didn't tell her so that she would be completely unaware of what she was about to ski.  In the event, with her new boots and new stance she skied it with no difficulty - her first ever red run. It was after this that we went in out of the extreme cold to warm up with a hot chocolate that I found out the problems with the boots of Taha and Cagatay. To resolve Cagatay's problem it required only a short detour to the local rental shop - but for Taha an expedition to Val d'Isère had to be mounted. 

La Face
Les Santons blue run down to Val was closed for avalanche risk so while Gulsum took the Olympic cable car the rest of us skied down La Face de Bellevarde. Due to the cold we kept up a good pace, didn't stop once on the way down and both boys were right behind me at the end.

Returing from Val to Tignes with Taha's new boots there wasn't a lot of time to work on skiing. With the boys able to ski faster now we did a little bit of work on carving - also for Taha's benefit. Cagatay improved a lot with his new stance and Mete was still doing well - but the short lesson wasn't quite enough for Taha to get it - the adductor muscles were not being used properly in his case and carving was just not happening. there was not enough time to sort it out today. I explained that when learning to carve we place the skis on two edges - the two right or the two left edges - then if it's the two right edges we move the centre of mass to the right over the "inside ski". This is "static" and only when the skis pick up speed and start to turn the skier will the pressure move over to the "outside" ski through dynamics. The static stance and placement of the Centre of Mass is what gets everything into the correct place ready for when the dynamics kick in. Once there is speed the edges can be changed to change direction and despite moving the centre of mass inwards the pressure will remain on the outside ski. The skis must "rail" and not go sideways.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Taha Day 5

Day 5 started with a breakfast break due to everyone waking up slightly late. (Not me!) Gulsum skied well keeping up with everyone as we skied the blue run connecting the Toviere with the Bellevarde. Her speed is increasing naturally. 

Dynamics Explained
Both Gulsum and Taha had described how they found themselves moving towards the outside of the turn and unable to stop it. I explained that this happened for two reasons - the main one being that they were originally taught to do so before meeting me and secondly (I didn't mention) that the skier always feels like there is an "outward" force against the body - although it is a complete illusion. I'll cover only the first part here. Taha and Gulsum had originally been taught skiing based on "statics" - the branch of mechanics in physics that is about "balancing" the centre of mass over a support. This means that to get the weight over the right foot you have to move the body to the right - and this is done in a snowplough for turning left. All of this is complete nonsense - even in a snowplough - but that's what's taught. Skiing is about "dynamics" not "statics" and this is about being "out of balance" - about "accelerations" and the forces produced by them. To get pressure on your right foot you accelerate to the left - the way you want to turn - it's that simple. This even works in a snowplough! In dynamics Newton's second law "F=MA" shows that a force is equivalent to a mass being accelerated. So that people don't have to accelerate I substitute this with my shoulder providing a force for them to push against and to feel what happens at the feet as a result. Pushing hard left against me they feel pressure on the right foot.   If I leave a small gap and they accelerate quickly across this gap they will also feel the pressure from the acceleration. Failure to accelerate momentarily puts pressure on the left foot - so people can feel how different ways of moving have different effects. Bottom line is that there are two different ways to get pressure on your foot - from statics or dynamics. Ski instructors are trained to teach statics and "balance" and so they teach all the movements corresponding to this. It is all wrong and extremely inhibiting. After this explanation with exercises on the mountain the whole issue became much clearer to Taha and had a positive effect on his skiing.

The boys had a quick carving lesson. They had done some of this last year and not surprisingly it wasn't too difficult for them to get started with arcs made on two edges from a shallow traverse. Mete clearly understood and was able to ski well with the carve directly down the hill, linking turns. This change immediately brought Mete results in slalom reducing his time to 37.99 seconds from around 41. Carving is of course when the skis rail along their edges with no skidding.

Gulsum Technical
In the afternoon I went for a ski with Gulsum while the others watched the FA cup on an large indoors TV screen. Gulsum was able to follow well and keep up a good speed until visibility started to drop. She became more relaxed due to focusing directly on relaxing the body. Technically her stance improved too being better centered over her feet.  Gulsum was aware of difficulty turning to the right so I explained that it was because she didn't want to leave the security of her right foot and stand properly on the left one - so it made it hard to start a turn to the right. One trick is to simply lift the lower ski for a fraction of a second to force the body to stand on the uphill ski and fall into the turn - but the lower ski has to be quickly returned to the snow when doing this.

I explained to the boys that it is important to focus when you are skiing - and that ideally you focus on some aspect of your body. When you lose focus you have to re-focus - and continue to repeat this process. Focusing causes all the chatter in your mind to quieten down and although it might seem like hard work concentrating it actually relaxes your mind and strengthens it at the same time. In this way skiing becomes like a moving meditation. You become better at focusing and skiing at the same time. It's for this reason I enjoy skiing with beginners as much as skiing off-piste. Skiing slowly and mindfully is incredibly beneficial in many ways - but very few skiers ever understand this. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Taha Day 4

This morning started with the bad news that Taha had the stomach bug. He was putting on a brave effort to come out and ski. This bug makes you feel really weak so it's genuinely hard to do anything physical when you have it.
Mont Blanc through layers of cloud

Warm Up
Gulsum was present so the whole family skied together. Initially we went over to the Vert training area and warmed up with skating and dynamics. The boys were a bit lazy with skating inwards during the turns but they were picked up on this by Taha and corrected. With dynamics there was still not a lot of movement present. The best executed exercise was when taking the skate and adding dynamics to it to create short parallel turns - everybody picked up the natural rhythm to some extent - even Taha who could not do this before. We couldn't ski hard with Gulsum there and Taha ill so it was important to make good use of the time without overdoing the skiing - and so we went indoors for a lesson on how to use the feet.

The Feet
Feet are complicated things - highly underestimated, shut away in shoes and forgotten about. One quarter of the bones in the human body are in the feet.

Each person removed their right boot and I removed both of mine. In my case having no boots on means that both my feet can be clearly seen and for the others they can feel what effects manipulation of the foot can have against the boot. The relationship between the foot and the boot is very significant. I got everyone to feel the ankle collapses when standing on the whole foot and bending - and how the boot hides this collapse. Then we looked at standing on the heels and at how this is much stronger at the ankles. Bending then comes from the knees and hips instead - but not with the upper body bent over forwards breaking at the waist. 

Rocking the feet from the subtaler joint, beneath the ankle this was linked to motion of the centre of mass in the same direction as the rocking - the feet going from edge to edge. It was shown that this rocking cannot be done with weight on the whole foot and the knees just move around instead.

On a slightly more subtle level the ideal place to situate the weight is a point just in front of the heel - because this activates the core muscles and keeps the shin in contact with the front of the ski boot while still permitting the foot to rock. This is like "centering" on the foot - but it's not the physical centre of the foot.

Outdoors we tried this on a very gentle gradient to begin with. Mete managed to do it best and it really changed Taha's stance allowing his legs to come closer together than usual. 

At this point we had to head for the slalom and...

The Big Race between Dilsat and Taha!

Dilsat showed very good control of rotation which sealed her victory over Taha! Taha did have the handicap of feeling very ill and weak so a rematch will definitely be required.

Technical Skiing
Looking at the skiing in general Mete was making the biggest and most accurate changes. He listens well and applies what he hears. His use of the feet looks great. In slalom he is still having trouble rotating the shoulders down and into the turn. Cagatay managed to lose his snowplough in the slalom course so he became significantly faster and stopped falling over. He is also managing to stand up properly and avoid the excessing leaning against the back of his ski boots that he was doing all the time until yesterday. Gulsum is skiing parallel - which means she is using dynamics. There is still al lot of tension there but she is aware of it and working on it. When encountering a problem with steepness of ice she is now able to sideslip and get down without a crisis. Taha looks much better when using the feet and is starting to make the connection between centre of mass, leg adductor muscles and the rocking of the foot - all pulling towards the centre of the turn. When skiing on his own it's clear that Taha doesn't complete his turns and that this makes him lose his good form and cause a defensive "pushing out" of the heels and pressure of the back of the boots. We skid a bit with Taha behind me so that he could follow my line and try to complete the turns properly. This is also his weak area in slalom and so it is good to train for this outside of the gates as well.

Later on (after Taha had retired for the later part of the afternoon) we did a lot of jump turns to get the legs working and to try to improve dynamics, confidence - jumping coordination and to bring the legs closer together. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Taha Day 3

Clear skies and sunshine! We all need some good weather or else we would all live on the West coast of Scotland or underground.
Bottom of the Grande Motte Glacier

Gulsum had the morning off so our first run of the day included a little bit of off-piste. Cagatay was the first to fall over - being thrown out of a turn near the end. I explained that - as in slalom - you have to fight to stop the ski from lifting you up out of the turn too soon. The ski is powerful off-piste even at slow speeds due to the build up of snow beneath the whole base deflecting the ski.

The slalom course was in good condition and empty this morning so we went straight over to it. Taha continued to make significant progress taking 2 more seconds off his personal best time. The boys are now struggling to match this performance. On the last run Taha was trying to deal with the higher sped by anticipating his next turn and moving earlier than he was used to - it seemed to work. The boys were just trying to use greater dynamics. Cagatay was leaning hard on the back of his boots and braking with a snowplough - which would then cause him to lose a ski and fall on most runs - and then he would try to protect himself by pushing harder on the backs of his boots and braking harder! Time to stop slalom and work on technique!

Touching the fronts of the boots
After studying the slalom video over a hot chocolate and panini break it was time to get to work sorting out Cagatay's problem. We skied down a black run "Trolls" but before getting there I explained to everyone to try to touch the front of the boots with the shins during the turns. Both Taha and Cagatay have a strong tendency to press on the backs of the boots instead. Cagatay didn't succeed just yet but he still made it down the black run OK. After that run I explained to him that he had to try harder - that it was his own mind that was placing him in the back of the boots so he could actually make it do the opposite if he decided. This took a bit of persuading because he didn't realise until this point that there was any psychological issue. The exercise given was to call out "Touching the front." all the way around each turn as we skied down the hill. This definitely worked because his stance became much more effective and relaxed. 

Top of the Grande Motte glacier

Gulsum Skis!
Gulsum joined us for the afternoon and we started off with relaxation exercises - contracting and relaxing muscles to increase awareness of unnecessary tension. I explained that the center of mass was the key to skiing so that it had to be moved - it didn't matter what edges the skis were on. Gulsum was able to feel the motion of the centre of mass but had some trouble controlling speed. Speed is contained by resisting the ski bringing you up and out of the turn towards the end when gravity has a maximum effect. You have to fight intentionally to stay down and to the inside of the turn. The helped Gulsum control her speed. I explained that when you learn to ride a bicycle you don't realise it but you unconsciously control the bicycle through the motion of the centre of mass. The bicycle changes shape to lift you back up as you fall over and the consequence is a turn. Skis work in the same way but we simply don't have handlebars to hold onto to give the illusion of "steering". Likewise a bicycle turns whether or not you hold onto the handlebars. Everybody started to feel more and more how the centre of mass was controlling everything and the skis just supporting this process. I asked everyone to connect the "pulling inwards" of the leg to the movement inwards on the centre of mass. Gulsum skied down the blue run -without any problem - for the first time. Snowplough had been stopping her from using the centre of mass until now - but awareness of the function of the centre of mass has allowed her to change this through understanding.

Middle of the Grande Motte glacier

 The Grande Casse - next to the Grande Motte

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Taha Day 2

Today the boys started to recover their previous skiing levels. Ultimately this didn't require any serious measures - they just needed time.

We started off with simple skating around the turns to get the legs working and to start moving the body.

Individual Issues
Gulsum was still very stiff so I asked her to hold a flexed stance when skiing to try to remove some of the tension. When she  focused on this she was able to show some flexion. I gave the example of how tensing all the muscle in the arm prevents you from flexing the arm - and relaxing the muscles makes flexing the arm easy. Control over the legs requires a similar relaxation and if all the muscles are tensed then the leg becomes locked and unresponsive. 

Taha was able to skate and to work on his hip position - eliminating the trouble on his left leg as a result. 

Mete was rushing the start of his turns and braking unnecessarily. I explained to him that he could allow himself to accelerate and just by finishing the turns off properly he would control his speed and could come to a stop on any turn. 

Cagatay was doing a good job following my line but had a tendency to break into a snowplough when stopping or worried so I indicated to him to try his best to avoid this.

Every opportunity was taken to use a steeper slope for sideslipping - a skill everyone needed to develop. Gulsum was still showing a lack of control over her direction when sideslipping and a tendency to just run ahead with the skis in the hope of finding a place to turn. I explained how the lower hip needed to be pulled back and the bottom facing uphill - bringing the shoulders over the lower ski. Moving the shoulders further downhill was enough to flatten the ski and start the sideslip. Taha had a tendency to let the hip and shoulders return to the original position and just twist the arms downhill. Gulsum was still struggling with the sideslip in general. The boys were fine and understood about placing the hip - especially Mete.

After a break we went over to the slalom for the first time. Gulsum practised a few sideslips at the bottom while everyone when up to the timed run and I prepared to film. The course was very difficult with deep ruts but that didn't put anyone off. Cagatay was confused by the ruts and went into his racing snowplough stance which ensured that he didn't manage to get to the bottom. Mete braked a few time son the first run and this caused him to fall over and so at last he corrected this problem and stopped braking during the turns. His last fall was due to the upperbody rotating. Taha understood that to survive in the ruts he would have to reduce his rotation and hold his body better in towards the turn centre - and so he was rewarded with his fastest slalom time ever despite the tough conditions. 

After the slalom we worked on developing the pivot. I explained that there are two basic ways of skiing - either on the inisde edges all the way around the turn as with using big dynamics in racing - or always on the uphill edges - with both skis downhill of the centre of mass - as in "fall-line" skiing. The morning had been about skating and racing - all inside edges - and the afternoon would be about uphill edges - pivoting. 

Each person was assisted in making single pivots on one foot to feel the correct sensation of the ski pivoting from the uphill edge.  The difference between twisting the ski and "pulling" the ski was demonstrated - like "spreading butter" with a knife. Each person pulled their ski tip against a ski pole in the snow so that they could feel the correct muscle use.

I explained that ideally the foot should roll onto it's lower edge inside the ski boot while the ski stayed on the upper edge. This permits correct muscle use during the pivot and it also flattens the ski making the pivot easier to initiate. We worked on pivoting from the top ski only - avoiding putting the other one on the snow. Everyone showed a tendency to place the lower ski on the snow and use it to stand on and stem the to ski out into a plough so it was important to be on one ski before starting any turn. Typically everyone found this much harder to do on the left leg - but this improved rapidly with practise.

Gulsum began to understand how to control her direction in a sideslip. Control in a sideslip is a prerequisite for being able to pivot.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Taha Day 1

Not an ideal start for The family - day 1 should have been day 3 and and boys had practically completely forgotten how to ski. I've never seen that happen before so wasn't really prepared for it. Initially I thought that it would only take a few hours to get back to last year's level - but although they finished up able to ski comfortably on blues again they were far from their level at the end of their first skiing holiday. It was also a very cold, windy day which didn't make it ideal for doing exercises - we had to keep on moving when outside.

Unconcious Programming
I realised that last year the boys were complete beginners and within two weeks they were handling everything well - blacks, bumps, slalom and off-piste. They had learned through a process of having natural movements encouraged and developed - unconscious movements for the most part. This gave them great freedom very rapidly - but they didn't have any continuation afterwards. They also didn't have any abstract "ski technique" such as snowplough to rely on. For this reason they stood on their skis and at first felt completely lost. What I should have done was repeat the same process that they learned with - that is to support them physically and ski with them - moving their bodies and letting them feel the correct sensations while secure. I'll do some of that first thing tomorrow morning. 

Gulsam is obviously very tense - the locked-out leg gives that away! Snowplough and tension don't make a good mix so this turns into a drama when conditions become a little bit more challenging. We worked on sideslipping with a view to getting Gulsam much more comfortable travelling sideways and eventually initiating a pivot from the uphill edge. It will take some practice to bring it to this level because tension is hard to break - and so are defensive habits.

Centre of Mass
Everyone initially worked on moving the "Centre of Mass" because this is the most important thing is skiing - it's what drives everything else. Gulsam was making progress with this and was even able to use some measure of pivoting with it on good terrain. Taha moved strongly but with a tendency to drop the shoulders into the turn and shove the hips towards the outside of the turn instead of the inside - especially when standing on the left leg.

We discussed "listening" to the body - the legs in particular so as to become more aware of all the tension and leaning against ski boots. Everyone realised that they had not been listening and that they were not aware of the levels of tension. Rather than try to change anything I asked everyone to just ski and observe for a while - to improve body/mind communication.

Some of the early exercises we did involved skating - driving the Centre of Mass inwards towards the centre of the turns. Mete at first was stepping his skis the wrong way "converging" but was able to quickly correct this to make them diverge when this was pointed out. Skating gets the hips in the right place, improves timing and builds confidence for standing on one leg at a time and helps to loosen up the leg actions. I had tried a few jumping exercises early on to encourage leg movement and prevent any tendency to create snowploughs. By the end of the day the boys were moving quite fast and were turning to stop instead to braking with ploughs. They had never been taught the plough - even for braking - but they figured it out for themselves. The fact that it has never been encouraged means that it doesn't dominate their movements and make them defensive.

Taha and Gulsam were shown how their hips were moving the wrong way when both walking a skiing - then this made it easy for them to understand how to move the hip correctly when skiing. Both have very strong hip rotation so this is an excellent exercise - pulling the outside hip backwards - but will take some practice. I could see the results when they were managing to do it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Slalom Defne, Derin, Emir

All three skiers have been taught by me at some time in the past. Emir has had mostly my influence and can't remember anything else from when he was younger. Derin has held onto the natural sensations and rhythms that she picked up on a few years ago. Defne has kept some of the moves that I taught her but much has been replaced by standard "ski school" teaching.

Lenticular Wave Cloud - casting a shadow over La Grande Motte and Tignes

Two Body Centres
Before going into slalom we warmed up with a couple of short runs. I asked the skiers if they knew what is the most important part of the body in skiing. Nobody got it right - though Derin offered quite a few suggestions. The most important part is the "centre"  - but there are two centres - a centre of power and a Centre of Mass. The body spins and rolls around the Centre of Mass. I explained that when you write you can feel the point of a pencil even though it's not part of your body. Your Centre of Mass can move around and be in different parts of your body (or outside of it) but you can be aware of it like the tip of a pencil. The centre of your physical power is above the pelvis and in front of the spine. Most of the time the two centres are in the same place - or trying to get back together. To keep it simple I actually only spoke of only one "centre" and explained that the aim is to move this centre and use it to control everything else. If you want to go left - move it to the left. If you want to stay in a slalom turn - move it in towards the centre of the turn. This is the one thing that will always save you when everything else goes wrong - but it's not always easy to do! 

One Turn Centre
Towards the end of a turn the forces build up strongly on the legs - but those forces are because the ski is trying to bring your centre up and out of the turn. You have to fight this by driving your centre down and in towards the snow and the turn centre  - until it's the right time to come back up and out. This is where most people get it wrong in slalom. The poles are there to show them that they need to work to finish a turn properly.

In the slalom Derin (age seven and a half) told herself all the way down the course to move her centre inwards. This showed by her great results for the first proper time in slalom - and a rapid improvement on the following runs. Derin is often on the back of her ski boots but we were not concerned with that issue yet.

Defne was trying hard to move her centre inwards but was getting blocked by being too hard against the back of her ski boots. In Defne's case the muscle tension was also locking up the hip joint and causing a rotation - which made it impossible to keep a good line in the course and to keep the Centre of Mass inside the turn. 

Emir is nice and relaxed at his hips and stands well on his feet and skis - not leaning on his boots. He was moving his Centre of Mass - but still not enough. His spectular fall was because his support foot was trailing too far behind and when the ski "dug in" a little it pinged him up in the air and out of control. If the foot had been further ahead that wouldn't have happened. Still, it's better to make this mistake than to fall against the backs of the ski boots!

Reality Check
The slalom had been filmed so we went indoors to study it. I gave each individual personal feedback before and during the video. None of the children understood what "perception" was so I explained that it was how we either "felt" or "saw" something. "Reality" and "Perception" do not always agree. When we move we might think that we move a lot (that's how we perceive it) but then we look at the video and can see the reality is sometimes very different. Derin immediately saw that she was not moving into the centre as much as she had perceived she was and Defne could see that she was leaning on the back of her boots even though she hadn't perceived it before. I explained that it's the same when I say something about their skiing - it's often to help to bring their perception closer to reality. Slalom itself is about developing perception of how to turn properly - through the use of feedback (reality check) from specific physical constraints.

Body-Mind Connection
To progress well in skiing it requires conscious, mindful awareness of our acts. Focusing on parts of the body - being aware of them - trains not only the body but it trains the mind to be better at focusing. This exercise actually relaxes the mind and helps to reduce tension. Developing a clear and strong dialogue between the body and mind is really developing one of the most useful "life skills" possible. 

After lunch I skied for a while with Dilsat and she mentioned that she was having a problem with her knees coming together. A quick look at it and it was clear that the underlying issue was actually hip rotation - the knee collapsing inwards slightly to compensate for the lack of hip angulation. I explained how the hip has to move backwards in walking and skiing and demonstrated this with the use of ski poles for support. Dilsat understood and tried this. Immediately this worked to prevent the hip rotation. In the video, the outside foot however is trailing even further behind so this has to be corrected next!

The crack in the sky (to the left) is a tear in the fabric of spacetime!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Core Development - The Steam Engine

Body Weight or Core Power?

Having changed pedalling technique towards the end of last season I'd not managed to show that it would work for going faster - it seemed to make sense for increasing endurance but my speed was not fantastic. Towards the New Year in fact tiredness had reduced performance to a crawl. Interestingly, it's often said that it's more efficient to pedal seated - but I for one could not yet feel that efficiency.
Pushing hard on the pedals in a big gear - with the hip moving back as the foot goes forwards - the core muscles are used directly to generate power. When this is done really hard there is no need to stand on the pedals. It seems that standing on the pedals works when body weight is used instead of core power - changing the coordination.  The reason I'd never felt this "efficiency" sitting down is because when I wanted real power in the past I always used to use body weight pulling everything up on one side and pushing down on the other - hip and torso going with the foot.

 190° view from my balcony - over la Plagne

There is a certain elusive coordination for accessing real power from the core. The moving back of the hip during extension is not arbitrary - it has to be timed very accurately to access power. Imagine a Cheetah extending its hind legs - it's like the extension starts from the rib cage - that's where all the power comes from - this use of the core. You don't get that when you stand on the pedals and use your body weight instead.

When climbing during running, power is needed to raise the centre of mass progressively up the hill. When that power is drawn from the core - actively and through accurate timing - it feels "springy" but without using the smaller muscles of the legs to achieve it. Because running is more upright than cycling this translates into a more obvious rotational motion beneath the rib cage. Although it's the glutes and hip extensors that are working the feeling of power is more towards the centre of the core - near the lower abdomen. The body becomes like steam engine working away internally with rotations and pistons to generate efficient power. 

During the coming week I will be investigating how the above might apply on skis. The basic link has already been made and explained on previous posts but for the purpose of effectively protecting the lower back there is probably great scope for development.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pirie, Chi, Buteyko - comparison

Apparent Differences between Pirie's "Laws of Running", "Chi Running" and "Buteyko"

Law   2: Pirie - Springing and Forefoot strike 
             Chi   - Lifting feet and Midfoot strike (Both options appear to have virtues)
Law   5: Pirie - Walking damages running
             Chi   - Chi Walking is encouraged (Chi Walking seems to overcome the problem)
Law   8: Pirie - Dont lean forwards
             Chi   - Lean forwards - but from the ankle (They both mean the same thing - don't tilt from the hips)
Law 11: Pirie - Static stretching causes injuries 
             Chi   - Promotes stretching exercises (Pirie is probably correct here)
Law 12: Pirie - Running equals "out of breath" so breathe only through the mouth (Jury is out on this one...)
        Buteyko - Breathe only through the nose - it's the breathing organ - increases oxygenation

View towards la Plagne today

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pirie's Laws!

The wisdom inherent in Pirie's "laws" is stunning! It's easy to just pass over each law and not credit it with much significance - but the more you understand the activity the more meaning you can see there. No wonder he held world records at just about every distance for long distance running!

 (Link to book download - pdf format)

1 - Running with correct technique (even in prepared bare feet), on any surface, is injury free.

2 - Running equals springing through the air, landing elastically on the forefoot with a flexed
knee (thus producing quiet feet). On landing, the foot should be directly below the body.
(Walking is landing on the heels with a straight leg).

3 - Any and all additions to the body damage running skill.

4 - Quality beats quantity; the speed at which you practice the most will be your best speed.

5 - Walking damages running.

6 - The correct running tempo for human beings is between three and five steps per second.

7 - Arm power is directly proportional to leg power.

8 - Good posture is critical to running. (Don't lean forwards!).

9 - Speed kills endurance; endurance kills speed.

10 - Each individual can only execute one “Program” at any one time; an individual can be
identified by his or her idiosyncrasies (i.e. “Program”). An i ndividual can change his or her
“Program” only by a determined, educational effort; each individual's “Program” degenerates
unless it is controlled constantly.

11 - Static stretching exercises cause injuries!

12 - Running equals being out of breath, so breathing through the mouth is obligatory (hence the
nickname “Puff Puff Pirie”).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 2 Royal Navy Races

Course Inspection prior to the morning race.

Timing at the start gate. 

Meet the Upside Down People - they were training beside the RN today.

Some RN Telemark racers...

More Upside down People

Another RN chappie...

Back to the amazing Upside Down People...

Were they all pretending to be helicopters like this one?

Album with many more photos... 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Royal Navy at Tignes 2012

Today was of of the two days that I help out with race control  for the Tignes ski station. It's always a pleasure to work with Tignes Development because they are good natured and easy-going. Even the town administration is friendly!

Even better it's the chance to spend a couple of days with the Royal Navy and help them out with their annual championships. Today was the Ski-cross and Boarder-cross competitions.

The competitors might not have had the best technique in the world but they were certainly going for it!

This tight corner was the scene of several pileups. 

The skier's were notably faster than the boarders - and "cross" does make for a more interesting spectacle than traditional racing. Seeing someone being caught and overtaken adds another dimension of entertainment.

All the rest of the photos can be accessed here...

On the way home I noticed the lenticular wave clouds above St Foy and had to stop to photograph them...

The contrasting light in the evening at Aime also obliged me to test my new camera further. The camera takes about 6 images for a hand held shot like this and then processes them together for excellent results.