Monday, April 30, 2012

Forward lean or not forward lean? Pirie, Dryer or both?

Gordon Pirie's book (below) is very adamant about "not leaning forwards" but that was 40 years prior to Gebreselassie. Pirie was clearly well ahead of his time and there are some great insights in his ideas - but when held to comparison with Danny Dreyer's "ChiRunning" there are some gaping holes exposed.

Below... Haile Gebreselassie in the 1998 Helsinki 5000m - setting a world record.  He is the one at the back - the two in front are pacemakers. He clearly has a midfoot strike  - not a forefoot strike and all three of them have forward lean. Exactly as described in ChiRunning. 

Pirie's book gets seriously into technique on pages 17 to 20.

It's interesting to compare ChiRunning and Pirie to see both the differences and similarities.

First of all what do they have clearly in common?
  1. The foot lands directly beneath the body
  2. Heel striking is avoided
  3. Both end up with whole foot on the ground
  4. Falling forwards is implicit
  5. High cadence
  6. Good posture essential
  7. Knees stay slightly flexed
  8. Arms play an important role, bent at 90° and not crossing the center-line of the body
  9. Constant focus and attention is required and developed
Where are the clear differences? (Colour red indicates where one is probably more accurate)
  1. Level or Ascending terrain: Pirie - forefoot strike, Dryer - mid-foot strike
  2. Alignment: Pirie- one foot directly in front of the other, Dryer - each foot either side of a thin central line.
  3. Lower leg: Pirie pushes off with foot, ankle and calf, Dryer - picks up feet instead - no push off.
  4. Lean: Pirie is adamant that forward lean is to be avoided, Dryer - makes forward lean central to technique
  5. Arms: Pirie emphasizes sharp brake of forward swing, Dryer emphasizes rear swing (Upward swing when climbing)
  6. Energy Recovery: Pirie mentions "springing", Dryer shows role of tendons and ligaments in core for energy recovery
  7. Propulsion: Pirie - proper use of arms and legs, Dryer - gravity is source of propulsion
  8. Upper body: Pirie - keep it immobile, Dryer - allow the spine to twist up to the T12 vertebrae
  9. Core: Pirie - no mention, Dryer - use of core central with transfer of dominant muscle use here
  10. Stride: Pirie - faster speed gives longer stride, Dryer - stride lengthened behind with pelvic rotation and spine involved - gives higher speed
  11. Relaxation: Pirie - no mention, Dryer - source of speed and efficiency
  12. Minimalism: Pirie -  advocates minimalist shoes, Dryer - standard running shoes
  13. Walking: Pirie - straight leg and heel strike, bad for running, Dryer - mid-foot strike, same mechanics as running (ChiWalking)
Dreyer's logic relating speed directly to stride length (gearing) appears to be faulty. Pirie points out that by using the power of the arms and legs coordinated together it's by virtue of a stronger spring that you spend more time in the air and so achieve a longer stride. However Dreyer makes a more conscious use of relaxation and the forward vector component of gravity during a supported fall. Dreyer states that to increase speed the cadence is kept constant and the stride lengthened - but without a spring there is a limit to how much the stride can be extended. Altogether it's impossible to go fast with a fixed cadence and limited stride length. Perhaps just picking up the feet higher and leaning more generates greater speed - which then lengthens the distance covered in the air - but without a spring this is difficult to imagine. Dreyer in general has keyed into the correct mechanics but then if you add the active power of the upper body through the arms as advocated by Pirie you get a spring even without using the lower legs/calves etc. With the arms and upper body ahead of the feet on the ground then the strong acceleration and deceleration of the arms adds power to both give a spring and to recover the opposite leg. You can actually feel the power in your hands like you are pulling on a rope and then  pushing against a resistance as the force transmits through the body in a very connected way. Pirie is clearly wrong about not leaning forwards and this is why he is unconscious of how to exploit gravity intelligently.  Ironically his only given exercise for beginners is to stand on the tip toes and fall forwards! Pirie's observation that using the arms powerfully and coordinated with the legs removes the need to over-reach ahead with the legs is amazingly good. 

One interesting aspect of using gravity for propulsion is that this impulse can only be accessed when in contact with the ground and toppling forwards - otherwise gravity is generating a purely vertical motion. This fact would also go some way towards explaining why good runners use a high cadence. Normally the high cadence is explained in terms of the elasticity of tendons - the fact that they only retain elastic force for a small fraction of a second. The more frequently you can have a brief contact with the ground the more frequently you can obtain a forward impulse from gravity. Momentum, forward lean and foot placement will all then interact in interesting ways. Greater momentum will cause the centre of mass to move ahead of the support foot more rapidly - causing increased speed through a positive feedback loop. That's why relaxation will generate speed - it's removing resistance. Tilting the entire body forwards will place the emphasis more directly on gravity itself than momentum. The more efficient you are at maintaining momentum the less you should need to exaggerate the forwards tilt - which is probably why Gebreselassie is slightly less tilted forwards than his pacemakers. Balancing the downwards impulse of gravity through a strong hip/leg extension is hard work and this is probably why the pacemakers tire out more rapidly. Using the forefoot-strike is going to guarantee a good shock absorption through all the 100+ muscles, tendons and ligaments in the foot and the big calf muscles. However, this is probably not necessary or efficient unless sprinting with the centre of mass well ahead of the support foot and working hard to balance the downward vector of gravity (sprinters are powerful!). If enough shock absorption is achieved with a mid-foot strike then less of the energy from forwards momentum is absorbed and then re-transmitted by the foot/calf mechanism and will be retained directly in momentum. This could also go some way to explaining why Gebreselassie is more efficient in maintaining momentum and than his pacemakers who are using forefoot strikes. The trick would seem to lie in getting the right mix of each of those parameters for the task in hand. 

From a personal viewpoint I'm curious about how efficient running might link to "resonance" and how it might relate to a wave-like motion. The thing about resonance is that it only takes an accurately timed small impulse to create a very powerful effect. Nicolai Tesla (inventor of exploitable AC current, induction electric motor, radio, and wireless power transmission) reckoned he could split the Earth in two with resonance:

What follows is part of an article and interview with Tesla by Allan L. Benson,
published in The World To-Day, Vol. XXI, No. 8, February 1912, Page 1763-1767.

The principle embodied in [experiments with resonance] interested Tesla, and he
determined to try it upon a larger scale.  He ordered from a steel company a
steel link, two feet long and two inches thick.  He was careful to specify that
the steel should be of the best quality.  As a matter of fact, the link was
strong enough to bear a weight of hundreds of tons.

Tesla fastened to this link an electric vibrator, no larger than an alarm-
clock, but so constructed that the frequency of the vibrations could be altered
at will.  He set the vibrator to going and then began to vary the vibrations
for the purpose of getting the vibrator in "tune" with the link.  For a long
time, nothing happened -- the vibrations of the link and of the machine did not
chance to coincide. But at last he got them together, the great steel link
began to tremble, increased its trembling until it dilated and contracted like
a beating heart -- and finally broke!

Sledge hammers could not have done it; crowbars could not have done it, but a
fusillade of taps, no one of which would have harmed a baby, did it.

Tesla was pleased.  He had learned something.  He wanted to learn more.  He put
his little vibrator in his coat pocket and went out to hunt a half-erected
steel building.  Down in the Wall Street district, he found one -- ten stories
of steel framework without a brick or a stone laid around it.  He clamped his
vibrator to one of the beams, and fussed with the adjustment until he got it.

"In a few minutes", he said, "I could feel the beam trembling. Gradually, the
trembling increased in intensity and extended throughout the whole great mass
of steel.  Finally, the structure began to creak and weave, and the steel-
workers came to the ground panic-stricken, believing that there had been an
earthquake.  Rumors spread that the building was about to fall, and the police
reserves were called out.  Before anything serious happened, I took off the
vibrator, put it in my pocket and went away.  But if I had kept on ten minutes
more, I could have laid that building flat in the street. And, with the same
vibrator, I could drop Brooklyn Bridge into the East River in less than an

Tesla says that he can split the earth in the same way -- split it as a boy
would split an apple -- and forever end the career of man.

This seems like quite a large order -- but see what he says about it.

"The vibrations of the earth," said he, "have a periodicity of approximately
one hour and forty-nine minutes.  That is to say, if I strike the earth this
instant, a wave of contraction goes through it that will come back in one hour
and forty-nine minutes in the form of expansion.  As a matter of fact, the
earth, like everything else, is in a constant state of vibration.  It is
constantly contracting and expanding.

"Now, suppose that at the precise moment when it begins to contract, I explode
a ton of dynamite.  That accelerates the contraction and, in one hour and
forty-nine minutes, there comes an equally accelerated wave of expansion.  When
the wave of expansion ebbs, suppose I explode another ton of dynamite, thus
further increasing the wave of contraction.  And, suppose this performance be
repeated, time after time.  Is there any doubt as to what would happen?  There
is no doubt in my mind.  The earth would be split in two.  For the first time
in man's history, he has the knowledge with which he may interfere with cosmic

I asked Tesla how long he thought it would take him to split the earth in two.
He said he didn't know.  Months might be required; perhaps a year or two.

"But in a few weeks," he said, "I could set the earth's crust into such a state
of vibration that it would rise and fall hundreds of feet, throwing rivers out
of their beds, wrecking buildings, and practically destroying civilization.

"The principle cannot fail.  It is as powerful when applied to the earth as it
is when applied to a [violin note shattering a] wineglass, a [boy pushing a man
on a] swing, or a steel link.  Any one who doubts should only bear in mind the
illustration of the swing.  A small boy, by each time adding a pound to the
force with which a 200-pound man swings, can soon set the man swinging with the
force of 500 pounds.  It is necessary only to keep adding a little force at the
right time."

 * Origin: RAD BBS, Melrose, Oregon (93:9705/4)

It seems pretty certain that resonance is a key to efficient running so it would be interesting to investigate how it might function. Cadence is obviously part of this. Relaxation, foot placement, gravity, muscular impulse from the legs and core and arm actions will contribute to timing.  Perhaps the seemingly disproportionate effect of the arms is due directly to resonance. Perhaps the whole motion could be seen like a wave and successful coordination of all the parts generating a resonance  that sustains momentum with the greatest efficiency. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Notre Dame du Pré

Cold weather has made cycling a bit less appealing and eating much more attractive! Cycled down towards Moutiers and up to Notre Dame du Pré - which is where the sunlit building is in the photo. It's a really hard 11km climb but despite pushing hard but not feeling up for it I was surprised to remain strong all the way. I don't like cycling so much when wrapped up in winter clothes - it seems to sap power from the body. Just not motivated at the moment but this is where persistence and consistency pay off later on. Heart rate monitor wasn't accurate again today but it has a new battery  - not sure what to do about that. 

Anyway I think I'll make this my regular "short" workout because the climb is grueling and that's quite useful.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thomas, Melanie, David

Someone today will get the “Most Impressive Award" – but only by the end of the blog.  David has been unashamedly fishing for it and is the strongest skier but nothing is guaranteed. Thomas is only 16 but already 6ft 5ins (even without his Adidas Rose 1.5 ankle snapping basketball shoes) and that’s already quite impressive (1) but perhaps slightly irrelevant. Melanie is quiet but busily working away hard in the background – possibly the dark horse! The person who scores the highest number of "impressives" wins.

My plan for starting off today had been to introduce ChiSkiing to Melanie and Thomas. In Melanie’s case it would be to work against her rotation. In Thomas’s case it would be to try to raise his body awareness and help address postural issues that were both blocking him and threatening potential damage to his lower back. David had missed all of yesterday so he wasn’t part of this plan and it wasn’t at all what I’d have chosen to work on with him at this point - but it would still serve to highlight certain issues quite effectively. 

Yesterday, when confronted with slush Melanie reverted to big defensive rotational actions and rushed turn initiations - all being counter productive. Although she had learned to feel better support from her legs and skis and had improved her dynamics this wasn't enough on its own. Given enough time it probably would be enough but the main task of coaching is to transmit useful information so that each person doesn't have to "reinvent the wheel". Self discovery and skill development still take time but we aim to optimise this time.  Experience has taught me that people don't easily let go of dominant habits - especially defensive ones. Simplistic "quick fix" solutions - such as "face downhill all the time" are remarkably ineffective at changing things - or simply displace the issue through generating alternative problems and no real understanding. You can chip away at changing things through working on many different and fundamental aspects but often this fails to truly address the hidden root of the problem. The root of most intractable problems usually lies remarkably close to the Centre of Mass. This is where the valuable insights from ChiSkiing come in.

First of all it's necessary for me to explain that I although I make use of the term "Chi" I do not accept "mystical" or "supernatural" explanations for anything and consider anyone who does to be dishonest or deluded. For a full explanation of my interpretation of Chi read the following article: Energy Illusion. References to "energies" that cannot be measured are fraudulent. We know enough today to be able to be very clear on this.

Prior to beginning the day's skiing I had to explain the changes we would be working on. Thomas obliged us by walking with really big steps in his ski boots. When exaggerating his steps it simply amplifies his normal way of walking. Thomas reached ahead with his foot, leg and hip, landing on his heel with each step. Most people would do exactly the same. In fact I've not yet come across anyone doing anything different. The problem here is that surprisingly the coordination is all wrong and damaging for the body. (Wearing Adidas Rose 1.5 shoes doesn't help either!)  Walking efficiently requires that the body initially falls forwards - ahead of the feet. The foot that stays on the ground supports the body as the hip extensors (bum muscles) and quads straighten out the leg and stop the Centre of Mass from losing significant height as it falls forwards. Meanwhile the other leg is lifted (heel lifted up) and the knee pulled slightly forwards using the hip flexors (psoas) and eventually this foot is dropped beneath the Centre of Mass - not in front of it. Gravity becomes the source of forward propulsion instead of muscle power. The main muscles used are now in and around the core of the body - close to the Centre of Mass. Those muscles are large and powerful especially when working together in a coordinated group. The muscles in the lower leg in contrast are small, weak and tire quickly. Good distance runners tend to have small calve muscles. Most people first of all notice the bum muscles working probably for the first time and secondly that the quads are not being overloaded. (This is perhaps interesting particularly for women who are always looking for ways to keep their bottoms in shape!)

When cycling we tend to make the same error even more easily - that is - following the foot through with the hip at the start of the leg extension. On a bike, because the foot is not fixed on the ground and is moving and the Centre of Mass is fixed instead (above the saddle) then things become slightly different. To maintain the same natural movement of the hip and spine you have to pull back the hip actively as you begin to extend the leg and push against the pedal. This makes a major difference as to how the bone structure is aligned and all of the subsequent mechanics in terms of leverage and efficiency. In skiing precisely the same thing happens. Our range of motion on skis is even more constrained than on the bike but the same conscious re-alignment of the hip is critical from the moment each independent leg is stood on.  The hip and pelvis have to be "separated" from the rest of the body with the hip being pulled back, turning the pelvis slightly countered to the direction of the turn, realigning the femur more in line with the ski, twisting the spine slightly up to the T12 vertebrae (ribs). To feel this stand facing forwards and without moving the feet or shoulders just pull one hip backwards corresponding to the degree that it would go with a stride extending backwards when walking or running correctly. (We did this exercise prior to skiing). The direction of twist in the spine is in the direction of the turn - though this is not necessarily visible. This opens up the abdominal space between the hip and the ribs. The classic "countered shoulders" taught when people are shown to "face downhill" twists the spine in the opposite direction, compressing the ribs into the pelvis and failing to activate any of the core muscles for either any practical function or protection of the spine.

OK. Now we can go skiing... 

Warm Up 
Melanie had struggled on her own yesterday afternoon so we returned to the easy training slopes over in Val d’Isère. This meant repeating the same long shuss as yesterday – but with slightly stickier fresh snow on the surface. This gave the opportunity to work with both “perpendicularity” and Skating with Gravity – which I spotted David experimenting with. 

ChiHips (Chips?)
On the first available slope we started to put the ChiHip into practice. Melanie launched proceedings: " So turning left it's the left hip I pull back then... " No it's the right hip Melanie. Until now you have effectively been puling the left hip back - or at least pushing the right one forward and that's why this seems natural to you. We are now trying to change that!  This is an impressive (1) example of how people's thinking is controlled unconsciously by the body - leading to a form of confusion. In general it's probably a good sign because often people who have a clear intellectual grasp of things have almost no connection with their body. Women tend to go by "feel" more than men and they generally learn faster.  Men are often strongly visual so they more easily visualize what to do but they then use inappropriate force instead of feeling, feedback and relaxation. 

David skis with the classic "face the body downhill and feet together" stance - which should in general keep the hip in the correct place. Proof that this really doesn't do the job or lead to any proper understanding can be seen in the photo of David sideslipping. Regardless of the positioning of his shoulders the pelvis is twisted in the wrong direction and instead of showing "angulation" (angle between the legs and upper body when viewed in the direction of the skis) we see an inverse angulation - or in plain speak - his bum is pointing downhill and it should be pointing uphill. This is even more significant in the context that he is actually trying to point his bum uphill and is unaware of what is happening instead. Yes this is an impressive (1) lack of awareness - but otherwise quite normal.

Thomas was still struggling with sideslip and was running off forwards all the time. He blamed his skis! This is a most impressive (2) cop out! When your legs are locked up with tension then the skis will appear to have a life of their own. When Thomas declared (later) "It's not me!" I pointed out that there was no one else in his ski boots so it must be him. At some point in the day we did the "arm curl" exercise - where we pretend to have a dumb bell in the hand and do arm curls. This exercise teaches us about "resistance" - when we fight against ourselves. When the arm is straightened and all the muscles in the arm clenched it becomes impossible to do any arm curls. This is similar to what Thomas (or somebody else) is managing to do with his legs - but unconsciously. Perhaps this is an early warning of schizophrenia, or perhaps in a very real way somebody else - your unconscious - is in charge of the body!  Thomas didn't mean any of that though - he was trying desperately to blame his skis.

Simplifying Chips (Photo - Les Arcs taken from Aime 20th April)
It is always important to be able to simplify coordination - but without becoming simplistic. I pointed out that the best way to deal with this is to remember that skiing uses one leg at a time and that everything applies to the one leg being used for support: Roll the foot inwards, Touch the shin on the boot, Pull inwards with the adductors, Pull the hip back (but NOT the shoulders) - from the beginning to the end of the turn. Melanie skied without any noticeable rotation but I was aware that she had also done that yesterday on the same easy terrain so there was no guarantee of any real change just yet. When David pulled his hip back it only made his "face downhill and feet together, push out both heels" even worse. It was actually an impressive (2) demonstration of this major fault - which is a pure product of traditional ski school teaching.

Dynamics Digression
Trying to get David to avoid the "heel pushing" I asked him to ski with his feet slightly further apart and to use dynamics - moving the Centre of Mass instead of his feet. David's (or a least his unconscious mind) determination to remain facing downhill at all cost was impressive (3). This led to some very strange looking contortions when trying to implement dynamics. I really wanted to help but it would have meant digressing the lesson totally off in other directions so I kept feedback to a minimum and just advised David to let the body follow the skis for the time being so as to keep the dynamics movements simple and lateral to the direction of travel (and hence to the upper body).

Posture (Photo - Meribel taken from Aime 20th April)
Part of Thomas's current difficulty was affecting his posture and I'd wanted to use ChiSkiing to help with that. Now that the basic movement pattern was understood it was time to look at Thomas's postural issues. We established roughly where the hip joint was hidden beneath his jacket and I asked him to bend at the hip. Naturally he responded by impressively (3) bending every joint in his spine and keeping the hip relatively stiff. Once this was sorted out I asked Thomas to keep his back straight and to contract his lower abdomen - between the pelvis and the navel - so as to generate a slight pelvic tilt (upwards at the front). When only the lower abdomen are involved then this can be done without risking flattening or rounding the whole lower back and also this prevents the back from being hollowed - all of which can be dangerous. We are basically looking for a "neutral pelvis" but in a dynamic situation. Relaxing the hip and "crunching " the lower abdomen should generally automatically look after the posture. Until now David had been alternating from having a rounded lumbar spine to a hollow one - with no control over the issue. The majority of the time the back was rounded due tho the hip being locked up. This was caused by stemming the uphill ski outwards  - pushing the leg away - then bracing against the leg and locking up all the muscles in a constant battle. With he hip locked the back was bending and taking the strain instead. We didn't have a lot of time to spend on this but I had just wanted to get Thomas started with thinking about all of this. It was clear that no matter how hard he tried he could not hold his support leg beneath him with the knee slightly inwards (due to adduction - not twisting) and the tension was seriously affecting his skiing, posture and ability to progress.

So far we had established that it wasn't actually Thomas skiing and that he was putting more energy into fighting against himself than anything else. In addition to that he was doing a good job of resisting practically everything I said.

In an attempt to break Thomas's tension I asked him to bend very low - to almost 90° with the knee and hip joints. Thomas bent - leaning his upper body over horizontal but hardly bending his knees. This wasn't exactly copying me. Battling through his impressive (4) mental resistance we managed to get him to do it and when he skied like this he had a lot more control over his legs - whoever they belonged to.

I got Thomas to remove his skis (earlier on) and stand on a steep slope facing downhill. From this position you can sink down into a proper "sitting" stance without falling backwards - like sitting on a chair on a steep slope. This keeps the knees and feet ahead of the body and this is necessary for skiing difficult or deep snow and moguls. This way you can appreciate how to bend the knees and hips without leaning the upperbody forwards.

David also has a postural issue sometimes which stems from bracing with his hip pushed forwards and upperbody almost leaning backwards. This is a variation on the theme demonstrated already in "sideslipping". Unfortunately David's attempt to correct this was leading to a very unnatural appearance that I simply didn't have the time to even attempt to unravel. What was good though was that he was clearly experimenting and responding to feedback. He could knock off the gorilla act instantly when asked to.

Off Piste
We made a brief excursion off piste but the snow was sun crusted already and not easy to ski so we pulled straight out of it. That was unfortunate because it would have been nice for everyone to feel how easy the dynamics makes off piste when the snow is at least half descent.

Carving (Photo - La Plagne taken from Aime 20th April)
I'd deliberately gone over to the Grand Pré area to teach carving. The piste is gentle and very wide there with few people around so it's perfect for this job. First of all we did some two edged traverses gently pointing downhill to start with and swinging back uphill - trying to ride the edges like railway lines. I pointed out that it didn't matter where the body weight was for this exercise. We then looked at how to change edge by moving the body across the skis and not displacing the skis. This is done by standing across a gentle gradient and using the poles to hold up the body when moving over onto the downhill edges. Statically like this it's also possible to practice and isolate all the other things that need to be done - including the ChiHips. Carving is a special case - it's when the skis are totally locked on their edges. Anything other than this is not carving.  One advantage of this for David is that to get it right it forces him to move his Centre of Mass and restrain from pushing the feet sideways. The feedback from carving is so solid and clear and sustained that even men can "feel" it! However I have encountered many who couldn't. David fortunately is not one of them.

Thomas was also able to benefit a great deal from carving. His stance looked much more relaxed and that's because he wasn't having to deal with the skis going sideways  - which pulls the knee outwards as the ski tries to flatten. This gave Thomas a chance to feel the things he had been working on a bit more clearly.

Melanie carved impressively (2) from the start - with clean edge changes, coordination and dynamics.

Speed Control (Photo - Les Arcs, Peisey Nancroix  taken from Aime 20th April)
I noticed that when Melanie was left to find her own way down the mountain she rushed her turns and some rotation would creep back in. It was obvious that she wasn't aware of how to exploit the turns correctly and this was confirmed when I brought the subject up. I explained that any turn can bring you to a complete stop and that in general control of speed comes not from braking but from exploiting the line of the turn as far round and almost back up the hill as necessary to obtain the desired speed. Speed control comes from choice of "line" not from braking. The start of the turn should be smooth and prolonged with a smooth acceleration - not a rush to throw either the body (Melanie) or feet (David) around to brake. The speed then smoothly dissipates as you come back across the hill. This is a question of tactics or strategy - not technique and Melanie had no trouble understanding it.

Pivoting (Photo - Valley towards Moutiers  taken from Aime 20th April)
We did some work again on pivoting and David was quite good at this - which probably comes as a legacy from his "feet together stance" and his 1970s 2m long straight skis - which we both agreed should not have been thrown out. They still make straight skis for skiing in steep couloirs because only skis with very little sidecut can grip under foot when it is seriously steep. Not that I was planning on taking anyone to such a place too soon.

David didn't need any encouragement to initiate the turns from his uphill edges - that came easily for him. Without any doubt that's because he has done this for many years but without being specifically aware of it. Mogul skiers do this by default also so David is probably relatively comfortable in the bumps compared to the rest of the family. The main thing to work on was using pole support to feed the body towards the inside of the turn - particularly through the end of the turn where the body has to work hardest to remain uphill of the vertical. The pole is used at the start of the turn to get the Centre of Mass moving downhill without the ski changing edge. The adductors are kept taught so as to pull the skis into the turn while they are on the uphill edges. Most people then fail to fight to stay inside the turn towards the end when all the forces are conspiring together to lift them out of the turn. This was partly the reason why Melanie had been struggling with her rotation. Rotation directly brings the hips and Centre of Mass out away from the turn centre so there is no possibility of maintaining a controlled line through the completion of a turn. Working at this slowly with the controlled pivot is a way to develop awareness of where the Centre of Mass really needs to go and just how much extra work is really required to stay properly in the turn as it progresses.

Compression Turns
We made another slight deviation off piste so that I could show how to use the pivot from a very low stance. When the turn is initiated during the lowering of the stance (if the legs are under tension) it is called a compression turn. If the legs just "let go" it is called "leg retraction". Compression simulates the sensation and effect of hitting a bump or mogul (or loading up in very deep snow) and using it to pivot on. The compression turn automatically generates the "sitting" stance that gets the knees and feet protectively ahead of the body.

Thomas or somebody resembling him and wearing his ski boots refused - like a show jumping horse stopping dead at a gate. This was another impressive (5) cop out - once again blamed on the skis. Melanie nervously baled out and put her backwards diagonal sideslip practice to good use. David the "natural" pivoter had a go at it and came through impressively (4) enough to be able to enjoy abusing the others for a while until they picked their way down.

Dynamics part 2 (Perpendicularity)
At this stage I was still worried that Melanie would get to the slush further down and it would all go pear shaped once again. There was a major aspect of dynamics that we hadn't looked at though and sometimes this can have an astonishingly liberating effect - but not for every skier. I asked Melanie how exactly she would be standing when she completed a dynamic flowing turn. (The type of turn was deliberately chosen because it is not the same when pivoting) Melanie said "perpendicular" by which she meant "vertical" and perpendicular to the horizontal. I explained that this was wrong and that the turn was completed when the skier was "perpendicular" to the mountain and the skis flat - so the skier would not be vertical. This is the case when joining two turns. Melanie would have been correct if going only from a turn into a traverse - but we were concerned with linking turns. I demonstrated how the ski would lift me up out of the turn - like a motorbike completing a turn and then I was obliged to fall into the next turn because of already being beyond the vertical. In fact this is what makes linking turns easy and smooth. If the turns are not joined in this way then a smooth line is impossible. Slush gives a great support for lifting you up like this so when good and complete dynamics are used in and out of the turns, slush becomes very enjoyable to ski. Melanie did an impressive (3) job of putting this to use through the slush.

Body Awareness
It was clear that Melanie had an impressive (4) level of body awareness matched with an equally impressive (5) ability to focus. This is no accident because those two things go hand in glove. Awareness of the body comes from focusing on it and re-focusing on it when distracted. The mental exercise of focusing actually both relaxes and strengthens the mind - removing irrelevant or even negative internal chatter going on in the head. Using the body or breathing to focus on has the effect of grounding or centering the person through being in contact with the body. People who are neurotic or highly distracted invariably have no sense of their own body. Skiing should be practiced constantly in this manner - like a moving meditation. When done this way it is a constant development and regenerative process. Stress evaporates. Chirunning and Chiwalking have a similar effect but with even more physical benefit due to their aerobic nature. Melanie was the one who spotted the use of the glutes when we practiced Chiwalking for only a few seconds. That did impress  (6) me.

Most Impressive Award (MIA)
The MIA award hereby goes to Melanie. (This is not to be confused with "Missing In Action" which is normally reserved for Chris's ski clients! "Chaq'un à ça place", Chris!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thomas, Melanie day 1

Weather fluctuating between bursts of heavy snow and cold air then bursts of boiling hot sunshine. You have to dress for winter in case the sun doesn't come out - but when it does you just melt and turn to slush along with the snow on the pistes. On the bright side it's the best on-piste snow I've ever seen at this time of year. The off piste will certainly be excellent too but not for the usual "transformed Spring snow" but for powder. Perhaps we'll find some of that tomorrow!

Warm Up
The warm up run was intended to be a shuss and skate across the flats into Val d'Isère, but questions were already primed and firing: How do you stand in the boots? You said before that you don't "lean forwards". Which leg does the weight go on? I always thought it was the downhill one... etc..
Well I like questions - it means that the people in front of me are participating fully and every question provides an insight into that person's current understanding and perception of skiing.

Remove the planet from under your feet and you are "free floating" in space. America's top physicist John Wheeler describes in his book (A Journey Through Spacetime and Gravity) that this state doesn't change even when we are within the Earth's atmosphere. Only the pesky "elastic force" of the Earth manages to block our freefloat that normally follows the geometry of spacetime. We feel this as pressure on our feet when standing or walking. It's so common that you don't think about it at all - unless you are only a few months old and you have just left the comfort of freefloat in the womb and walking still hasn't been mastered. To stay upright we have to stay more or less vertical - that means "in line" with this geometry (gravity). For the past few million years humanity (or neanderthality and homo erectusality) was quite happy with this state of affairs - but then some thoughtless Norwegian about 7000 years ago strapped skis to his feet and changed everything. Skiing is an intermediate state somewhere between freefloat and standing. As a rule human beings like "freefloat" - we like water - and some of us float high in the sky in our dreams - I know that I've done that a lot. Anyway - getting back to the point... 

When you stand across the hill on skis your skis are horizontal and you are both vertical and standing perpendicular to the direction of travel. You feel the pressure under the feet and it is your full body weight - say 70kg. There is no need to lean on the boots - you just stand up. At this point it's a good idea to feel light contact with the shin against the front of the boot just to sense where it is. Always aim to feel this or to return to this when skiing. The boots don't have to be tight and it's best if the feet can wriggle a bit to make shapes inside the boots. Good boots need to have stiff shafts but they don't need to compress the legs. When you ski off downhill on a slope at say a very steep angle of 45° - then half of the effect of gravity goes into accelerating you and so only half of it is pulling you into the hill. You would feel like you weigh only 35kg  (not quite weightless yet!) and this comes from an elastic force still perpendicular to the slope - but no longer (effectively) vertical - the body is now 45° from the vertical. We are now allowed some measure of freefloat so to stay on our feet we have to recognise that the remaining "elastic" force is deflecting us horizontally as well as vertically. We have to stand perpendicular to the slope and despite feeling 50% lighter we should feel everything else identical to when on the flat - NO LEANING against the boots. During the change of slope form horizontal to 45° you have to physically move and even anticipate this move so that you remain centred over your feet and skis and perpendicular to the new slope. It is a very active and conscious (but natural) adjustment. Eventually air resistance comes into the picture and balances the acceleration.

Still not finished the "warm up" I had to explain "dynamics". I asked Thomas and Melanie to put their weight on their right (uphill) foot and to do so both moved their centre of mass directly to the right over the foot. This is called "balance" and is part of "statics" in mechanics. It is what is taught in ski schools with exercises to move the body over that foot and then turn on that foot - right foot to turn left. IT IS WRONG! We need to use "acceleration" which is part of "dynamics" in mechanics. To get the pressure on the right foot we need to accelerate the centre of mass to the left. When I'm standing there acting like a wall then it's easy to accelerate against me! It's also easy when moving forwards because the ski maintains the acceleration (angular acceleration) by cutting beneath you and lifting you back up even more powerfully than I can. This is a natural movement for anyone "standing" and moving around. You are running along and someone shouts "go left" - you don't move over to the bl**dy right do you? (unless you are one of those people who always get "right and left" muddled). We just get confused because we are in this weird intermediate state between standing and freefloat where we find the wonderful but completely absurd world of "national ski instruction bodies". They have responded by linking and freezing every instruction to a permanent unchanging state of "balance" and pinning a national flag to it. It kind of resembles an animal playing dead when under threat. The idiots actually say that if you take a photo at any point in the turn all the forces would be balanced. WWWWRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOONG! 

To sum up :- When you want to go right move right. 

Skiing Backwards
Before going too far I had both Thomas and Melanie skiing backwards. In this case the reason was not to re-centre them in their boots - but to prepare them for sideslipping exercises - which is part of the development of "pivoting".

Thomas struggled with this fundamental skill. It doesn't take a lot of practise to improve but it is a commonly neglected skill - especially in this age of "carving skis". It's like we have forgotten to tell people that skis also go sideways - in fact that's what they mostly need to do. Likewise Melanie was very uncomfortable on the ice - but had more control in general. I explained that to go backwards (backwards diagonal sideslip) you had to slide the tails of the skis to point slightly downhill and to go forwards (forwards diagonal sideslip) you had to slide the tips of the skis slightly downhill. In this manner we were incrementally building the control and feeling needed to be able to "pivot" later on.

Video Clips (Dynamics)
The video clips here were taken at the start of the exercise. The dynamics were in place but needed to be developed. The interesting thing here is to see the different issues emerging. Melanie has a very strong upper body rotation into the turn. Any rotation inhibits dynamics and causes the skis to be thrown sideways outwards from the turn. It also stops the centre of mass from staying inside the turn at the end of the turn creating instability. Thomas was not rotating but he was not managing to stay in the perpendicular and he was pushing his feet out and twisting them into the turn - with a significant upper ski stem  - using the lower ski as a platform. The clear common denominator here was a distinct lack of use or awareness of the adductor muscles and feet.

Skating with Gravity
As we were exploring our "intermediate freefloat state" I suggested that we get connected with it through skating. Thomas said that he used his quads for power for skating, running and walking. I suggested that we might use gravity instead. This resembles tacking against the wind in sailing. We use gravity to displace us forwards by falling forwards and dropping the recovered leg underneath the body. There is no need to "push off". Thomas got this straight away. Melanie was skittering around unable to grip enough with the skis. This is where I explained about the adductor muscles and the rolling of the feet onto their inside edges - together. Melanie got it straight away. 

Dynamics with Adductors
When the adductors and feet were used in the correct way both Melanie and Thomas felt more control, grip and tightness in the turns with Melanie's rotation coming under control. I explained that when the outside foot was rolled onto its inside edge the forefoot actually turned away from the turn - it didn't twist inwards. To make this work properly it is best to first roll the uphill foot during the traverse, then engage the adductor muscles, then slightly lift the lower ski from the snow to commit 100% to the top ski BEFORE initiating the new turn. The lifting of the lower ski will then serve to cause the dynamics of "falling" into the next turn. This is important to feel because gravity is powerful so we want to use it. Just as gravity propels us in skating it gives us the initial dynamics in skiing in precisely the same way - but with the bonus of the slope thrown in.

I explained how snowplough and stemming train people in the wrong coordination - pushing the skis outwards instead of pulling inwards - and that this tendency becomes unconscious and ingrained. There is also the overwhelming illusion of centrifugal force that causes people to push outwards to brace against a non-existent force. The only force we experience other than the elastic force of the ground is the directional force of the ski. This is always"inwards" never outwards. We need to resist  the emotional tendency to brace and push outwards - locking up the legs and losing the support of the skis. We need to always pull inwards with rolling the foot, tensing the adductors and directing the centre of mass.

Centre of Mass
I explained that the centre of mass is an abstract point normally found between the navel and pelvis in front of the spine. It moves around and we can "feel it" like we feel the tip of a pencil when drawing. We use this point to design and control our movement - DIRECTLY. This is probably the single most important thing in skiing.

Independence of the legs
Thomas had a tendency to stem and be generally two-footed so we did the "skating into skiing" exercise. This involves skating with gravity - downhill on a gentle gradient. As speed picks up the "fall" can be prolonged as the ski generates angular accelerations and the skating converts into skiing - one leg at a time and with the correct coordination, use of muscles and timing. Skiing is a one legged activity and the sensation of being on one leg is sustained through accurate angular accelerations from the ski. We remain on one leg precisely due to this organised "disequilibrium".

Introduction to Pivoting
We spent a moment developing the pivot. I explained that this is for "fall line" braking skiing when you control your speed with short turns or linked sideslips straight down the hill. In a steep couloir there is no choice but to do this - other than a Kamakazi attack straight down the hill. In a mogul "zip" line it's the same story, or just even linking a few very short turns. The difference is that the turn is initiated from the uphill edge of the support ski - not the downhill edge as has been the case up until now with everything from snowplough onwards. To make this happen it is generally necessary to use the ski pole planted downhill for support. The body has to move inwards towards the pole to be able to complete the pivot. Melanie got this after a few attempts. Thomas had it straight away. The same fundamental skills are used for pivoting as for turning on the inside edge. The foot had to be rolled onto the inside edge while the shaft of the ski boot kept the ski on its uphill edge. The lower ski had to be lifted out of the way. Dynamics had to be used and the adductors actively engaged. Due to having worked on all of those things already - including the sideslip - the pivot was easy to do straight away.

When we hit ice Thomas started "bracing" his outside leg and I had to remind him to pull inwards no matter what his instinct tried to make him do. Next we hit slush and Melanie started to rotate again and get into difficulty. I explained that the skis generate their own mini "velodrome" banked track and so they don't ever need to be "turned" in the slush. Slush makes a great medium for skiing if you see it in three dimensions and use it in this way. 

Tomorrow I want to work more directly on Melanie's tendency to rotate through changing her awareness of how the hip and pelvis move. At the same time I want to correct Thomas's posture to put his back into a better alignment. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Derin, Defne - Résumé

Derin 2012

Derin made constant progress throughout the week. She has an impressive ability to really understand everything thrown at her. If she was skiing for another week right now she would really be flying by the end of it! She has a wonderful way of laughing at her own fears and then just getting on with things. In a very short while she was built up from a "back of the boots" child skier to a proficient all round developing skier with a real sense of movement and full understanding of everything that made it work. Her only run in a very much tougher than average slalom course with absolutely no race training - under difficult snow/ice conditions - saw her only 1 second off the "Flechette" calibration.  Children Derin's age don't get much faster than that due to their size (their surface area is too great in proportion to body volume (mass) to push through the air).

The following is a list of the main subjects covered during the week. Much of the work involved the relationships (and combinations) of the different subjects to each other through common qualities - such as edge control, relaxation (physical and mental), coordination, accelerations, terrain, snow conditions,  physical awareness, timing, mental focus, psychology, understanding and perception.

Mont Blanc 4810m (15780 ft)
Skating with gravity
Forward diagonal sideslip
Backward diagonal sideslip
Skiing backwards
Touching shin against boot
Seated stance
Pivoting- assisted
Pivoting - oustide ski - adductors
Carving - rolling feet and moving Centre of Mass for edge change
Off Piste
Pivoting - inside ski
306° spins
Body sensing
Listening to legs
Compression turns
Centre of Mass
Foot forwards
Front of ski pressure

Defne 2012

Defne's potential really did shine through this week. Until now Defne did not really know what she was capable of. One BIG lesson learned is that a good night's sleep is essential! That's the same for anything when you are pushing your limits and developing. Defne demonstrated that she could confront and beat her fears in a strong and positive way - once she knew  A - that she had this choice  B - that it was essential for her to confront her fears  C- that nobody was going to force her to do so. That's a BIG call for a 9 year old. Once her stance and timing were sorted out she was really flying already in carving - I mean FAST! She took that confidence into some very gnarly deep and steep snow (not on video) and picked her way down through it thoughtfully and in control of her body and mental processes. Although Defne skied less time than Derin she had to deal with some much trickier technical issues and did an excellent job of this. Sorting out "hip rotation" requires a serious amount of body awareness by any standards.

The following list of the main subjects covered during the week is slightly larger than Derin's. As for Derin much of the work involved the relationships (and combinations) of the different subjects to each other through common qualities - such as edge control, relaxation (physical and mental), coordination, accelerations, terrain, snow conditions,  physical awareness, timing, mental focus, psychology, understanding and perception.
View from La Tovière 2695m (8841 ft)
Forward diagonal sideslip
Backward diagonal sideslip
Skiing backwards
306° spins
Touching shin against boot
ChiSkiing alignment (hip/shoulder)
Skating with gravity
Posture - pelvic tilt - lower abdominal crunch
Real skiing (values and priorities)
Pivoting - uphill ski
Carving (Adductors - correcting knee twist)
Fear management
Skating timing
Pivot - inside leg
Close stance
Banked track
Listening to Legs
Seated stance
Compression turns
Off Piste
Centre of Mass
Foot Forwards
Front of ski pressure
One ski pivoting
Carving - refining edge changes
Compression turns - refining timing, dynamics, pivot and pole use

Friday, April 13, 2012

Derin, Defne - Day 7

Derin- Morning

Marvin the Marmotte
On our way up the mountain this morning we spotted a Marmotte just out of its underground burrow for the first time this year. It looked somewhat bewildered and lost with all the snow around and nothing to eat. It amazes me how those wild animals survive the harsh climate and how they are adapted to such a specific niche.

Sun Crust
We took a short excursion off piste during the warm up only to find that it was heavily sun crusted and unskiable. Derin is holding a slab of sun crusted snow. Beneath the crust the snow was still soft so it couldn't support the weight of a skier. This meant that off piste skiing was not really on today's menu.

While warming up on the piste I asked Derin how many things she had learned this week and we came up with a list of 10 main things in a few seconds. When we set off I shouted back to her to work on being perpendicular - that one had not been on the list.
I'd promised Derin that we could do some slalom at some stage so this was the last opportunity that she would have. Slalom is very useful for learning, but it consumes a lot of time and it's much better to spend time working on technique and then just test it out in slalom - which is why we had avoided it until now. Some people are not easy to coach on technique so slalom training can be a useful tool when other communication channels are not functioning well - but Derin had been responding extremely well to coaching and was improving faster outside of that gates then she would ever have improved through race training. The only advice I gave was to "anticipate" each turn early - like the pivoting in the bumps. Despite the course being hard and icy with some ruts Derin skied very confidently. The interesting thing was seeing her with her legs flexed and not stuck against the back of her boots. She was trying to carve as well. All the difficult work during the week focused on different ways to get off the back of the boots had really worked for her. On the second run she reduced the time to 38.82 seconds and could easily have reduced it much more later on after we had worked on "dynamics".

A few days ago when I took Derin near some bumps she was scared by them and could only comfortably try small ones. Today we did go off piste but on a well skied steep section of bumps through some rocks. Derin didn't struggle and even had the confidence to pivot at the top of a steep drop about three times bigger than herself. She got down through the bumps without any delay.

Derin the Philosopher
Derin asked if I'd ever imagined a chairlift for one person. I explained that the universe was born spontaneously from a single seater chairlift about 70 years ago and that before that absolutely nothing existed. Derin then asked what a Universe is. That's a good question. I explained that it's the unimaginably big place in which we are completely lost. She then asked me "What is on the clock?". This is a remarkably astute question because I could show her the answer - in contrast I explained that if she had asked me what the time was I'd have to tell her that I don't know because nobody knows what time is. I pointed out to her that she exists in the present so her past can't exist any more - so the person she was a minute ago can't be there now. She replied that perhaps she was behind and so looked over her shoulder. It's great when you can have better philosophical discussions with a 7 year old than with most adults. Only later was I informed that her name "Derin" means "deep". She is very appropriately named.

Now that Derin's stance was much stronger it was clear both in and out of the slalom that the next area to work on would be "dynamics". I asked Derin if she remembered the "magic wall" that she had been taught about in the past. To my surprise she did remember and was able to explain it. She thought that the invisible wall had to always be uphill so I corrected this for her. The wall is downhill at the start of the turn and stays on the inside of the turn all the way around and you have to push even harder against it uphill towards the end. She hadn't realised that you need to throw yourself against the wall "downhill" and this is why her dynamics were weak. She immediately improved her dynamics with this. There are a few runs working on dynamics in the video compilation. To begin with she used leg retraction - which is an advanced racing technique that she had stumbled upon by herself. I reluctantly "corrected" this because I wanted to see a clear strong movement pattern with lots of down and up movement. The aim was to move the centre of mass over the skis at the turn transition and the leg retraction is called a "cross under" because instead of the body going over the skis the skis go under the body. After this was corrected it was still clear that on steeper terrain Derin was failing to complete her turns. This is common with children because it is hard work finishing a turn and keeping speed under control because the forces are greatest at this point. Derin was able to correct this when it was explained to her - holding herself against the imaginary wall longer and stronger until the turn was completed. I explained that this is how she would hold a faster line in slalom even though it slowed her down here on the mountain.

Defne - Afternoon

Defne was clearly in a better frame of mind today having had an early night and a good sleep. Good "recovery" is the key to any athletic development.  Unfortunately the weather and snow conditions were not so great in the afternoon once again. We went for a warm up ski through the fog into Val d'Isère. I was mainly aiming for slopes where we could work on carving and get Defne's confidence back up again.
One Ski
Although I hadn't worked specifically on dynamics with Defne this was part of the goal of working on pivoting with pole plant support. Pivoting on the inside ski needs a definite move to the inside of the turn towards the end and today Defne was managing it much better. She was able to link turns standing on one ski throughout - basically skiing on one ski only with a pivoting mechanism. Part of the aim here is to strengthen her technique for going off piste eventually. Defne is progressively understanding more and more the need to move and keep the body to the inside of the turn. 

Defne was able to use carving as a way to feel things clearly. The strong sustained feedback in carving gives you time to sense, adjust and correct. I wanted Defne to add the "foot forward" technique that she learned yesterday to her carving. This includes controlling the hip (pulling back) while keeping contact with the shin against the boot and maintaining correct pelvic tilt with a lower abdomen "crunch". We worked on this for a while and she seemed to have lost none of her confidence regarding speed when carving. 

The main weakness in Defne's carving has been the transition between turns but I hadn't mentioned that until now. The key to improving this is to move the body cleanly from one side of the skis to the other with the skis simply rolling from edge to edge underneath. We did this as a static exercise to begin with. Denfe until now had slightly pushed the skis away from under her body to edge them at the start of each new carved turn. I reminded Defne of the work we did yesterday on the Centre of Mass and how it is the key to good skiing.  Yesterday we worked on this in pivoting (with or without adductor muscle use). We need to learn how to move the Centre of Mass and how much to move it for each situation. Defne got the feeling of edge changing  in this way and understood the difference. 

To encourage stronger  dynamics we revised skating. I chose this because Defne was from time to time getting back on her boots again and her legs would stiffen up. When you skate you can't do either of those things. The skating really reinforces awareness of motion of the Centre of Mass. At this stage I don't want Defne just using the "magic wall" - I want her doing many different things that all converge on the property of getting that Centre of Mass into the turn and keeping it there in all sorts of circumstances. Defne manged the "skating into skiing" exercise (video clip) really well and kept a great rhythm. Posture remained strong and the legs were functional.

Compression Turns
Before heading down through the slush back into Tignes we worked on compression turns. This is a way of automatically getting the feet and knees ahead of the body. Now I wanted Defne to become more aware of the dynamics and timing involved and how the pivot works with it.  

Accurate timing means that as soon as you start sinking down low you also start to pivot on both skis from the uphill edges. To achieve this you sink as you are in the process of planting the pole and it's the body sinking and falling downhill that plants the pole and keeps pressure on it. The process is controlled by the motion of the Centre of Mass.

Initially Defne would either stand up instead of sinking, not sink enough or stand up after a slight sink. Eventually she got the range of motion and timing right.

Conversing with Legs
The deep slush near the bottom of the hill managed to put Defne in the back seat again and stiffen up the outside leg - leading rapidly to muscle fatigue. I reminded Denfe to pay close attention to what messages the leg was sending her - so that she could respond. Telling the leg to relax means bending it slightly when all it wants to do is go straight.

Grande Balme

Cloudy Grande Balme

Marvin's Mates

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Derin, Defne - Day 6

Lemon Pie day

The day started out hopeful with Defne on a different pair of skis chosen for being more suitable off piste. Before even starting I was concerned because the bindings looked too far forwards and the skis had very little sidecut in comparison with her previous skis. Sure enough she had no clear feedback from them and was all over the place. Off Piste she had no confidence - but it later transpired that she had played until late outdoors the night before and then went to bed very late. Basically she was tired out before even starting - especially after such a big day on skis yesterday. She should really have been early to bed yesterday to have any hope of maintaining the momentum of her progress. All the time Derin was pleading to go off-piste but that just wasn't going to happen today.

During the day I revised various technical aspects with Defne but none of it was going very far. The snow was very changeable and inconsistent - with temperatures varying an enormous amount depending on whether or not the sun could break through the clouds. It became clear that even consolidation and revision were a bit pointless today so I decided to at least try to get some new ideas across. Defne was clearly beginning to have more confidence in me and understood that I was listening to her and respecting her issues. In return she was trying her best under the circumstances. When you are tired you are tired.

Centre of Mass
We worked on pivoting on one leg with a view to increasing awareness of moving the body into the turn through support from the pole plant. I explained "Centre of Mass" and how it was the most important thing in skiing. The Centre of Mass is just in front of the spine and between the pelvis and the navel. It can move around depending on what shape is made by the body and it can even move outside the body. A good athlete gets to know this point like an artist would know the point of her pencil. It is not part of the body but we can still sense it and use it. You move it to control your turn - left to go left and right to go right. Down into a turn and up out of one. I showed how pivoting can be done without even pulling the ski with the adductor muscles - just using the center of mass alone. A good skier uses a combination of both.

Listening to the Legs
Defne had her first explanation of how to reduce tension. I got everyone to clench a fist and do arm curls with the arm relaxed. I then asked everyone to tense all of the muscles in the arm and then try to do a curl - which of course is impossible. You are fighting against yourself with maximum tension. I explained that by relaxing the muscles in the legs and using only those that were absolutely necessary tension could be removed from the legs. To make this happen you first of all need to listen carefully to what the legs have to say. They will be telling you that they are tense but you are almost certain to be not listening very well. When you hear this message then you can act to relax appropriately. I'd hoped this would help Defne to deal with the tiredness in her legs - but it didn't. 

Defne also had her first ever explanation of perpendicularity - the same as had been explained to Derin a few days earlier. It wasn't clear that she fully understood it though. With this in mind I altered the theme of the exercise to using the front of the ski. A bicycle or car uses the front wheel or wheels for changing direction and in skiing the front of the ski has the most powerful directional effect. When you are systematically on the back of the skis and ski boots you never discover this. I asked the girls to try to pressure the front of the skis during the turns. They noticed a stronger turning effect. Trying to use the front of the ski should automatically help with perpendicularity through the whole turn.

Foot Forwards
Today I introduced "foot forwards" technique properly for the first time. Prior to this I asked both the girls to take their skis off at the side of the piste and then to lie down in the snow and warm sunshine and go to sleep.  When it was plainly obvious that they actually had more energy than this and couldn't keep still for a second I told them to get back up and started the lesson. 

Pushing the outside foot forwards is best learned with just the ski boots on the snow and the two poles for support. It's a tricky exercise because you have to use the inside leg for support and spin around on the heel while the outside boot scribes an arc on the snow as it is pushed forwards around the turn on its inside edge. Most people just fall downhill at the end of the turn because they don't let their body (centre of mass) move back uphill into the turn to complete the ultra tight turn. Defne does this (falls downhill) in the video and you can see the line she scribes in the snow is more of a straight push downhill with her heel pushing outwards - than an arc with the foot going forwards. This exercise exposes a lot of issues. Regardless of this Defne's attempt was good enough to try it on skis. 

I asked Defne to tell me what she experienced when she tried it on skis. She correctly responded that the turn was tighter and she felt there was stronger grip and control. This is correct. Pushing the foot forwards makes the turn active (it doesn't actually cause the foot to shoot forwards) making the turn radius shorter and  quicker. This is a major help when on steep terrain or off piste. This will progressively help Defne to change from pushing her ski outwards to pushing forwards - which is much more functional.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Derin, Defne - Day 5

Derin - Morning

Knowing that the "warm up" run today would mean an excursion off piste - I decided to prepare Derin for it.  There had been a good snowfall during the night and it was still coming down with temperatures low enough for the quality to remain excellent.

Unlocking the Legs
Derin was locking her legs out as usual right from the first turn and getting on the back of the ski boots - so persistence with sorting this out would be necessary. Reminding Derin of the "seated stance" and the bending of the knee and hip made no observable difference. I held Derin's skis and placed them in the fall line so she could try to "sit down" when facing downhill without sliding off. This didn't help either as she still ended up with straight legs. I couldn't ask her to move forwards into the perpendicular in the deep and chopped up snow either. 

The key to getting Derin to bend would be in "body sensing" - the same way she managed to balance the bottle on her head yesterday. I told her that she had to listen to her legs. The legs would be saying that they were stiff. Once she actually listened to them and could hear them saying this then they would listen to her telling them to bend and to be soft. Derin said OK and on the next turn I saw her legs bend for the first time.

France is famous for its tarts! (Boulangerie in Tignes Val Claret) 

Today was about experience and off-piste excursions. There wasn't a lot of technical input, but instead there was an opportunity to make use of all the work done on the previous days. We did a little "skating with gravity" but mostly so that Derin wouldn't take too long crossing the flats. Our time was taken up simply skiing. Derin could stay in my tracks so I would set a rhythm with small turns that she could neatly fit into. This is remarkably like training in a slalom course but with the added advantage of varied snow conditions.

Defne and Derin - Afternoon
Defne joined us early so as to not miss out on the fresh snow.

I repeated the instruction for anticipating the turn on the bump - pivoting the moment the tips of the skis are in the air. Defne hadn't heard this before and Derin didn't really understand this yesterday. It was clear that Defne is ready for some proper coaching in the bumps now. Derin came down quite fast and confidently using a good early pivot.

Off Piste
I asked Derin to focus on communicating with her legs and getting them to be bent and soft - in the seated position. For Defne - who hadn't worked on this yet - I asked her to compliment her hip alignment (pulling back) with a strong push forwards of the foot on the same side. She understood this but struggled too much in the deep snow. For this reason I decided to teach her the seated position. This was a struggle. I even created a seat with two skis and a pole, but Defne was having trouble grasping the entire concept. When this sort of thing happens it's just that the brain needs time to process new information. The best thing is to change the subject and come back to it some time later. At this point I went off with Derin and we skied down through the trees together. Derin was a bit worried about the trees but only managed to be grabbed by one of them.

Compression Turns
After lunch I had Defne sit on a bench with her feet on the ground so that she could feel her knee and hip joints bent into a sitting position - and to become aware of this.  I then had everybody on skis bending the knees so that the bottom dropped below the knees. We did this in motion while traversing. From this we then bent low and using the downhill pole for support - fell into a pivoting turn in the low position - standing up towards the end. This in the classic "compression" turn. The low "seated" position keeps the feet and knees ahead and so allows stable pivoting in very difficult and steep snow. The girls caught on to this quickly and were able to ski practically anywhere after that.

We took the compression turns into steep and deep off piste with no problems. The last run finished with a steep sideslip which I wanted the girls to do so that they would understand why they had been practicing sideslipping so much. A lot of noise was made in reaction to the steepness but there were no problems. Defne fell through tiredness at the very bottom and although she twisted her leg a little it was OK.