Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rowdy 4

Chi Hips – Coordination

Somehow or other Rowdy had managed to confuse the issue regarding the use of the hips and was managing to hurt his back when skiing on his own. Guess I’m not redundant yet as a coach! This isn’t a great surprise because the correct solution for skiing is very counter-intuitive and very easy to confuse. It’s also almost impossible to discover in the first place.  We carefully ran through some basic exercises in a traverse, just isolating the hip on the downhill ski and pulling it back – avoiding bringing either the foot or shoulder back along with it. In reality that’s all there is to it – holding this for an entire turn instead of just a traverse – but it’s never that easy! Rowdy had trouble at first isolating the movement of the hip. To tackle it more thoroughly we went indoors to look at posture. Prior to pulling the hip back the pelvis has to be brought to “neutral”. For most purposes “neutral pelvis” means tilting the pelvis upwards at the front but very importantly this must be accompanied by releasing the muscles at the hip joint and bending slightly – simply to avoid locking up the hips when tilting the pelvis upwards. When the hips are relaxed and the pelvis tilted upwards it can be felt like a “crunch” in the lower abdomen. If you don’t feel the crunch then you don’t “get it”. Once the pelvis is aligned correctly like this then the hip can be pulled back on one side. Normally this would happen automatically when completing a walking or running stride as the foot moves behind the body and hip is allowed to follow it - shoulder and arm on the same side going the opposite way (…except that Rowdy doesn't usually walk this way – reaching ahead instead!) Skiing however is unnatural and during a turn the foot moves in front of the body (if skiing correctly) and so this tends to pull the hip forwards – causing many common skiing problems (normally it isn’t described this way but just trying to keep the shoulders facing downhill causes this problem.) We have to learn to consciously pull the hip backwards not to only stop it being pulled forwards but to actually bring it backwards instead – despite the foot and knee moving ahead. The shoulder must not follow the hip backwards. I asked Rowdy at this stage to think about turning his bottom to one side (inside of the turn) and that appeared to help loosen the tension he was was experiencing. When done correctly there should be a slight tension in the spine with it twisting from the pelvis upwards to the ribs. The left hip pulling backwards would twist the spine anti-clockwise right up to the rib cage. Classic “upper/lower body separation” as conventionally taught would have the left shoulder pull backwards instead, causing the spine to twist clockwise from the pelvis upwards. (This has seriously damaging consequences which we will look at later.)

Rowdy lacked the specific awareness required to isolate the body parts and movement. This is good to see because it clearly exposes an area of weakness so that it can be effectively addressed.

To help Rowdy avoid having his shoulders follow the hip backwards he is skiing here (video) holding both poles and arms towards the inside of the turn – instead of the classic “facing outwards”. This exercise is normally reserved for race training and is never accompanied with an explanation. Suffice to say that clearing slalom poles with the outside arm achieves the same thing and so hinged “breakaway” slalom poles have advanced skiing in the right direction – though no race trainer can ever properly explain how.

Rowdy shows a good strong stance which is well aligned, with plenty of inclination. There is angulation showing at the knees but more angulation could be present at the hips. This is still a big improvement at the hips because previously they would not even have been even aligned.









The lack of apparent hip angulation here is due to a stiffness still being present around the hip joints. Later on I pointed out that the upper body tilts forwards from the hips when skiing (this is to be avoided in walking or running where the foot does come behind) and so with the pulling back of the hip being around the axis of the spine the hip is pulled slightly upwards. Rowdy had been trying to pull the hip directly backwards so altering this detail seemed to free up his hips a lot.  When the hip is pulled back into this position then the body is free to drop down into the turn with good hip angulation if desired.

Non Resistance

To help Rowdy loosen up at the hips we did some carving with the aim of tightening the carve radius by dropping down suddenly into the turn by relaxing the supporting hip joint. I explained that in running the key to speed is not leg power – it’s relaxation at the joints. By relaxing the hips and tilting the entire body slightly more when running we accelerate – due to gravity. Likewise in skiing we do not get more turning power from greater strength but from greater relaxation. Carving provides clear and uncluttered feedback from the skis so it makes it easy to focus on relaxing the hip joints. The greater angulation caused by dropping down at the hip causes a sharp increase in edge angle and the dropping down allows pressure to build up from the edge angle (speed), gravity and the impulse from the exaggerated dynamics. This is how to make tight carved turns. Rowdy did pretty will at this and it helped his timing – which generally has a problem when he is going slower and not exaggerating the down/up component.

The following photos show the timing problem at lower speed from the video. Rowdy is not exiting the turn correctly because he is not allowing the downhill ski to lift him up out of the turn. Instead, he steps onto the uphill ski and then continues to extend upwards on the uphill ski while entering the turn. All of the upwards movement should be completed on the downhill ski so that as the uphill ski takes over the following motion of the centre of mass is downwards towards the new turn centre. The extension being used at the start of the turn leads to a subsequent loss of pressure (like a ball at the top of its trajectory becomes weightless) and so in the second photo the tail of the ski breaks away (This is probably worsened by the falling inwards from the dynamics starting as the upward extension ends – meaning the the gravitational acceleration adds to the loss of pressure). One way to remove the timing error – while keeping the step - is by simply standing up on the uphill edge of the uphill ski (turn not actually finished yet) then once standing up on the top edge of the top ski, falling laterally downwards into the next turn. This would also prevent the stem seen in the first photo. Better still – just let the lower ski do all the work and do all the standing up on it – eliminating the step completely.










To try to communicate the action of the hips better I demonstrated the same action with the arms. Normally if you push something you push through with your arm and shoulder together butting all your weight into it. Here the idea was to push forward with the hand and to let the shoulder swing backward at the same time. When pushing against a resistance this can’t use body weight so it has to use the core muscles instead – and they are felt contracting. This allowed Rowdy to connect with the core muscles for the first time.

Standard teaching tells the skier to have the shoulders facing more or less downhill, taking this to an extreme with short turns where it is even described as a winding up action followed by a recoiling release of energy at the start of the next turn. This is achieved by the skis and legs coming around against the upper body. Sometimes it is done with two points of rotation specifically at the hip joints – but this requires a wide stance and totally independent leg action. With a closer stance one ski will finish below the other – the skis even sometimes functioning together as one platform - and so the hip must normally come through the turn and the body winds up all the way up through the spine – giving one point of rotation at the base of the spine - commonly referred to as “upper/lower body separation” – with everything below the belly button considered “lower body”. This action has the effect of bringing the lower front of the rib cage (I have a big rib cage!) almost into contact with the pelvis above the hip joint. There is a clear squashing or compression effect and a relaxation of all of the core and postural muscles. This absolutely destroys the lower back.  There is even a tendency to look for total relaxation in the upper body – but this is a mistaken objective when it simply means that the core and postural muscles have been deactivated.

The Chi Hips action does the opposite! Pulling the hip backwards opens the abdominal space (same as reaching behind in a stride as the shoulder above moves forward with the arm) and activates the core muscles – which then contract around the internal organs providing a “hydraulic sac” which distributes any vertical shock over a wide cross-sectional area instead of just thorough the spine. The re-alignment of the hips, legs and feet into the direction of travel of the ski is automatic. Going through a turn transition is a bit like the dual action in cycling of pulling up on one pedal while pushing down on the other and gives a dramatically efficient transition from one turn to another. Although great awareness of individual parts of the body is needed the overall result is a clear upper/lower body integration – not a separation. The effect is so strong that it is very surprising. In deep snow it can be so strong as to overwhelm the turn – but in trees it makes a magically rapid and effortless switch of direction.

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