Saturday, February 1, 2014

Dilshat and Derin


Dilshat let me know immediately that although her skiing had improved over the past few years she felt that her arms were rigid and not right – this being the issue she would really like to sort out. She was also concerned that she felt unclear about when and how to use the ski poles.

Arm problems are nearly always a symptom of other underlying issues so first of all I watched Dilshat ski to get an overall picture. Dilshat’s timing and dynamics were fine but her posture was not strong and she didn’t use her arms at all in her skiing. The (sometimes) rigid arms appeared to be compensating for weak posture.  My intention was to get the body mechanics working better and then deal with the use of the poles later on.

ChiSkiing (Centred Skiing) 

(There is a fixed page on ChiSkiing at the following link “ChiSkiing”)

Why do nearly all skiers end up with back problems? The problem is not that people necessarily have “bad posture” or body awareness, it’s that skiing itself forces the posture to collapse. Posture is reflexive – we have no real conscious control over it. The problem comes from the outside ski pulling the hip around in front of the the body. Very well trained skiers can stop this “hip rotation” but not enough to prevent postural collapse. The classic “face the shoulders downhill” upper/lower body separation is mostly concerned with rotation in the hip joints but also causes some rotation at the base of the spine. This is often referred to as ”winding up” the body – from the shoulders  down to the feet. The ribs end up being compressed into the front of the pelvis and all the postural muscles stop working. Some people end up with  a hollow lower back (like Dilshat) and end up bending the spine sideways – and some with a rounded lower back (like me) and end up in hospital even faster with ruptured discs. Dilshat’s arms seem to be rigid to try to compensate for the lack of connection and support going on with her posture at present and especially the sideways bending of her spine and fairly strong hip rotation due to the hollowed lower back.

However, all is not lost! There is one way to change all of this and it is quite simple in principle. The shoulders need to be stabilised and for the most part just follow the skis but the hip on the support leg must be pulled strongly backwards from the start of the turn to the end. This prevents all of the above problems because it prevents the hip from being pulled around in front of the body and so it prevents involuntary postural collapse.

We did some Chi Walking, uphill, so that Dilshat could feel the difference when the correct mechanics are used even in walking – avoiding the foot and hip moving ahead of the body. Dilshat visibly walked more upright and found it relaxing even walking uphill. I explained that you can walk up an entire mountain this way and won’t even feel tired because instead of just using the quadriceps in the legs you use all the muscles including the glutes and core muscles plus the postural muscles and the load is much more efficiently distributed.

Feeling and understanding this change helped Dilshat recognise what to look for when skiing while trying to pull the hip backwards and avoiding pulling back both the shoulder and the foot.

I asked Dilshat to adopt this stance and to push hard against my shoulder to feel the tension when the postural reflexes kick in automatically. In contrast I also asked her to try the classic upper/lower body separation so that she could feel how there was no muscular activity and the upper and lower body become disconnected. 

Poles to the Inside

To help organise the body more easily I asked Dilshat to ski with both her poles moving to the inside of the turn. This helps to keep the shoulders in line with the skis and to feel only the hip being pulled backwards.

The hip has to be pulled backwards quite strongly to twist the spine slightly (up to the 12th thoracic vertebra – ribs) and open up the space between the pelvis and the ribs. This twist is in the opposite direction from the classic “shoulders downhill” and it causes the posture to actually work – integrating the upper and lower body instead of separating them. The muscle tension creates a “hydraulic sac” compressing the internal organs and then distributing the vertical loads going through the body over the whole cross sectional area of the core – not just through the spine.

Dilshat noticed that when pulling back the hip the turns both started more easily and finished more strongly. It takes time to be able to master this on steeper terrain and in shorter turns. She also noticed that the alignment of the legs was stronger. Pulling back the hip re-aligns the femur into a much stronger position – especially important for women skiers. (Due to the greater “Q” angle of the femurs)


Pole Touch

I explained how the pole is held with the middle two fingers and thumb so that the wrist can be used to swing the pole easily. In flowing skiing it is the body moving laterally into the turn – falling over like a motorbike – that causes the pole to touch the snow lightly to the inside of the new turn right at the start of the turn. The arms don’t move. The pole is swung into position with the wrist only. The pole touch is cause by the dynamics.

I pointed out that the touch also matches the moment that the hip on the outside of the new turn has to be pulled back into place – but Dilshat found that a bit to difficult to connect at the moment.

Pole Plant (Pivoting)

(There is a fixed page on “Pivot” at the following link “Pivot”)

The “pole plant” is the other way to use a ski pole – literally for support! This only happens during braking turns (not flowing forwards). Such turns are often referred to as “fall line” turns and this is what is required in fast mogul skiing. The skis do not travel forwards across the hill – only sideways, slipping into a turn from the uphill edges.

I supported Dilshat through a few pivots from her uphill ski and then explained that my support had to be replaced by the support of the ski pole.

This exercise revealed a weakness in Dilshat’s skiing in that she found pivoting very alien and couldn’t angulate well to put weight on her ski pole. She was able to adapt quite quickly though and with some work could master this subject without too much difficulty. When she tried to link some pivots she revealed a heel push outwards. Although Dilshat generally skis with good dynamics she does exhibit a tendency to push outwards on tighter turns and this issue is made clearer here.  This is why she never uses her poles even in shorter pivoted turns. The pole is a support for moving inwards – not for pushing outwards!


Afternoon Derin

Little Derin has discovered how to control her speed and has suddenly gone from dive bombing straight downhill to complete over-control and turning on the spot. I told her over and over that when on flat terrain she could stop turning – but even when stopped and having to walk she would keep on turning – walking back and forth in turns. This “over turning” is causing a wedge/stem resembling a snowplough – but it is not a worry. The key issue is that her body is moving towards the inside of the turn with the correct dynamics.  When she picks up some speed again then the wedge will disappear automatically. She is controlling her speed by turning not by trying to brake.

At this stage she needs time to explore and gain confidence in herself and her new found independence. The over-control is just a new temporary phase. I started to put her on my ski pole again to pull her faster and remove the wedge stance – so that we can now work towards getting her to go faster on her own but with the confidence that she can turn rapidly and stop when she needs to. She was jumping – to un-wedge the skis and get off the back of the boots and immediately after each jump I’d start a turn so that she would ski the turn parallel again.

Derin’s main concern was that her mum and dad would come to watch her – but much to her disappointment they never appeared so after a second toilet stop we finished a little bit early. She had done a lot on her own – nearly all of the skiing – and I didn’t want to push her too hard as she still feels scared skiing unaided much of the time. She can ski by herself on the blue run from the top of the Bollin and the narrow path entering the green run where short turns are necessary.


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