Monday, July 27, 2015

Alex No Slalom Day 5

High winds closed down the glacier today. Everyone had to hang around for 2 hours though before the final decision was taken. Once again the lack of a cafe being open near the funicular was a gaping shortcoming of Tignes organisation. While waiting there I took the opportunity to begin teaching Alex about Chirunning. Alex had asked me about this a couple of times so it seemed like a useful way to fill the time. When it was clear that the glacier was closed we all got changed out of ski clothing and set about the Chirunning and Chiwalking a little more seriously.

Chirunning (Permanent page... )

It took me handful of years to develop Chiskiing from Chirunning - but it has turned out to be massively important in skiing. Although I teach people Chiskiing directly and sometimes with enormous effect, I'm certain that it can only be fully developed by having a clear grasp of either Chiwalking or Chirunning. When developing Chiskiing there was a necessary intermediate stage of development thanks to Chicycling. Without the cycling I'd never have been able to make the step towards skiing because it is even more counter intuitive than Chirunning itself.

Here is Alex Chirunning barefoot on grass for the first time.

Just as in skiing the key to Chirunning is to move from the centre of the body. All movements need to start from there.
  • Overall the aim is to allow gravity to generate all forward propulsion. This is achieved through a toppling forward action (of the centre of mass) when the foot is placed directly beneath the body. 
  • The supporting leg then extends behind the body maintaining the height of the centre of mass above the ground. 
  • While the leg is extending the hip follows it backwards creating muscular tension
    through a twist in the lower abdominal area. (This is a cross-lateral movement working against the upper torso and arms)
  • The leg being recovered requires the heel to be lifted high to make the leg into a short pendulum so it can be easily pulled forward.
  • The abdominals and hip flexors are used actively to pull the knee forward and the foot is lowered directly below the body - overreaching ahead must be avoided.
  • Unless sprinting fast the foot should strike the ground in the middle or near the front of the heel - but never at the back of the heel. The forefoot can be used for fast sprinting.
  • The body is slightly tilted forwards from the ankles - never from the hips.
  • To go faster requires more relaxation (especially around the hips) and slightly more forward lean. 
  • Most energy goes into the recovery of the trailing leg - and "pushing off" for forward propulsion must be avoided.
  • Optimum cadence is around 90 strides per minute (180 steps) 
  • Higher speed requires the stride to be lengthened. 

Further Notes (lifted from a subsequent email...):

Just a few points I wanted to mention to Alex - but didn't have the time or opportunity: He needs to stop sticking out his tongue - because he seriously risks biting it off during a fall or impact.

When he runs he mentioned that he strikes the ground with the outside edge of his foot. This is caused by reaching for the ground with the forefoot. I figured out some time ago that it happens because we are used to walking in shoes with raised heels. (This also makes flipping over on the ankle joint - to the outside - very easy and tears or stretches the ankle ligaments). The trick is to raise the forefoot instead and extend the heel downwards when the foot is in the air. This also extends the calf muscle. The foot strikes the ground somewhere from the front of the heel to the forefoot depending on speed and forward inclination of the body. Holding the outside edge of the foot "up" uses the anterior tibialis muscle (shin) exactly as in skiing and this engages the adductors on both legs - exactly as in skiing! This also means that when the foot hits the ground there is no further extension of the calf muscle - which is normally referred to as "eccentric contraction" and which is both damaging and very tiring. Basically just holding the forefoot up and engaging the adductors sorts out a whole host of problems. I didn't have the time to go into this amount of detail with Alex but it's easy to apply. I however do recommend that he starts to run on very flat - even minimalist shoes - hence the reason I had him experience the running barefoot. If he starts out this way when still small it will be very easy and natural. Raised heels are totally unnatural and unjustified - it's simply fashion.

Alex is unable to use nasal breathing and feels like the passages are blocked - but perhaps he is just used to over-breathing. Perhaps also his sinuses are reacting to a wheat allergy? The nose is the "breathing organ". In sport you can drink through the mouth without stopping breathing if you breathe through the nose. What concerns me most however is that dentists agree across the board that mouth breathing deforms the jaw - making it narrow and causing the palate to narrow and teeth to overcrowd. He is young enough to catch this and stop it from affecting him for life. This for example is a major issue for singers - because the shape of the mouth internally strongly affects the voice. I know that I suffered this to some extent and required 4 healthy teeth to be extracted and still had overcrowding. I was a definite mouth breather as a child and unconscious of it. I can't blame my parents because they had no idea. I only criticise them for their smoking and subjecting me to second hand smoke constantly as a child.


Once Alex was doing a good job of Chirunning both Alex and Mike were introduced to Chiwalking. The idea here is to apply the same principles to walking and it is easiest to feel when walking up quite a steep hill. We did this on grass again. The goal is to keep the back upright and straight (no forwards bending at the hips) avoid reaching ahead and landing on the back of the heel, extending the leg behind and feeling the glutes and lower back muscles contract. This uses the big core muscles instead of smaller peripheral leg muscles. There is far less strain on the quads because most of the lifting power now comes from the glutes. The coordination of glutes and quads is far more efficient and gravity is exploited constructively for forward motion even when going uphill against it.

Black Metal Inspection

Chiwalking was used to climb up to the gnarly section of the "Black Metal" downhill mountain bike run. Mike clearly felt how the technique made a fairly high and steep climb feel almost effortless - with no aching muscles. Combining this exercise with a "course inspection" was a great way to optimise our time. I for one soon became clear that the black runs were well above my current mountain biking capacity - and I'm not just blaming my equipment here!

Walking down was very tricky due to the steepness on the bends and tendency for the shoes to slide on the grit. It rapidly became clear that keeping the feet out to the side was the best way to maintain grip. The similarity of this action - almost jumping from side to side - is remarkably similar to slalom - where the turns should be to the side and the body facing downhill. Placing the feet below the body was a recipe for skidding and falling. Alex did manage to skid and landed on his coccyx right on the sharp ridge of a rock! That one will hurt for a while.
At one point Alex ran down a steep part and started to accelerate out of control. Fortunately I was beneath him and saw it happening so let him run straight into me. This clarified why he has speed control issues on the mountain bike . He was just not ware of the power of gravity outside of a skiing context on the mountain. Ultimately this was an excellent lesson for him as he is now aware of how speed must always be controlled. Going fast is fine if it is intended and controlled.

Notice Alex with his feet beneath him and Mike with his feet to the side...
 It was every bit as steep as it looks here...
Neither Alex nor Mike have been in the mountains before outside of the context of skiing. Away from the mechanised and exposed ski resorts the mountains are fantastic for hiking and exploring and the potential is endless. I think that Mike was already beginning to appreciate this. Getting to the top of a remote area can most often be breathtaking - and that's even without the need for body armour!

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