For the past two years I’ve been working on finding ways to protect a damaged knee. Haluk has for a long time been dealing with knee pain and has also been stuck with his “Haluk Look” – his idiosyncratic skiing movements that he has never quite managed to eliminate despite continued pregressive improvement. The solution I had found for my own knee issue was so radically different from anything else that I suspected it could be the thing that would deal with Haluk’s intractible issues – though I didn’t go as far as hoping that it would help with his knees in any way.
Perhaps the most surprising thing I had discovered over the past two seasons was that in clearly figuring out how to protect my own specific knee injury I was appearing to learn some very unexpected but remarkably positive and hitherto hidden aspects of skiing that seriously enhanced both my performance and enjoyment. The latter part of this season consolidated this from being a collection of vague but logical alterations to a mega leap with no uncertainty whatsoever left lingering on.
Today’s challenge would be to communicate this successfully to Haluk (in a way relevant to him) in about 10 minutes flat – knowing that this is his normal tolerance threshold for instruction before heading off piste even on a good day.
In the video the bottom window is “before” and the top window is “after” working on technique. Although the difference is clearly visible to me the still frames presented further down the page should be very clear to anyone.
Double Adductors – Pulling In
About three years ago I bumped into Billy Kelly – professional golfer - in Chamonix and this led to one of our usual lengthy converstaions. At some point during the converstaion I found myself explaining about how the adductor muscles of one leg at a time are used in skiing – to which Billy responded by describing how in golf he teaches people to use both sets of adductors – both legs simultaneously to generate a stable platform through core strength. The penny dropped for me and quite a few scattered dots in skiing technique suddenly joined up – realising that this might work in skiing too.
To cut a long story short here, by going to the fixed page (menu tabs top of page) on “pivoting” you can see a detailed explanation of how whether you pivot on the outside or inside ski you always stand on the inside edge of the foot using the adductors of that specific leg. When pivoting on two skis with a close stance we are on the inside edgs of both feet and the adductors of both legs hold the skis together.
Ultimately the adductors are not for “pulling” the ski with any force – they are used to stabilise the body up to the centre of mass – so that the centre of mass can pull the skis and interact directly with them.
I had been seeing Haluk starting his turns frequently with the adductors disengaged but hadn’t mentioned this because it was also a consequence of the timing of his dynamics. Step one today was to clarify the active use of both sets of adductors simultaneously. Whether using the pole for support in a pivot – or the ski “lifting up” power for support in dynamics – the adductors are the connection between the feet and centre of mass.
Critically in our case the pulling inwards would play a fundamental role in protecting the knee joints. Although we both experience pain on the inside/front of the knee – this ironically is the part we need to contract and “pull inwards”. We worked first of all on pivoting then applied this to carving.
Balls of the Feet – Strong Ankles - Fronts of the Boots
Stage two was going to be counter intuitive for Haluk who has always had the problem of being too much on the fronts of his ski boots. In reality this issue has been a combination of the ankle over-flexing and the outside ski being left too far behind due to rotation of the body. It’s very hard to be aware of weight creeping onto the forefoot and the ankle collapsing allowing the boot to become the main support instead of the bone structure. This was all happening to Haluk despite his persistent efforts to work from the heels and stay centred in the shafts of the boots – not leaning on the fronts.
Today the goal was to stand up on the balls of the feet – slightly extending the ankles and activating the feet muscles along with the anterior tibialis running up the outside of the shin to strengthen the ankle. In conjunction with this there would be intentional and strong pressure against the fronts of the boots – working from strong ankles – not soggy collapsed ankles. The connection here with previously working from the heel is that the ankle is tightned and strengthened. The strong ankle limits the inwards motion of the knee and protects it – there being no torque applied etither to or through the knee joint.
Fronts of the Skis
Stage three was to use the “pulling in” with the adductors and the “ball of the foot” stance with pressure on the front of the boot to put a lot of pressure onto the front of the ski – and not just at the start of the turn but throughout the turn.
What this does is it stacks up the bones of the leg and brings the hip more over the knee and foot (supporting outside leg). This forward action combined with inward pull appears to minimise shearing forces in the knee joint.
Advanced Dynamics and Perpendicularity
Although we didn’t specifically work on it I mentioned to Haluk how getting forward and inwards on the leg very early during the turn is what specifically stopped the agggravation of my own knee problem. This is achieved by completing the previous turn coming all the way into “neutral” over the downhill ski – bringing the body perpendicular to the slope even before the skis come around to point downhill – thus placing you automatically on the front of the ski and boot as the turn commences and allowing access to the adductors of the supporting outside leg immediately when pressure is engaged.
This very precise detail of turn initiation is critical for grip on ice. You can simulate this by standing on a slippy wet floor indoors in ski boots with a sturdy table to your side. Fall over against the table and on the edges of your boots. If everything is placed correctly and supported with muscle (adductor) tension then nothing will slip outwards even as you get pressure against the table – your are “pulling inwards” with a strong structure – led by your centre of mass. If the boot slips outwards on the slippy floor then the same will happen when skiing.
Half of the entire ski length is in front of the boot and it needs to be used actively. The braking and steering of a car or bike comes from the front and likewise the most effective directing from the ski should come from the front. Getting haluk to stand in such a way so as to use the front of the ski strongly automatically stopped his rotation. It appears that the rotation was mainly caused by being stuck too far back on the skis and so being unable to get the timing of the dynamics during the turn transition quite right (it was late) – the next turn then being assured through a compensatory rotation. Being centred better over the skis removed the timing glitch and so the rotation vanished – along with the arm reaching associated with it. The stemming also disappeared and completely new sensations were experienced in the off piste.
Please note that this should not be attempted unless good hip angulation capacity is already developed. I write “capacity” here because Haluk’s rotation had been masking the work he was already doing with countering his outside hip to the turn. Good angulation and inclination – along with clear dynamics – are required to be able to powerfully use the fronts of the skis with no risk of being pitched over the fronts. When all of this is in place the fronts of the skis actually feel like the safest of all places to be.
I also explained to Haluk how to visualise the resultant force coming up through the middle of the front of the ski towards the centre of mass – as if it was joining the two – the ski being a wedge between the snow and your body. When travelling fast off piste or over bumps racing timing is used – the turns not being “closed off” and each ski being visualised as just mentioned – hard on the fronts no matter what obstacles are presented. (In racing timing the apex of the turn is towards the side of the piste not downhill where there is the greatest resistance to gravity to deal with.)
Apparently Haluk aslo found this protecting his knee to a significant degree – and personally I had no knee pain while skiing by the end of the day.
Prior to working on technique (numbered according to image sequence):
- Failing to come over the downhill ski (can still see the base as the next turn is initiated)
- Stem due to rotation
- Body rotation causing reaching of the arms – not the arms causing the problem
- Stem due to rotation
- Stem due to rotation
- Sitting back and rotation (actual cause of the rotation and all the rest)
- Different view of rotation
After working on technique – visible changes being a consequence – not a cause…
- Rotation gone
- Stemming gone
- Centred – front/whole ski being loaded up (this is the “cause” – minus specific details - the rest are effects)
- Dynamics timing improved – smoother/earlier pressure – turn completed more on the downhill ski
- Better angulation
- Natural arm control