John, Susan Day 3

Warming up today we used the skating skills that had been developed yesterday. Although normal body temperature is between 36.5°C and 37°C muscles need to be warmed up to between 40°C and 42°C to work best. Skating is a pretty good way to do this.
The warm up didn’t last very long because John was struggling with the skating. Yesterday we had built up to skating very progressively and we would need to spend a moment repeating some of that again today.

Communication and Feedback
I appreciated that John was very open about discussing the difficulties that he was having and that he was prepared to ask questions and express his confusion. In doing so John helped to direct me towards dealing with the most relevant issues with much greater accuracy. 
Muscle Pain – Alignment
Central to the issue was that John’s quadriceps were still burning up very quickly despite all that we were doing. The muscle pain appeared to be coming from a combination of two factors – hard braking after losing control and general tension in the body. It was tempting to think that this might simply improve with time and relaxation. At this point I decided to tackle to issue head on by working on the alignment of the legs and hips so that the load would not be so concentrated on the quadriceps. For this we had to spend some time developing an understanding of the “chi” stance. With the skis off we did some walking uphill – first of all with the feet being placed ahead for each stride and the quads being used to push up with. Secondly the stride was extended behind with the body falling forwards and the other leg just being lifted, swung underneath the body and dropped directly below to the ground. The first way would rapidly burn out the quads but the second way used the glutes (hip extensors) instead and is much more efficient. Applying the same principle to skiing means that on the supporting leg (usually the outside one in a turn) the hip has to be pulled backwards. In skiing the foot can’t extend behind so only the hip does. This causes a twisting in the spine in the direction of the turn – when the pelvis is correctly isolated. In doing this the leg completely re-aligns below the hip and the bones stack up more in line removing some of the load from the quads. The power of extension then also comes mainly from the glutes. If the support leg can be used in this way for the whole turn then it seriously avoids quadriceps “burn out”. 
While Jonn was able to understand and achieve this at low speeds it did not stop the legs from burning. At least “alignment” was eliminated as a direct cause – although it would definitely play a part at some level. Susan got the idea when applied to skating. During her work on pivoting yesterday she had been throwing her right hip to the outside of the turn so building awareness in this new direction would be a great help towards improving those other skills.
Dynamics – One Ski
When the issue was not resolved directly I decided to ski behind John for a few turns to see if I could see anything in particular. In reality there was nothing that looked really out of place – but once again John’s feedback helped a lot. I said that despite seeing his body move into the turn correctly it somehow seemed like he was still pushing his skis outwards. John immediately agreed that he felt this – which confirmed this observation. With the leg being pushed outwards it’s practically impossible to keep it aligned properly and to keep the hip in the correct “countered” position with the slight twist in the spine. 
John then told me that after completing a turn he felt that he didn’t know how to start the next turn. All of this was now telling me that although he had understood the theory of dynamics he still didn’t really perceive it properly. 
Our earlier assessment of John’s muscle pain coming from braking and tension might have been partially correct but my experience has told me consistently that pain comes from lack of dynamics – normally from moving the centre of mass in the wrong direction. John threw me off the trail because he actually did always move his centre of mass in the right direction. 
Finally – the loss of control when he would fly off down the hill also pointed to poor dynamics – and so the braking and loading up of the quads here was once again just an effect of other issues. Gradually I started to see that John’s problem was that although he was moving in the right direction he was simply not moving enough. ALL of the other issues were consequences of this one problem. With most people the “pushing outwards” of the legs and feet is very visible because it happens right at the start of the turn and continues. John however was managing to move into the turn without doing this but then because he failed to get far enough into the turn he would pick up speed and then push the legs outwards to deal with the speed – at a point when the leg action is not so visible. Only skiing closely behind him could I see the signs of it. 
Answering John’s question about starting the turn I re-explained dynamics and how to accelerate (not “lean”) the body into the turn. This clarified the issue to John. When he tried to really accelerate his centre of mass laterally though he fell over. The outside ski’s inner edge just dug in and tracked a straight line so that he fell inwards. I had to copy him to feel properly what was happening and then understood that he was keeping weight on his inside ski to some extent and this was stopping him from moving and committing pressure to the new outside ski. The result was the outside ski couldn’t function properly and just became pulled over onto its edge. Naturally this caused John to be even more cautious with dynamics.  
The answer to all of this was to lift the downhill leg and stand briefly up on the uphill ski (uphill edge) and launch the dynamics from there. This then revealed other issues but now in a constructive way. It became apparent that John would have to rock his foot and engage his adductor muscles in the uphill leg prior to doing anything else. (PREPARATION). He would then have to briefly stand on that leg and hip 100% (COMMITMENT). From there he would have to fall sharply with gravity pulling the centre of mass down and slightly forwards into a turn. This doesn’t mean pretend to fall it means (REALLY FALL). This immediately stopped John’s ski edge from catching and ironically (but predictably) stopped him from falling. The speed and turn radius came under control and although the hip might still have swung out a bit the legs practically stopped being pushed outwards – removing most of the crippling strain. We practised nothing other than this for the rest of the session. I told John to stop immediately if he lost it and re-compose himself before trying again.  
Although I had been correct to assume at the very start that the leg pain was from poor dynamics it took a lot of work on all of the basics to reveal the exact nature of the problem and how to specifically get around it. 
Meanwhile Susan was repeating the same exercises in the background and struggling a bit with staying centred on the skis. I explained about “freefloat” and how the way you stand vertical when facing across the hill with your skis are horizontal feels exactly the same when you go down a slope standing perpendicular to the hill. The pressure under the foot is reduced in proportion to the steepness of the slope but that’s all. You don’t feel like you are “leaning forwards” at all. The key is to anticipate the acceleration downhill and move the body into the perpendicular along with the dynamics. Susan had a tendency to be stuck in the vertical, especially when the turn was tighter and quick anticipation was required. With the only tactile feedback coming from the feet I explained that it helped to try to feel contact with the shin on the front of the boot at all times and also to stand over a point just in front of the heel at all times. If you manage this then you are pretty central over the skis and have anticipated the inclination of the slope and the accelerations correctly. Just searching for this feedback in the ski boots will generally get you there.
John worked with a cheerful determination despite falling and the tedious nature of the exercises and he made excellent progress in getting to the root of the problem and clearing a path ahead. Once this problem is completely out of the way then John will be able to retain much more energy to ski longer and farther and so will advance much more rapidly. 
Susan moves very well but is easily tempted to be lazy and revert back to her familiar two footed heel push. Intuition and feeling are the keys for Susan and with skiing being a tactile “feeling” sport more than anything else this is to her advantage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *