Tuesday, November 11, 2003 - Coaching
Skiing Faster: Unified Theory of Skiing Technique

- By: Mark Thomas

Cross Country Skiing is a ‘push and glide’ sport, so it stands to reason that if you want to ski fast, you have to optimize both your push-off phase and your glide phase.

In order to optimize your push-off phase you need to ensure that the forces being generated through your arms and your legs are actually enhancing your forward momentum rather than hindering it. If you want your glide phase to be longer, you need to be well balanced. Optimizing the push and glide phases can be achieved through careful attention to proper body posture or alignment of forces. The following descriptions apply to most skiing techniques except the downhill tuck positions and double poling.

Power Posture

Step 1. Stand-up straight while maintaining the natural curve of your back with your knees slightly bent and your weight slightly in front of your heels. Your shoulders should be back and down which tends to push your chest out. Tuck your chin in. Your ears, shoulders, spine, hips, knees, and ankles should be aligned (See Figure 1). The strong natural trunk posture is essential for generating powerful arm and leg movements. Notice how relaxing this position feels.

Step 2. While maintaining an upright trunk position, bend your knees and ankles as much as you can. Your ears, spine, hips, and ankles should be aligned. Your weight will be slightly in front of your heels. You should feel the tension in your thigh and calve muscles, but otherwise the rest of your body should feel relaxed and balanced. Notice how stable this position feels (See Figure 2). This squat position would be ideal for jumping straight up in the air because all the forces are directed downward.

Step 3. In order to make you ski effectively forward you need to direct your arm and leg pushes not just down but back as well. All you need to do is while maintaining the posture in step 2, shift your weight onto your toes. You will immediately start to fall forward unless you place one foot forward to stop you (See Figure 3). This falling action is how we not only ski properly but also how we walk. All motion involves shifting from a position of stability to instability. In other words we try to become as unstable as possible by getting our centre of gravity as far forward as possible without hitting the ground. This forward body position is often incorrectly described as a forward lean at the waist. Leaning forward at the waist only directs your hips and your centre of gravity backward out of alignment with your ankles and consequently reduces the amount of force that you can generate backward and downward. Need-less-to-say in order to maintain the proper posture, you have to develop strong core muscles and strong leg muscles through ski-specific exercises. However, you will ski much faster than before.

Step 4. The leg push whether diagonal striding or skating should be initiated from the rotation of the hip, followed by the extension of the knee, ankle and toes. The best way to achieve more hip action is to think of rotating your hip forward onto the glide leg with a ‘snap.’ This accelerates the ski and gets your centre of gravity right over the glide ski. As soon as the glide ski begins to decelerate, your glide leg becomes the push leg. Your centre of gravity drops as the knee and ankle are flexed, getting ready to push down. Your hip naturally rotates backward with a ‘snap’ as the knee and ankle joints are forcefully extended during the push-off. Most skiers can’t use their leg joints through the full range of motion simply because of poor strength and flexibility.

Step 5. Your poling action should not interfere with or reduce the leg action. Initiate poling with the powerful upper back muscles and not just the arm muscles. In other words open up your shoulder blades as you reach forward and upward. Plant your poles with elbows bent close to 90 degrees. Begin the pulling and pushing action on the poles from the upper back, followed by the shoulders, the upper arm, and finally the forearm muscles (Refer to Figure 4). Remember, you must begin your pole plant slightly before the leg push, so poling can add maximum acceleration to the glide ski along with the leg push. This ‘pole-assisted glide’ is not the same as double poling! In double poling the legs remain fixed, much like our trunk during other skiing techniques, and the upper body becomes the sole force generator. If you lean forward at the waist while skating or diagonal striding, as in double poling, you will over tax the weaker arm muscles and under utilize the more powerful leg muscles. Furthermore, the bent over position puts tremendous strain on the lower back and if not corrected can cause chronic lower back pain, a common skier complaint. You can’t fight gravity!

Gliding Posture

The huge benefit to be gained from skiing with this lower position as described above is not only more power in the push-off phase, but a far longer glide phase. Gliding on a flexed knee and ankle lowers your centre of gravity and therefore increases your stability or sense of balance which in turn allows you to glide longer. The degree of flex in your leg joints depends on the glide speed. In other words the slower the glide, the more you need to flex your leg joints to generate more force and to enhance your glide. Conversely, the faster the glide, the less you need to flex your leg joints. For example when skiing uphill your leg joints should be well flexed as compared to skiing on the flat. Once again as explained earlier, this lower gliding position requires greater ski specific strength. Remember nothing great comes without effort.

Conclusion

If you develop the proper body posture for skiing you will enhance your push-off and glide phases, and therefore ski faster and more efficiently. It is rare that you become exceptional at anything by doing it the same way as everyone else.


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