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Upper body vs lower body. Where do you start? - Page 2

post #31 of 33

So in reviving this thread I hope to delve more into the subject of the actual role of the upper body during a ski turn, how we accomplish those objectives (movements used), and the role of functional tension in creating the stable anchor so often mentioned in our advice.


So what is the role of the upper body? Is it to actively move about? Are those movements purposeful and disciplined, or simply a consequence of being passively carried about like SharpEdges once described as "a sack of potatoes"?

Said simply a stable and disciplined upper body facilitates better balance and flow. Mostly because that eliminates the need for a lot of the balance corrections we would have to use if we allowed it to just be tossed around. Another saying I've seen used is "Stay in balance and you spend less time seeking balance". But what do those saying actually mean when it comes to how we move the torso and arms?

I use the catch phrase 3D Skiing. It means use Disciplined, Deliberate, and Directionally relevent actions. Here's a brief definition of those terms as related to that 3D Skiing conceptual model. 

Disciplined: Know how and how much you need to move the entire upper half. Additionally eliminate extraneous and unintended movements that may occur.

Deliberate: Know why you are moving those body parts in the first place and what you expect to accomplish with those movements.

Directionally relevent: Constantly and consistently move towards the future, decide where that is and keep your entire body moving there. When you do that the need for big jerky correction movements is almost completely eliminated. So are movements away from where you want to go. For example, leaning into the hill moves the torso back uphill and the inside hand drops back towards the tails. An uphill step /stem move the foot uphill and away from the new turn.


So what about functional tension? What is it's role? It helps us maintain a more balanced stance since the small pertubations we encounter don't toss us around as much and in turn that means we don't have to make as many balance correction moves. Of course too much tension can have the opposite effect, so excessive tension must be avoided. Static, rigid stances are the most common outcomes we see when excessive tension is present. But what is an appropriate level of tension in the upper body and how can we teach it? It's actually pretty easy. What follows is a sample progression I've used for years.


Use a two person format and have them face each other. Have one person press on their partner's shoulder like they are trying to shove that shoulder about a foot backward. Remember to express to them to press but not punch their partner's shoulder. The second person allows their partner to move the shoulder with no resistance. That established the amount of functional tension needed to keep the upper body passively involved in balancing activities. Once they can do this consistently, have the second person resist and not allow their shoulder to be moved backwards by their partner. The person doing the pressing will notice that and they will almost automatically begin pressing harder. That small amount of additional pressing isn't a bad thing. Just don't let this activity turn into a test of wills and a shoving contest. What we're trying to establish is an awareness of the level of tension it will take to produce and maintain a stable and disciplined upper half of the body. In most circumstances the feedback I get is, "REALLY? You actually want me to ski with that much core and upper body tension?" Which tells me they are in the middle of an epiphany about how little they currently use their upper body to facilitate and maintain good balance. Or it tells me how far out of balance they are when they ski because that out of balance stance requires a lot more muscle tension. Obviously getting them more centered eliminates this problem.


 One final note here is that I always anticipate a short excessively rigid phase where they also carry this higher level of tension in their legs, so I don't choose steep or bumpy terrain to begin skiing with this much core and upper body tension. Eventually, this excessive tension in the legs and hips disappears as they learn how to keep them less tense while maintaining the right amount of tension in the core and upper half. If not we work on medium speed traverses in bumpy terrain.


How this relates to the OP and how we integrate upper and lower body movement? Knowing The DIRT establishes how we can get into a well balanced stance. The next level is to understand how functional tension affects our ability to maintain that well centered stance.

post #32 of 33

Very interesting thread.  Had missed this one the first time around.


I don't have anything brilliant to add on the use of upper vs. lower body, but I did see one thing I wanted to touch on:



You will never be a great skier if you cant make the constant adjustments...and you will never be able to make the constant adjustments if you cant feel when they are needed...it doesnt come from muscle memory...it comes from knowing what things need to feel like...namely pressure and balance points.


Does one balance on a pedal bike by muscle memory....or by feel?  I'd say if I had to rely on muscle memory to stay up, I would have training wheels!


These are never precise terms.  But in this context, "muscle memory" and "feel" are, to me, almost interchangeable.  As you learn and practice a skill, you literally change the way your brain processes sensory inputs related to that skill.  So instead of having to consciously think "oops, I'm overflexed and in the backseat right now" and what to do about it (at which point it may be too late already), the corrective action becomes almost reflexive.  Same thing with maintaining or recovering your balance on a bicycle.  You may experience that primarily as 'feeling' your way through situations, but someone else might not.  These are all different ways of viewing that movement from conscious to unconscious competence.


Eventually, if you're doing something resembling the 'right' movement over and over, you'll get the "muscle memory" or be able to do it by "feel".  I'm not sure if it makes much difference early in the learning process whether you focus on feeling outcomes vs. thinking through/planning the movements.  That probably comes down more to the individual student and their mental approach.


Another post touched on open versus closed-skill sports.  In skiing, you have to learn to separate out the common sensations and movements from ones that are situational.  You can't just drill one kind of turn on one slope in one set of conditions over and over and become a great skier.  You have to build a broad base of skills you can draw on as needed.

post #33 of 33
Originally Posted by fatoldman View Post

In the 'commitment to the turn' thread there was some discussion about the relationship between actions of the feet and legs and the relative position of the upper body and how these two things interact with each other. I would like to follow up on this a little.


First the chicken and egg question. Do you have a bias toward teaching one or the other? Do you feel that only if the body is in front of the feet will the actions of the feet and legs be effective in moving us where we want to go? Sort of a move the body and the feet/legs/skis will follow approach. Or, do you feel that if you train students to effectively use the feet and legs the relative position of the upper body will fall into place? If your answer is "It depends on the student' then what clues are you looking for when you watch the student ski to decide which path you want to take? With a first time student due you tend to focus on one or the other?


Do you feel that one or the other of these approaches is more effective and why?


I'll save my thoughts on this until the thread gets going. I'll also have more questions as it goes along.





Revisiting this question after a long stagnation.


Reading this original post and the first few replies after it, I want to offer this thought:  In this thread the focus has been primarily on technique though I believe addressing another important facet in a skier's development is the psychological intent.  With most new skiers they first want to learn where the brakes are.  As skiers progress and even all of us today reach a point or speed where we make a mental switch from go to slow and our bodies pull back and cling to the mountain rather than going with the flow of momentum down the mountain.  When we reach this point we begin to ski defensively which inhibits a smooth edge release to begin a turn because of that slight withdraw from the fall line.


If I see defensive movements setting in or  habitual defensive braking movements I drop the technique talk and focus on the psychological aspect to explore the skier's intent.  Are they turning to slow down or do they turn to go where they want to go.  I know this has been discussed here many times and is one of Bob Barnes' biggest contributions here, but it is so important.  We can work on technique and talk about the upper body staying up with the feet all we want but until the skier makes the conscious choice to use line to control speed and try to ski around that line as fast as they can using the roundness of the turn to control their descent rather than skidding or checking or stemming to scrape speed off, we will not change the technique.  Once we discover the gas pedal and resist tapping the breaks whenever possible the skis turn effortlessly because our base of support remains in the sweet spot throughout the whole turn.


As Barnes says, "intent dictates technique"



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