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Skiing & Dynamic Balance
How many times have you heard someone mention something about “stance on your skis” or “balance”? These are the most basic and important skills of skiing in all terrains and conditions. There are many other important skills, however without good balance and a functional stance the other skills are somewhat meaningless. But there really is no “perfect stance” for all terrains, or even the same terrain on different days.
Stance needs to be dynamic to keep balance. It changes in an instant, depending partially on what you are trying to achieve and, most importantly, depending on all the forces that are acting upon you at each moment in time, such as gravity, friction, centripetal force, etc. It’s all about moving in a way as to keep your center of mass (the three dimensional balance point of all the mass of your body) supported by your base of support (the bottom of your skis) so you can manipulate all these forces to work for you.
There is no perfect stance but you need to start somewhere. A strong “neutral stance” is the position that your body regains during that brief moment between turns. This differs slightly for people with different body types and tends to be a little lower and more aggressive in fast higher performance skiing and a little taller and more relaxed in slower cruising. Ideally at this point you want to feel even pressure on the bottom of your feet making the center of the skis your “base of support.” Think athletic posture where you are slightly flexed in all the joints and ready to react or move in any direction. Remember that your ankles and feet are locked in stiff ski boots so their range of motion is restricted quite a bit. You will need to compensate for this with other joints in order to feel that balance directly under your feet. Keep your hands out in front of you, your shoulders over your knees and looking ahead with your derriere over the top of your heel pieces on your bindings.
From the athletic neutral stance, you will now need to be constantly moving as you position your body to keep balance. How you move depends a lot on exactly what you want to do. Think about what happens when you bend or extend certain joints, flexing just ankles equals moving forward, bending just knees equals moving backwards, bending just at the waist equals moving forward. The objective is to move all these joints in harmony to counteract whatever forces you are dealing with at the time. It is much easier to move quickly with the lower body than it is with the upper body.
Keep the core tight and shuffle your feet back and forth underneath you as opposed to swinging your upper body back and forth, the upper body should remain “quiet.” In most turns you will want to feel like you’re pulling your feet back underneath you at the start of a turn engaging a bit more of the front part of the skis, then pushing them slightly ahead towards the end to engaging more of the tails. It’s interesting to figure out which joints are doing what and when.
The joints are all important when discussing Dynamic Balance. The lower body joints, from the hips down, are what allow us to achieve good Dynamic Balance.
The hips play a central role in skiing because they are, literally, central to your body. The hips are where the upper and lower body are connected, and if the upper and lower body are to work independently, the muscles around the hips must constantly contract and relax in a coordinated fashion to adjust your balance and manipulate your skis while adapting to changes in external forces. These muscles support and balance the mass of the upper body over the heads of the femurs, and good alignment in the mid-body is largely a matter of arrangement of the hips.
The knees also play a central role in skiing. Although the knee is typically viewed as a “hinge joint” allowing flexion and extension, it can also rotate in other directions as well. Large stresses are placed on the ligaments and cartilage when the knee bends or rotates inwards or outward. For example, one of the mechanisms of ACL injury during skiing is the “phantom foot” where the knee bends inward and rotates outward as you are falling backward. The muscles around your knee typically protect the ACL but are relatively helpless in this position. In fact, anything that is placed on the knee for protection (like a knee brace, knee sleeve, knee support etc.) is helpless if you find yourself in this position.
All levels of skiers can find their Dynamic Balance to be reduced from muscle fatigue. Muscle fatigue not only reduces how fast your muscles can react to sudden or unexpected forces but also influences your awareness of where the joints of your body are positioned in space. Your quadriceps muscles, located on the top of your thighs, are the primary muscles that help you maintain Dynamic Balance while you shock absorb as you connect turns. As a consequence these muscles are also the most susceptible to fatigue.
Opedix has developed technologies to help your Dynamic Balance. The Opedix tights are in essence a form fitting base layer with a built in tensioning system. Scientific testing in the laboratory and on the slopes has found these tights to increase the awareness of your neutral stance and reduce the rate of quadriceps muscle fatigue. Increased awareness and reduced fatigue can be very effective in helping a skier achieve proper Dynamic Balance by helping your ability to place the lower body in correct anatomical alignment and counter external forces. Improved Dynamic Balance with the Opedix tights will help reduce the wear-and-tear on your knees and allow the muscles to efficiently and rapidly react to the terrain for better and safer day on the mountain. Please see http://www.opedix.com/kinetic-health for more information.