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What does "flexing ankles" mean?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

People keep talking about closing your ankles and flexing them, what does this mean?

post #2 of 9
Search function has many threads on it.
post #3 of 9

"Close the ankle:"  stand with foot flat on floor/snow, keep it that way, and bend the lower leg forward at the ankle so the knee moves down towards the toes/floor/snow.  In ski boots, this moves the shin up against the front of the boot cuff.  This is a main prerequisite to flexing the boot cuff. 

 

"Flex the ankle" means pretty much the same thing as closing the ankle (known in anatomy circles as dorsiflexion).

 

"Open the ankle" means the opposite.  Keep foot flat on floor/snow, keep it that way, and open up the ankle that you just closed.  That knee will move upward and backwards, farther away from the toes.  In ski boots, this moves the calf of the lower leg back against the back of the boot cuff.  Skiing with ankles open is a main contributor to being back seat, or aft.  Known in anatomy circles as plantar flexion.  

 

The lower leg needs to be tilted forward when skiing.  This involves convincing it to do so, which doesn't come easy.   Some use the moniker "shin-tongue" to describe skiing with lower leg tilted forward.

post #4 of 9
Stand across the fall-line, have your buddy grab the tips of your skis and move them back and forth abruptly, then get back with us.
post #5 of 9

What's the context, CoasterBlu? How are you using the expression, or hearing it used? 

 

Flexing the ankles, and the related concepts of fore-aft movement in the direction the skis point, are among the most commonly and deeply misunderstood movements in all of skiing, in my opinion. There is much "conventional wisdom" and questionable "doctrine" about what you should and should not do with your ankles and boots, as well as the joints above them. You are right to question!

 

Despite our stiff, close-fitting boots, there is always at least a very small amount of flexion and extension movement available in the ankles. That motion is precious--it is our best tool for fine-tuning fore-aft balance--and I never want to use it up indiscriminately. In other words, I DO NOT want to "crush my boots" or press against their tongues in general, by default, at any particular part of the turn, or every time I get taller or shorter--as is often advised. The ankle is one of several joints that affect fore-aft balance (as well as fore-aft pressure on the ski)--including the knee, the hips, the spine, the arms, and even the neck and head. These joints must work in concert to manage fore-aft and lateral balance, as well as flexion and extension of the whole body (getting "shorter and longer").

 

When not skiing, our ankles allow a large range of motion, and our heels can lift off the ground as well when we flex low--as in bending down to pick up something off the floor. On skis, though, our stiff, snug boots and bindings that clamp our heels down greatly restrict that range. Ankles are very weak, not designed to manage the fore-aft forces that the long levers of our skis can can create, so high, stiff boots add much-needed strength and support while greatly reducing our ankle flexibility and range of motion. We must learn to use our joints in different ways, or at least, in different proportions, on skis. Where we might "bend our ankles" normally, on skis we will often need to flex more at the hips and extend our arms forward to compensate for the lack of forward motion from ankle flexion. It is a learned movement pattern, specific to skiing, and much worth practicing. As an experiment, stand in your boots and balance over your whole foot (equal pressure ball, arch, and heel, and "neutral" in your boot cuffs). Now extend as tall as you can, and then flex as low as you can, keeping your heels on the floor and maintaining the same sensations of fore-aft balance in your feet. Use your knees, hips, spine, and arms as needed to keep your balance as you flex and extend. These are critical movements in skiing, and when you master them, you will always be able to fine-tune your fore-aft balance with subtle ankle movements, at any time, regardless of how flexed or extended your legs and body are.

 

Even with the extreme movements needed to absorb big moguls, or to manage the intense forces of high-speed, high-performance turns, gross ankle movements are not needed. Note in the following animation that the ankles never flex or extend (bend or straighten) at all--suggesting that the skier could always use those ankles for subtle fore-aft corrections, at any moment.

 

 

No ankle flexion or extension is needed to absorb these large moguls. Accurate movements of the knees, hips, spine, and arms eliminate the need for the ankles to flex and extend when absorbing bumps (or other forces)--keeping their small but precious motion always available for subtle fine-tuning of fore-aft balance and pressure. [Image and animation © Bob Barnes; all rights reserved.]

 

 

Boot setup is critical, the moreso the stiffer and snugger your boots are. If the boots hold your shins too upright, or too tilted forward, they will greatly reduce your range of motion. But there is a reason experts tend to use quite stiff boots, and it is certainly not to make it easier to flex their ankles!

 

Best regards,

Bob

post #6 of 9

BB - Great posting. Adding pressure to the cuffs or actually flexing them are two different things. And your animation does not apply to moguls only. You can think of it as the inside and outside legs when carving.

post #7 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by coasterblu View Post
 

People keep talking about closing your ankles and flexing them, what does this mean?


Nothing sensible.  When you hear it, smile, nod your head, then forget it.

 

What really matters is the location of your body's center of mass over the front half of your skis.  In some parts of the turn you want the body farther forward than in other parts.  Get there by hinging forward at the ankles.  Actually, pulling your feet back is the easiest way to "get forward."  Fine skiers in 130, 140, 150 flex boots on a cold day can not "close your ankles and flex them."  And they ski great.  Ignore anyone that tells you to dorsiflex your ankle--tighten the angle between foot & leg.  We don't have the muscles there to do it effectively.  Ditto with raising your toes to dorsiflex.  Squatting down to get more tongue pressure doesn't move the center of mass, so that isn't effective.

 

Balance all the time on the balls of your feet.  That alone will improve your skiing.  Pull your feet behind you at the beginning of a turn.  That'll be a big improvement.  If you find yourself back on your heels, stop, balance on the balls of your feet, and ski away.

post #8 of 9

Closing the ankle is called dorsiflexion. It is usually mentioned in relation to getting forward and/or balanced on the skis (you may hear also "knees to skis" etc).

 

There are several ways to get forward. Ankle dorsiflexion is part of all of them and critical to staying in the right spot on the ski.

 

Good skiers tend to dorsiflex a lot, in addition to other movements like pulling the feet back... when you let go of dorsiflexion, the skis tend to get ahead and you may end up on your heels.

 

You have to of course strike a balance between staying forward and dorsiflexed and supporting yourself on the skis - which usually requires that you either support the shins into the boot  or plantarflex (the opposite of dorsiflexion)... so at different places in the turn, you may do more or less of either... generally at the beginning of the turn you dorsiflex to get forward.

 

Plantarflexion is also an adjustment mechanism - making up for pressure fore/aft in parts of the turn, as needed...

 

Did I see some graph of muscle usage throughout the turn recently? Did it include the ankle flexors or whatever is involved? Tibialis anterior?

 

cheers


Edited by razie - 3/7/16 at 7:26pm
post #9 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Barnes View Post

What's the context, CoasterBlu? How are you using the expression, or hearing it used? 

Flexing the ankles, and the related concepts of fore-aft movement in the direction the skis point, are among the most commonly and deeply misunderstood movements in all of skiing, in my opinion. There is much "conventional wisdom" and questionable "doctrine" about what you should and should not do with your ankles and boots, as well as the joints above them. You are right to question!

Despite our stiff, close-fitting boots, there is always at least a very small amount of flexion and extension movement available in the ankles. That motion is precious--it is our best tool for fine-tuning fore-aft balance--and I never want to use it up indiscriminately. In other words, I DO NOT want to "crush my boots" or press against their tongues in general, by default, at any particular part of the turn, or every time I get taller or shorter--as is often advised. The ankle is one of several joints that affect fore-aft balance (as well as fore-aft pressure on the ski)--including the knee, the hips, the spine, the arms, and even the neck and head. These joints must work in concert to manage fore-aft and lateral balance, as well as flexion and extension of the whole body (getting "shorter and longer").

When not skiing, our ankles allow a large range of motion, and our heels can lift off the ground as well when we flex low--as in bending down to pick up something off the floor. On skis, though, our stiff, snug boots and bindings that clamp our heels down greatly restrict that range. Ankles are very weak, not designed to manage the fore-aft forces that the long levers of our skis can can create, so high, stiff boots add much-needed strength and support while greatly reducing our ankle flexibility and range of motion. We must learn to use our joints in different ways, or at least, in different proportions, on skis. Where we might "bend our ankles" normally, on skis we will often need to flex more at the hips and extend our arms forward to compensate for the lack of forward motion from ankle flexion. It is a learned movement pattern, specific to skiing, and much worth practicing. As an experiment, stand in your boots and balance over your whole foot (equal pressure ball, arch, and heel, and "neutral" in your boot cuffs). Now extend as tall as you can, and then flex as low as you can, keeping your heels on the floor and maintaining the same sensations of fore-aft balance in your feet. Use your knees, hips, spine, and arms as needed to keep your balance as you flex and extend. These are critical movements in skiing, and when you master them, you will always be able to fine-tune your fore-aft balance with subtle ankle movements, at any time, regardless of how flexed or extended your legs and body are.

Even with the extreme movements needed to absorb big moguls, or to manage the intense forces of high-speed, high-performance turns, gross ankle movements are not needed. Note in the following animation that the ankles never flex or extend (bend or straighten) at all--suggesting that the skier could always use those ankles for subtle fore-aft corrections, at any moment.




No ankle flexion or extension is needed to absorb these large moguls. Accurate movements of the knees, hips, spine, and arms eliminate the need for the ankles to flex and extend when absorbing bumps (or other forces)--keeping their small but precious motion always available for subtle fine-tuning of fore-aft balance and pressure. [Image and animation © Bob Barnes; all rights reserved.]


Boot setup is critical, the moreso the stiffer and snugger your boots are. If the boots hold your shins too upright, or too tilted forward, they will greatly reduce your range of motion. But there is a reason experts tend to use quite stiff boots, and it is certainly not to make it easier to flex their ankles!

Best regards,
Bob

Great post, Bob!
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