Over the weekend I attended the coaches clinic put on by Central Cross Country (CXC) and their program manager, Scott Wilson. It was an excellent program, even though it was adjusted quite a bit because the high school organization meeting ran over by an hour and a half. The part that interested me was in understanding the mechanics of the “new” techniques the USSA is promoting and has codified a bit in the “Level 1 Ski Progressions” video.
Some parts of skiing are always the same. Good balance, good weight transfer, relaxation and power. To get there though, both the terminology used and the techniques have varied tremendously over the years, between coaches and between countries. USSA is promoting the idea that there are core concepts and basic exercises skiers can use at any level to improve their skiing. At the core of that core is the basic skier position.
What makes this program unique in all the material and coaching I have gone through over the years is that not just the sum of all of your body weight is leaning forward, but that actually, no part of your body is past your heel. The only way to get in that position is to flex your ankles forward and to stand more upright. Once in that position, a very slight movement of the hips forward forces you past the “fall line”, and you have to go forward or you’ll fall on your face. Now, you can have a deep knee bend, and still not be doing this right. If you are bent at the waist, most likely your butt is past your heel to counter balance your upper body. Heck, you can bend down far enough you are squatting, but it wouldn’t make you go any faster. The reasoning against that position goes like this. The effort of moving that core area forward again, after you’ve moved it back past your heels, is counter productive to your whole body moving forward. Instead as you ski, you don’t step forward, don’t bend much at the waist but simply drive your knees forward. This flexes your ankle forward to it’s limit and your whole body moves ahead of the fall line, with your weight driving the knee. Its gravity that does this of course, accompanied by a pole push. Then you return to the basic skier position. During the whole stroke, your entire body is in front of your heels.
Today was my first chance to spend some time on roller skis trying this out since the clinic. It certainly feels strange. While I have spent the last year working to make the recovery part of my stroke propel me forward instead of just slowing down, this takes it to a new level. It was certainly faster, and I’m still working on the muscles. What stood out most was the the static muscles I have been struggling to build to maintain an aggressive knee bend, don’t seem to be needed as much. First, the turnover is much faster so you aren’t in that static strained position as long. Second, the angleof the knee bend, when not exaggerated by a deep waist bend, is actually less than I was doing before and is less taxing to me. But, while faster, I still was working pretty hard trying to learn this. It’s November, so why to worry.
How to work in the double pole remains a mystery. I did about 15K of double pole trying also to use ankle flex and not much waist bend. Feels very strange. I did get much faster near the end though. I tried to use shadows to see how my angles were working out, but video will be the real truth serum. Clearly, I have a long ways to go.