Good body position starts with good ankle flex.
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Every ski season I hold several clinics, both skating and classic, beginner and intermediate. Regardless of the abilities of the skiers participating I always start at the ground floor of efficient skiing: good body position. And I always ask the rhetorical question: where does good body position start? And the answer is almost always the same: bend your knees.
After years of repeatedly being subjected to this response I've managed to suppress my primal urge to kill. Instead I close my eyes so my students don't see them rolling back in my head, take a deep breath and calmly say, "Good body position starts with flexed ankles."
What happens when we flex our ankles? Our knees drop, our hips drop and if our torso is tipped slightly forward we find ourselves in what is universally known as the athletic position. You're ready for anything. You can drive forward, you can move side to side, you can generate power, you can ski downhill, you can absorb bumps. You're ready to ski down the trail.
Having taken way too many PSIA classes over the last ten years and working with what probably amounts to a few hundred skiers, between the grade school kids and adult clinics, it's become difficult for me to ski without constantly evaluating my own technique. Whenever I sense a lack of efficiency or I stall out on a hill, I always check my body position, meaning I ask myself, "are my ankles flexed?" Nine times out of ten the answer is no or not enough. As soon as I drop into my ankles the problem is solved.
A few weeks ago I got into a discussion/debate with a couple of moms who work with the younger skiers. They were adamant that "flex your ankles" means nothing to the average person and "bend your knees" is more universally understood. Being an older, white male I knew that they were full of crap but I nevertheless tried get them to see the light using logic and reason, which is the natural realm of older, white males. But I was speaking into the void. Finally I turned to a kid standing next to me and said, "Sam, flex your ankles." Sam immediately flexed his ankles, his knees dropped, he tipped forward and he was ready to ski.
Why the focus on the ankles? Why not knees? The first answer I always give is that I can bend my knees without bending my ankles, but I can't bend, or flex, my ankles without bending my knees. If I do I'll fall over. The second part is, we want to think from the skis up, and our ankles are the first major joint in that progression. Flexed ankles equals bent knees equals dropped hips, etc.
Teaching adults to flex their ankles is probably the single biggest challenge I face when instructing. Most kids just get it. Tell a group of kids to pretend they're gorillas and see what happens. Instant athletic position. When you put them on skis they usually have no problem with transferring that drill and dropping into a good stance with their ankles flexed. Adults can often demonstrate a good position before they put their skis on, but once they're locked into their bindings they become rigid, tentative and sometimes, fearful. My task at that point is to put them through various drills while repeating over and over, "flex your ankles, flex your ankles, flex your ankles."
Good body position is the same whether you're skiing classic or skate. And good body position starts with what?