Ankle Flexion--Active or "Passive"?

AmyPJ

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I've been really playing around with ankle flexion in the past week or so. I've always done what I will refer to as "passive" ankle flexion where I allow my body weight to push forward against the boot, resulting in a flexed ankle. So much instruction seems to teach this, but maybe I've misunderstood it. Or maybe because I'm so flexible, shin/tongue pressure created this way doesn't create enough tension in the foot/ankle/achilles.

I started to actively dorsiflex using the tibialis anterior muscles, particularly at transition, and it seems to be eliminating my old stem habit and also keeps me in a much better stacked position. It has also highlighted the fore/aft balance issues I continue to have which I am going to have addressed soon (have new shells, same as current shells.) When I say active, I mean that I am really using the tibialis anterior to forcefully pull my foot up. The issue I feel with this is you can't pressure the big toe while actively dorsiflexing. It's impossible. It DOES put passive pressure on the ball of the foot. One physically cannot actively dorsiflex and push down on the ball of the foot or toes.

This latest video from Deb Armstrong got me to really thinking about it as he talks about how the body senses when it's in balance. It cannot perform at it's highest level when it is out of balance. My boots are not putting me in balance. I can sense that so am always a bit tense and really struggle in variable conditions. The last time I felt balanced in boots was in a pair of Salomon XMax. They are far too big volume-wise for me, hence why I am in a race boot (Rossi ZJ+.)

I think this video explains pulling the "strong" leg back (as they call it) better than I've ever heard. I'm big on the "why" of things. He explains why! I'm debating taking my fitness band out (and have considered this for quite awhile now, to engage those hip abductors) and now I'm really tempted. How does pulling that leg back relate to dorsiflexion? If you dorsiflex, it keeps the foot and leg centered better beneath your COM, and if you engage the abductors, it really pulls back. What's been happening to me is I just can't find that sweet spot in the ski yet. If I have a boot that is gas pedaled, hence already putting me into a more dorsiflexed position, does that create a less-desirable platform for active dorsiflexion?

I know, a lot to unpack in one post. I know some of you will get where I am going with this. In the meantime, here is the video. There are two parts to it, this is the 2nd part. I think it's brilliant.

 

oldschoolskier

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How a ski works and what a ski needs for it to do that it is pretty simple. How we get our bodies to make that happen is fairly common but there are variances and this is where the trick is.

@AmyPJ you found the real secret in improving and learning is using and finding what works for you.

Keep us updated.
 
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AmyPJ

AmyPJ

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How a ski works and what a ski needs for it to do that it is pretty simple. How we get our bodies to make that happen is fairly common but there are variances and this is where the trick is.

@AmyPJ you found the real secret in improving and learning is using and finding what works for you.

Keep us updated.
Are you saying that for some, a more passive approach combined with "squashing the bug" with the big toe works better, and for others, more active dorsiflexion especially at transition, works better?

What I have personally found over the course of several seasons now is that I cannot push on the big toe and maintain ankle flexion, and in fact am now finding that actively dorsiflexing especially at initiation helps clean up turn entry and keeps that ankle closed without leaning on the tongue of the boot. It also shortens that leg slightly. But it takes a very concentrated effort as it's not an engrained habit yet.

Does body physiology/anatomy play a big role in how to approach this? If so, then why don't more instructors know this--that what works for them might not be effective for their student? That there are more ways than one to achieve ankle flexion. (If this is, in fact, true.)

On the one hand, ankle flexion is maintained from the knee down. On the other hand (or foot) it's maintained from the foot up.
 

Seldomski

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I think about dorsiflexion less in moguls and more about cuff pressure by positioning my feet aft of my body (foot pull back). When in crud or on groomed, I tend to think about active dorsiflexion more to gain a solid foundation and connectionto the snow. Dorsiflexion to me feels like sucking the foot down into the boot and connects the heel and arch to the ski.

Perhaps I should play with dorsiflexion more in the bumps? Something for me to play with... thanks for the thread @AmyPJ
 

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@AmyPJ
Optimal balance is where your body has to perform the least amount of muscular effort to stay upright/balanced. This means you want to stand as neutral on your foot as possible. Don't try to actively pressure any part of your foot when taking on a neutral stance in a basic alpine position. The best way to find your stance is to ski with unbuckled boots. If you do it right there should be no difference in skiing with your boots buckled. How you stand in an unbuckled boot is how you should stand in a buckled boot. Imho people are overly obsessed with having shin pressure while it is really not that important. Being balanced is important, shin pressure is a result. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't and that is okay. Being too far forward is a very common problem amongst good skiers, especially level 1 and 2 instructors and sometimes even level 3 instructors.
And a boot that puts you in a forward position imho is a problem.
 

Noodler

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@AmyPJ - The gas pedal on your boots is not increasing your "dorsiflexion" position. As I noted in your other thread, the gas pedal is on the outside of the boot, not the inside. The variables that impact the amount of dorsiflexion angle are the forward lean of the shell and the bootboard ramp angle. Gas pedaling is tipping the entire boot+foot+leg rearward, but it does not change the angle at the ankle.
 

Noodler

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@AmyPJ
Optimal balance is where your body has to perform the least amount of muscular effort to stay upright/balanced. This means you want to stand as neutral on your foot as possible. Don't try to actively pressure any part of your foot when taking on a neutral stance in a basic alpine position. The best way to find your stance is to ski with unbuckled boots. If you do it right there should be no difference in skiing with your boots buckled. How you stand in an unbuckled boot is how you should stand in a buckled boot. Imho people are overly obsessed with having shin pressure while it is really not that important. Being balanced is important, shin pressure is a result. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't and that is okay. Being too far forward is a very common problem amongst good skiers, especially level 1 and 2 instructors and sometimes even level 3 instructors.
And a boot that puts you in a forward position imho is a problem.

I like what you've stated regarding finding your natural balanced stance. Where I differ is when it comes to actually actively pressuring the ski. I believe you do need cuff pressure to be able to apply sufficient forces on the ski's tip and tail. When you ski in an unbuckled boot and are only using plantar flexion and dorsiflexion to manage your fore/aft balance, you do not have the "power" to really change the tip or tail pressure. Sure you can tip the ski laterally (with a good fitting boot), but there's no way to "crush" the ski if you want/need to. Lack of cuff pressure also reduces the ability to quickly and strongly adjust your fore/aft position.

So I'm not sure why you're advocating that cuff pressure is not important. Maybe there's more to what you're trying to say here or I've missed something.
 

Noodler

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@AmyPJ - continuing with the core issue you've brought up...

I believe that active dorsiflexion is just part of making good ski turns. It is used in combination with hamstring contraction (leg curl) to actively retract the legs when transitioning between turns. Sure, you can certainly be more passive with these movements (allow the knee/ankle joints to "collapse" under our weight) and it really depends on the level of performance and quickness of the desired turns as to which approach fits best. These days I'm finding that even in my slower skiing, I prefer to be more active with the retraction to initiate the balance transfer across my skis.

It should be noted that active dorsiflexion does not mean that your BoF raises off the bottom of your boot. In a well-fit boot, you should be in contact the floor and the roof pretty much all the time. These are critical control surfaces to help us manage our fore/aft balance.

If you try to use plantar flexing to pressure the tips, I think you'll find what you typically get is falling into the back seat. It is possible to plantar flex while you're forward and not have this happen, but why even expose the risk? I find that it's easier to focus on the dorsiflexion and hamstring contraction of the retraction to accomplish a foot pull back which keeps you forward and with sufficient tip pressure at turn initiation.
 
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AmyPJ

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@AmyPJ - The gas pedal on your boots is not increasing your "dorsiflexion" position. As I noted in your other thread, the gas pedal is on the outside of the boot, not the inside. The variables that impact the amount of dorsiflexion angle are the forward lean of the shell and the bootboard ramp angle. Gas pedaling is tipping the entire boot+foot+leg rearward, but it does not change the angle at the ankle.
The inside the boot/outside the boot stuff is a little hard for me to digest, but either way, if I wasn't applying pressure properly from the foot then would I really be able to assess this angle and feeling accurately?

To expand on what @Skitechniek said above, what boot angles put me in too forward of a position? If I counter a "too forward" position by adjusting inside the boot by lowering the zeppa, what does this do with the ankle and ability to dorsiflex? If I counter being too forward by adding a gas pedal or lifting the binding toe piece, what does this do to the ability to dorsiflex and where I hit the cuff? I have removed the toe shim from my bindings and have adjusted my stance primarily through stronger dorsiflexion, and it's been a bit of a eureka moment. So it makes me further wonder if the gas pedals are hindering me in finding comfortable dynamic balance.

Swimming in boots thanks to my low-volume feet has set me so far behind in skill development. Now that I have shells that fit (and Zipfit liners--love them) I think I can really start to assess this stuff and dial in that last 20%.
 

Noodler

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The inside the boot/outside the boot stuff is a little hard for me to digest, but either way, if I wasn't applying pressure properly from the foot then would I really be able to assess this angle and feeling accurately?

To expand on what @Skitechniek said above, what boot angles put me in too forward of a position? If I counter a "too forward" position by adjusting inside the boot by lowering the zeppa, what does this do with the ankle and ability to dorsiflex? If I counter being too forward by adding a gas pedal or lifting the binding toe piece, what does this do to the ability to dorsiflex and where I hit the cuff? I have removed the toe shim from my bindings and have adjusted my stance primarily through stronger dorsiflexion, and it's been a bit of a eureka moment. So it makes me further wonder if the gas pedals are hindering me in finding comfortable dynamic balance.

Swimming in boots thanks to my low-volume feet has set me so far behind in skill development. Now that I have shells that fit (and Zipfit liners--love them) I think I can really start to assess this stuff and dial in that last 20%.

I'm failing you at providing verbiage that provides a clear understanding of how these boot setup variables impact your stance. Calling @bud heishman to the SkiTalk courtesy phone...
 

scott43

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I should say I greatly pressure the shin. The advice I got was you roll the ankles to put the ski on edge and flex the ski, not the boot. Boot stiffness was more about control and forces resulting from putting the ski on edge. That said I still pressure the shin to start turns sometimes. I'm no instructor, just conveying what I was told.
 

Sanity

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I've been really playing around with ankle flexion in the past week or so. I've always done what I will refer to as "passive" ankle flexion where I allow my body weight to push forward against the boot, resulting in a flexed ankle. So much instruction seems to teach this, but maybe I've misunderstood it. Or maybe because I'm so flexible, shin/tongue pressure created this way doesn't create enough tension in the foot/ankle/achilles.

I started to actively dorsiflex using the tibialis anterior muscles, particularly at transition, and it seems to be eliminating my old stem habit and also keeps me in a much better stacked position. It has also highlighted the fore/aft balance issues I continue to have which I am going to have addressed soon (have new shells, same as current shells.) When I say active, I mean that I am really using the tibialis anterior to forcefully pull my foot up. The issue I feel with this is you can't pressure the big toe while actively dorsiflexing. It's impossible. It DOES put passive pressure on the ball of the foot. One physically cannot actively dorsiflex and push down on the ball of the foot or toes.

This latest video from Deb Armstrong got me to really thinking about it as he talks about how the body senses when it's in balance. It cannot perform at it's highest level when it is out of balance. My boots are not putting me in balance. I can sense that so am always a bit tense and really struggle in variable conditions. The last time I felt balanced in boots was in a pair of Salomon XMax. They are far too big volume-wise for me, hence why I am in a race boot (Rossi ZJ+.)

I think this video explains pulling the "strong" leg back (as they call it) better than I've ever heard. I'm big on the "why" of things. He explains why! I'm debating taking my fitness band out (and have considered this for quite awhile now, to engage those hip abductors) and now I'm really tempted. How does pulling that leg back relate to dorsiflexion? If you dorsiflex, it keeps the foot and leg centered better beneath your COM, and if you engage the abductors, it really pulls back. What's been happening to me is I just can't find that sweet spot in the ski yet. If I have a boot that is gas pedaled, hence already putting me into a more dorsiflexed position, does that create a less-desirable platform for active dorsiflexion?

I know, a lot to unpack in one post. I know some of you will get where I am going with this. In the meantime, here is the video. There are two parts to it, this is the 2nd part. I think it's brilliant.


Indulge me for a minute. Stand up, bend the knees into an athletic stance. Now knee angulate, i.e rotate one of the knees inward (from the femur and from the ankles). Feel the pressure on the ball of your foot? Now, bend the knees a fair amount, pull up your foot with your ankle as hard as you can, and knee angulate again, but really sink into that knee and corkscrew it in. Still feel that pressure on the ball of your foot? I do. Assuming you do too, then I'd propose that getting pressure on your big toe isn't just about the sagittal plane. Being forward helps create pressure on the big toe, also because it increases the effects of knee angulation. And it's knee angulation (including effects from the ankles) that you're aiming for to start your turn.

Generally, in a turn the boot is flexed. There's a study that shows even with a 150 flex boot, a racer still flexed 6 degrees. The same racer in a 110 flex boot flexed something like 10-12 degrees. One interesting thing is that the final forward lean was the same for this test racer in two different boots. To flex a boot that much is impossible using just your ankle muscles. It takes pulling the feet back and getting weight on the cuff. Your ankles can help pull you forward out of an imbalanced situation, but ultimately weight on the cuff and knee angulation is what creates pressure on the ball of the foot, not pushing with your foot.
 

Tony S

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It should be noted that active dorsiflexion does not mean that your BoF raises off the bottom of your boot.
Right. One cue I use for dorsiflexion - I think others do too - is to lift the toes. Like in yoga, right? Lifting the toes actually puts MORE control onto the ball of your foot, not less. Three points of support, yes?

FWIW, in the beginning of a carved turn, anyway, I am dorsiflexing actively to engage the tip, helped by the cuff (and ultimately the spine of the boot) as Noodler describes. (Not sure about the BoF - will have to think about that next time I'm out.) It's in the belly of the turn that I'm really working the ball of my foot hard to keep the ski from straightening out before I want it to. Once I've come far enough around the arc of the turn to meet my "goals" for that turn - e.g., speed control - then I'll feel the center of pressure move back toward the arch and heel before allowing the outisde leg to bend, ending the turn.

Squashing a bug with a TOE doesn't resonate with me. Maybe it's my physiology, but most anything I do with my toes feels like clenching, and is ultimately destabilizing for me.

Amateur BS disclaimer goes here.
 

Skitechniek

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I like what you've stated regarding finding your natural balanced stance. Where I differ is when it comes to actually actively pressuring the ski. I believe you do need cuff pressure to be able to apply sufficient forces on the ski's tip and tail. When you ski in an unbuckled boot and are only using plantar flexion and dorsiflexion to manage your fore/aft balance, you do not have the "power" to really change the tip or tail pressure. Sure you can tip the ski laterally (with a good fitting boot), but there's no way to "crush" the ski if you want/need to. Lack of cuff pressure also reduces the ability to quickly and strongly adjust your fore/aft position.

So I'm not sure why you're advocating that cuff pressure is not important. Maybe there's more to what you're trying to say here or I've missed something.
What I mean is how you look at the relationship cuff pressure and force on the ski. Studies have shown that cuff pressure does absolutely nothing for pressuring/bending the ski. The ski bends because of force. Centripetal force, gravity, your weight etc... The position of your CoM decides where that ski is going to bend, because (to simplify, not entirely accurate, cause not all those forces move in the same direction) that is where all those forces will be doing their work. It so happens to be that if you want to bend the ski a lot, you want to position your CoM in a way where it is likely that at some point in the turn you are going to feel shin pressure. That shin pressure however is a result of the position of your CoM and not a goal in itself. The shin pressure in itself does nothing. I could mount your binding position all the way to the back of your ski and you can ski with all the shin pressure you want and you'll never be able to ski the same radius as someone with a neutral position, with little cuff pressure and the binding mounted in the 'middle' of the ski if both skiers are skiing on the same ski. What a ski boot does do is that it absorbs loads that are being exerted on the skier. So a ski boot in that sense makes life easier for us, and that is what gives the power feeling. But in theory you should be able to ski exactly the same with unbuckled boots.

Hence shin pressure is never the goal. There are 100 ways to have shin pressure and I could contort my body in all kinds of ways where I would have shin pressure with a CoM that is extremely far back. I could for example bend my ankles a lot to the point I would have shin pressure, but then bend my knees even more to a point where my whole body from the knees up will be in the backseat. Even though I would have shin pressure, that would be very counter productive. On the other hand I could also have shin pressure by leaning into the cuff and skiing like Michael Jackson. Same deal, I would have shin pressure, but it would be counterproductive. Being centered is key, and once you're balanced and centered everything else doesn't matter. Sometimes being centered means there will be shin pressure, sometimes being centered means there won't be any shin pressure. So the important nuance is about the relationship CoM and shin pressure. I want my CoM in a good position and then I'll probably end up with some shin pressure some of the time instead of I want shin pressure and we'll see where my CoM ends up.

Maybe @Jamt you still have some of those boot/interface studies at hand? I have a new computer and lost a lot of my files.

Generally, in a turn the boot is flexed. There's a study that shows even with a 150 flex boot, a racer still flexed 6 degrees. The same racer in a 110 flex boot flexed something like 10-12 degrees. One interesting thing is that the final forward lean was the same for this test racer in two different boots. To flex a boot that much is impossible using just your ankle muscles. It takes pulling the feet back and getting weight on the cuff. Your ankles can help pull you forward out of an imbalanced situation, but ultimately weight on the cuff and knee angulation is what creates pressure on the ball of the foot, not pushing with your foot.
I would love to see that study, cause from what I know that is not necessarily true. The only study I know of that sort of looks at bending the boots is the Birdcage-experiment (1988?). And even that didn't really look at bending the boot, but at pressuring the boot. The WC skier was skiing very neutral. All other studies I know of that study boot/ski interface and all things related look at loads (as in force) and not at the degrees a boot is bent.
 
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AmyPJ

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Right. One cue I use for dorsiflexion - I think others do too - is to lift the toes. Like in yoga, right? Lifting the toes actually puts MORE control onto the ball of your foot, not less. Three points of support, yes?

FWIW, in the beginning of a carved turn, anyway, I am dorsiflexing actively to engage the tip, helped by the cuff (and ultimately the spine of the boot) as Noodler describes. (Not sure about the BoF - will have to think about that next time I'm out.) It's in the belly of the turn that I'm really working the ball of my foot hard to keep the ski from straightening out before I want it to. Once I've come far enough around the arc of the turn to meet my "goals" for that turn - e.g., speed control - then I'll feel the center of pressure move back toward the arch and heel before allowing the outisde leg to bend, ending the turn.

Squashing a bug with a TOE doesn't resonate with me. Maybe it's my physiology, but most anything I do with my toes feels like clenching, and is ultimately destabilizing for me.

Amateur BS disclaimer goes here.
And lifting the toes doesn’t work for me, but focusing on my tibialis anterior does. Must be all those decades of “heels down” while riding horses! Both achieve the same thing.
 
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AmyPJ

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What I mean is how you look at the relationship cuff pressure and force on the ski. Studies have shown that cuff pressure does absolutely nothing for pressuring/bending the ski. The ski bends because of force. Centripetal force, gravity, your weight etc... The position of your CoM decides where that ski is going to bend, because (to simplify, not entirely accurate, cause not all those forces move in the same direction) that is where all those forces will be doing their work. It so happens to be that if you want to bend the ski a lot, you want to position your CoM in a way where it is likely that at some point in the turn you are going to feel shin pressure. That shin pressure however is a result of the position of your CoM and not a goal in itself. The shin pressure in itself does nothing. I could mount your binding position all the way to the back of your ski and you can ski with all the shin pressure you want and you'll never be able to ski the same radius as someone with a neutral position, with little cuff pressure and the binding mounted in the 'middle' of the ski if both skiers are skiing on the same ski. What a ski boot does do is that it absorbs loads that are being exerted on the skier. So a ski boot in that sense makes life easier for us, and that is what gives the power feeling. But in theory you should be able to ski exactly the same with unbuckled boots.

Hence shin pressure is never the goal. There are 100 ways to have shin pressure and I could contort my body in all kinds of ways where I would have shin pressure with a CoM that is extremely far back. I could for example bend my ankles a lot to the point I would have shin pressure, but then bend my knees even more to a point where my whole body from the knees up will be in the backseat. Even though I would have shin pressure, that would be very counter productive. On the other hand I could also have shin pressure by leaning into the cuff and skiing like Michael Jackson. Same deal, I would have shin pressure, but it would be counterproductive. Being centered is key, and once you're balanced and centered everything else doesn't matter. Sometimes being centered means there will be shin pressure, sometimes being centered means there won't be any shin pressure. So the important nuance is about the relationship CoM and shin pressure. I want my CoM in a good position and then I'll probably end up with some shin pressure some of the time instead of I want shin pressure and we'll see where my CoM ends up.

Maybe @Jamt you still have some of those boot/interface studies at hand? I have a new computer and lost a lot of my files.


I would love to see that study, cause from what I know that is not necessarily true. The only study I know of that sort of looks at bending the boots is the Birdcage-experiment (1988?). And even that didn't really look at bending the boot, but at pressuring the boot. The WC skier was skiing very neutral. All other studies I know of that study boot/ski interface and all things related look at loads (as in force) and not at the degrees a boot is bent.
See this makes sense to me. Throw in that I can, thanks to how flexible I am, pressure the cuff from the back seat like a champ, as you elude to in your post. I’m usually strong enough to muscle my way through, too. I was sidelined off my mountain bike (and all strenuous exercise) for about 6 weeks right before ski season. Suddenly, I HAVE to be more efficient as my fitness level is not there. A silver lining to getting mowed down while on my bike?
 

JESinstr

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I'm failing you at providing verbiage that provides a clear understanding of how these boot setup variables impact your stance. Calling @bud heishman to the SkiTalk courtesy phone...
And this is what happens when we take a highly dynamic sport and talk about it as if we are doin the "Hokey Pokey" dance. Try setting resultant objectives like (if your intent is to carve) lifting your edges and getting your skis out and away as early as possible.... and when successful, then maybe think about the kinetic chain that got you there.
 
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