Ankles, touch and feel.
PSIA Nordic Instructor Tip
I have often stated that what separates a good classic and skate skier from a great one, is the use of their ankles. Great classic skiers, for example, seem to possess a touch and feel for the snow conditions and terrain that other skiers struggle to find. They have the ability to find the 'sweet spot' in the kick zone all the time and their glide is timed to perfection. Touch and feel are the minor physical adjustments we make that enhance our forward momentum.
I believe that ankle proprioception is critical to balance during classic and skate skiing, creating this touch and feel. Proprioception is defined by Shannon Lee, as "the process by which the body can vary muscle contraction in immediate response to incoming information regarding external forces". Because the ankle joint is located in close proximity to the body's base of support, the ankle plays an integral role in providing valuable feedback to the brain. It helps provide the sensory feedback information required for fine motor control and body positioning.
These proprioception mechanisms, along with our inner ear which feels the pull of gravity and helps keep us oriented and balanced, are unconsciously utilized by the brain to provide a constant influx of sensory information.
Depending on the amount of information, where in the body it comes from, and from what proprioceptors, determines if the information will be made conscious or processed unconsciously. I believe touch and feel are the unconscious adjustment actions we make to the input that the nervous system has received. The information is processed, and depending on where the body is in space, certain muscles will be told what to do.
Creating the touch and feel requires us to develop ankle proprioceptors to their full potential. If we can teach and train our ankles where they are in relation to the ground at all times, how much load is on them and the feel of the snow, we are more likely to create the touch and feel that is necessary.
A good measure of how in tune our ankle proprioceptors are is to balance on flat ground, one legged and blindfolded for as long as you can. Take notice of the difference between your left and right side and what direction you tend to fall. A little time spent on this during your workouts will go a long way to help develop the ankle propriceptors so that the flow of information is unconscious.
Ankle joint proprioception is of particular importance, as it provides some of the most important information regarding where our body is in space.
Ross Matlock PSIA Nordic Demo Team