Are you Free!

Phil Smith, Snoworks Director, discusses how the goal for perceived technical excellence should be replaced with the goal of moving freely.

The urge to want to know ‘how to ski correctly’ could be what is holding many skiers back from improving. I would struggle to describe accurately the movements needed to make a cup of tea let alone slide down the side of a mountain with two planks strapped to my feet.

A quick google search showed me there are on average 600 muscles in the human body, along with 206 bones and a total of 360 joints. That’s a lot of muscles, bones and joints to coordinate even on a simple slope let alone negotiating some bumps, ice, a crowded slope, a race course or off-piste. Wowzer! Human movement is complex.

The wonderful and appropriate poem  ‘The Centipedes Dilemma’ springs to mind.

A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun said.
“Pray, which leg moves after which?”
This raised her doubts to such a pitch, she fell exhausted in the ditch.
Not knowing how to run.

Yes, human movement is complex. The urge to know ‘exactly’ how to do something can sometimes be the undoing of us. The poor centipede. Quite happy coordinating all those legs until the toad asked how?

Luckily for us we have the most amazing subconscious that can coordinate everything for us whilst we slide down the side of a mountain, listening to music, whilst texting a friend to meet for lunch. We just have to let the subconscious get on with it, within reason of course.

Your Subconscious
To show you how amazing the subconscious is have a go at the following.

1. Take a pen and write your signature as small as possible. Move only your fingers and a small amount at your wrist. Do it slowly.
2. Now block the movements at your fingers and wrist and write your signature 20 times the previous size using only your elbow and shoulder. Change the speed, slow or fast.
3. Now imagine taking a stick, 5 meters long, strapping a paintbrush to the end holding it with both hands and whilst walking sideways painting your signature 500 times the size of the original one.
4. Now imagine writing your signature with something strapped to your foot, elbow or even your head.

In all these examples your signature will clearly be seen to be yours. Yes slightly different but clearly yours.

The processing power required to coordinate all the movements to achieve a clearly visible signature that is identifiably yours made with different joints and written in different sizes and at different speeds is immense.  Ouch my brain hurts just thinking about it. How big is the universe? Yet our brain can do it with ease, accurately, every time. Even chuck some tricky stuff in such as more resistance against the pen moving like writing in sand and the subconscious does it with ease.

How does the brain figure this out?
Absolutely no idea, but it’s unbelievable. Lucky for us. Can you image trying to ‘think’ how to coordinate all these movements? Just like the poor centipede we will be so confused we won’t know what to do and end up falling in a ditch to the side of the piste or frozen with our thoughts.

You know your signature. You know the shape of your signature. You know the ‘outcome’ you are trying to achieve. This is key.

So where does this leave us in skiing and how we can use this knowledge to improve?
Firstly you need to be free to move. All your joints in your body need to be free to move in every direction, with every range of movement and at every speed. Just like your arms and hands writing your signature. That’s a big ask and it’s a journey. How many years before you could write a signature?

Secondly you need an objective, an output, just like your signature – in skiing this is the LINE you wish to take down the slope and the SPEED you wish to ski. If you know your ‘output’ then the subconscious can do the rest just like the signature in the above exercise. The subconscious can match your movements to your desired outcome, your signature, your SPEED and LINE.

You’ll need movements to twist, movements to push, movements to grip. For a more detail look at these movements read our blog ‘Twisting Pushing Edging – Your Skiing Controls‘.

There are other factors that come into play also. Fitness is huge. If you haven’t got the movements off skis then there is no chance you will develop them on skis. So work on developing your movements off skis. You also need good mental skills. You need to be able to focus appropriately and control emotions otherwise you’ll freeze in tricky situations. We’ve all seen tennis players freeze (or choke as it’s called) on that winning shot. No different to freezing at the top of a mogul slope, a steeper section, a patch of ice or in the start gate at a race.

As you develop the freedom of your movements along with clearly defined output goals, your signature, you will soon realise your only limitations are the ones you set yourself! The mountains will literally open up to you.

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