Anyone that knows me, knows I love skiing. So today, after I descended the twelve flights of stairs from my office while thinking of moguls, I had an epiphany about pole planting.
Skiing and surfing were two things I always wanted to do and I managed to revolve my life around both fairly well. My first degree was adapted so that I could instruct skiing during the winter while completing university courses in the summer and fall. My second degree was done in Sydney, Australia so I could continue to ski during our Northern winters (University summer break), get the education I wanted, and improve my surf skills during gaps in the program. So, its not uncommon for me to distract myself with thoughts of skiing or sport or stare at the mountains out of my office window with an anticipatory smile.
Do I really descend stairs thinking about moguls?
Yes I do.
I move my feet as fast as I can. I do one section of stairs one stair at a time and another in twos. I move my body mass forward and down so that I can maintain being centered without overworking my quads. I go fast overall so that I can make the descent more reflexive than thoughtful. These are great ways to keep you in your skiing groove all year long and make your time on the hill even more enjoyable.
Today in my stair descent I was also playing with torso rotation. I would rotate my torso to the right and descend a section and then maintain left torso rotation on the next section. After that I focused on holding my arms still in front of me versus moving my arms as fast as my feet. Of course it was much easier with my arms moving than with my arms still.
This last concept is easy to understand because we are designed for ‘Cross-Pattern’ motion: when we walk, our right arm goes forward when our left leg goes forward, etc. We start this when we crawl, we do this when we walk, and we can even speed our running cadence somewhat by simply changing our rate of arm swing. We’re wired this way. It’s brilliant from a balance/counter-balance perspective let alone maintaining momentum in a singular direction of travel. I have also changed people’s arm swing while walking and running to help with back tension, pain, and imbalance because it frees our natural motions and patterns while enabling more supple mobility, increased efficiency, and better performance.
How did I get from that to pole planting?
Having skied over 1500 days, I’ve skied through a few injuries (can’t miss a good snow day). Twice I’ve skied with a cast on my wrist, once the left and the other the right. I have had the casts molded to ski poles and I’ve skied without a pole, but I always found it awkward to ski without the movement of a pole plant, the timing and coordination just wasn’t as good. So, even though I couldn’t move my wrist, I started to substitute the wrist action of a pole plant with the attempt to move my wrist and I got better results in my turns. Very interesting and very cool.
I then changed my poleless drills to include the wrist action of a pole plant when I was training myself, teaching, or training instructors. The results were very good. I always associated the positive results from this subtle change with the triggering of the motor pattern/programmed series of events started by a pole plant.
I was always content with this theory as it explained all my core skiing skills: stance and balance, pivoting, edging, pressure control, and timing & coordination. The theory fell short however, on explaining the sense of ease that came with the change.
So what was my post-stairwell epiphany?
Pole planting is a continuation and evolution of the cross-pattern motion that we are designed for and establish in crawling. Although we aim to keep our arms out front when we ski, we move our wrists when we pole plant and our elbows and shoulders a bit too. We pole plant when we are transitioning between turns, so at the same time the balance of our resistance, and therefore our weight, shifts to the new outside ski. If the right hand pole plants the left ski takes more weight and so on. Said differently, when the right wrist/arm is engaging, so is the left leg. This better explains the positive side effects that resulted from my mock wrist action while skiing with a cast and my actual wrist action while skiing without poles. The wrist action, whether simulated or real, stimulates the natural cross-pattern response in our body which allows for better mobility and increased performance. It also allows the core to stabilize better between opposing forces. We’re just wired for it.
This finally explained the ease.
Truly I think about life through the eyes of my interests: chiropractic, skiing, surfing, cycling, climbing, and sport in general. I also regularly incorporate my interests into the routines of my daily life. Its sort of like permanent cross-training and its a good way to get great results and an excellent reason to smile.
I hope you get some great pole planting days this winter and if you need help getting your body ready for the season, come on in to the office!