Text by Greg Dixon Photos by Zack Jones
I was first introduced the term “flex drive” while in a track clinic with David Lawrence, currently a member of the PSIA National Nordic Team, a few years back. The topic at hand was that of propulsion, and how track skiers utilize both extension as well as flexion movements to create additional glide on their skis. Not having the benefit of constant vertical descent and thus often opposing gravitational forces, it is important that track skiers direct every movement they make in an efficient manner to maximize glide. The extension movement is a more obvious one. As you “push” off a leg or extend your arms to pole you move your body forward. As important as the extension movements are, they are only one half of the equation, and will only get you so far so fast. The flexing movements are the other half of the picture that need to be utilized in order to increase performance.
The mechanics behind the flex drive, as it pertains to track skiing, is that as the skier extends off one leg they transfer their body weight to the new leg. As they land on the new leg they use flexing movements from the ankle, knee, hip, and spine to drive the center of mass forward and create a longer, continuous glide. When performed correctly the skier is able to utilize every movement they make to create forward motion, thus increasing efficiency and limiting the use of excess energy.
In the downhill ski world less emphasis is placed on how much energy we utilize when skiing down a run. With gravity creating all the propulsion needed, the downhill skier is often more concerned with speed control and how to avoid an excessive pace on any given slope. Instead of using all of their movements for forward motion, the downhill skier often tries to resist the directional pull of gravity and will utilize braking movements that send their body back and away from the desired direction of travel.
As gravitational pull is resisted, more and more energy is consumed by the skier that will often lead to exhaustion and limiting performance. Other detriments in utilizing braking movements are that the skier will often put themselves out of balance as they push themselves away from their skis. While out of balance the skier’s ability to create adjustments for terrain and remain in control are compromised. A cycle of inefficiency is created, where the skier tends to fight their way down the hill rather than flow with it.
The track concept of flex drive is one that can be as useful to the downhill skier as it is to the track skier. All the movements that are made should direct the skiers mass towards, rather than away from the desired direction of travel. As the downhill skier creates extension movements from their joints, those movements should direct the center of mass forward in order to keep up with the pace and path that the skis are taking through the snow.
From this extended alignment, the skier is open to utilize flexing movements to continue their path through the turn and maintain travel with the skis. Flexing from the ankles, knees, hips, and spine the skier can direct their center of mass in a forward manner and create propulsion through the finishing part of the turn. This will allow for a smoother ride over terrain, as balance is maintained over top the skis, and the ability to make adjustments is enhanced.
Speed control is dictated by the path you direct your skis through the snow rather than the use of exhausting braking movements. The ability to flow takes over the desire to fight.
At a basic level, the use of properly timed and directed flexing movements, simply help to maintain balance while in motion and increase efficiency in our ride. Beyond that, these movements can be utilized to enhance the performance and dynamic capacity of our skiing. As the track skiers use the flex drive to create additional propulsion, the downhill skier can use the same movement to generate speed, and allow for quicker entry from turn to turn. The skier can use the flexing of the joints to propel their mass forward and actually drive the skis rather than just stay on top of them. A deep ankle bend will allow the skiers mass to move closer to the tips of the skis, the closer to the tip the skier moves their mass the more they are driving the ski forward.
If the skier works this forward motion diagonally across the skis, as opposed to just forward, they will also be able enter the next turn with less effort, and will have greater ability to dictate what path their skis take through the next turn. It is this continual drive forward that creates fast, fluid, and agile skiers.
The idea of flex drive embodies the concept of efficient movements. All the movements that we attempt to make while creating our path across the snow should be done with the direct intention that they are useful to us and do not hinder us from our desired outcome. Consider this as you are creating your own path, what decisions are you making to direct yourself along your path and are they truly moving you in the direction you want to go.
Special thanks to Zack Jones for the photos. See his work at www.zackjonesphoto.com
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