Thursday, 27 October 2011

Natural running

To run barefoot is your default setting, but to do this in today’s world, you need a shoe that gives a balanced, unrestricted and protected experience, while also allowing maximum sensory feedback between your feet and your brain. 


Most people are never taught how to run correctly. Here at FAST TRAX and with help of the VIVOBAREFOOT training system we believe running is a skill that can be learned, allowing you to run efficiently and injury free.


Vivo barefoot movement expert, Lee Saxby, has helped Vivo to develop a training system that differs from the conventional model. Below is an overview on how to transition safely to barefoot running.
The human brain constructs complex movement patterns by adding simpler movement patterns together. This can be seen as human infants progressively learn to creep, crawl, sit, stand and eventually walk.
These movement patterns are called ‘motor skill milestones’ and must develop sequentially, each stage built upon the skills developed in the previous one. Inadequate development of one of these stages/skills dramatically effects the quality of the more complex movements constructed from it, leading to inefficiency and injury.
We have outlined a number of barefoot skill benchmarks that should be completed and mastered before moving onto the final stage of barefoot running.
There are 3 barefoot milestones that must be learned and perfected before you progress to the next stage.
Each movement should be performed with the barefoot human movement philosophy firmly in mind: Efficient, injury free movement is built on a foundation of correct posture and rhythm and adequate sensory feedback of environment.
So whenever you are running barefoot, in minimalist shoes or any type of shoes for that matter make sure you keep the fundamental movement check list in mind:
  • POSTURE
  • RHYTHM
  • RELAX

Walking

Walking around barefoot begins to reconnect your brain with the sensory information coming from the soles of your feet.

It allows your mind to adapt to this new information and label it appropriately as non-threatening and useful as opposed to uncomfortable, painful and potentially damaging.
When you can walk barefoot in a relaxed, rhythmic manner across a variety of surfaces both natural (grass, mud, sand) and man-made (concrete and tarmac) without hesitation and tension then your feet are ready for barefoot running.
Correct walking posture

How to?

  • Weight moves from heel to big toe
  • Shorter strides
  • Don’t look down
  • Relaxed, symmetrical rhythm

What could I be doing wrong?

  • Long strides
  • Leading with head
  • Leading with pelvis
  • Weight moving to outside of foot

Next Step

Mastered barefoot walking? Move onto squats.

Squats

Populations who are habitually barefoot or use minimal footwear also rarely possess chairs. Hence they spend a lot of time in a deep, balanced squatting position whilst eating and working.

The squat is a very therapeutic position for the human body, especially for barefoot runners as it develops the skill of maintaining the body’s centre of mass over the natural balance point of the body (ball of foot) whilst building strength and range of movement in the ankles, knees, hips and spine. These attributes combined enable the barefoot runner to develop the fundamental movement skill of segmental alignment which is more commonly known as posture.
Barefoot deep squat

Barefoot front squat with bar

What could I be doing wrong?

  • Putting weight on your heels
  • Leg strength not adequate for full range squat

Barefoot Jumping

Jumping is the next progression in movement skill. It maintains the balance, flexibility and posture developed in stage 1 but increases dynamic strength and elasticity in the running anatomy.

The elastic recoil of tendons is an important energy saving mechanism in running and a lack of coordination of the ‘stretch-shorten’ cycle is associated with injury. Elastic recoil and the ‘stretch-shorten’ cycle is developed in movement via the skill of rhythm.
Jumps on two legs with bar

Jumps on one leg

Hopping with bar

Jumping rope

What could I be doing wrong?

  • Losing balance due to poor alignment (posture)
  • Too much muscle action due to slow/sticky rhythm

Next Step

Mastered barefoot jumping? Move onto barefoot running.

Barefoot Running

Barefoot running is a natural extension of the skills learned in the first 2 stages of the training program.

The first two stages will reconnect your brain and body to your feet, develop the fundamental skills of posture and rhythm and begin to condition your movement system with the strength, flexibility and elasticity required for injury free barefoot running.
As your skill develops and becomes a more ‘subconscious’ activity your technique should become increasingly relaxed. Inappropriate muscle activity is inefficient and leads to injury. Relaxed, skillful technique is the sign of a master of any sport and barefoot running is no exception.
Posture

  • Torso leads the way
  • Don’t look down
  • Feet under body not in front
  • Land specifically on ball of foot
Rhythm

  • Short strides
  • Elbows match stride rate
  • Bouncy rhythm (180 BPM)
Relaxed

  • Passenger unit (upper body, shoulders)
  • Wrists and hands, feet and ankles

What could I be doing wrong?

  • Bent at hip (chasing head, looking down)
  • Foot landing too far ahead of body
  • Landing on lateral forefoot / supinated
  • Over-striding
  • Slow ‘sticky’ rhythm
  • Tense upper body, shoulders

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Nordic Race Calendar

The Fast Trax Run & Ski Team look to take part in a number of events this coming winter including the following events organized by CCA and CCC;


  • Alberta Loppet Series
  • Alberta Cup Series
  • Western NorAm Cups
  • The National Championships
Maryann off the start at a Alberta Cup event!



More info on all of these events can be found on the Cross Country Alberta Website

Friday, 14 October 2011

Binding Wedges - a literature review

Disclaimer

This write-up is intended as a literature review and, as such, does not include any new or original work. See the list of works cited at the end for sources.

Introduction

Last winter, Salomon introduced a binding wedge to the retail market. This product is installed under the skate binding and provides a 5mm lift to the toe relative to the back of the foot. This translates to approximately one degree of lift. For the 2011-2012 season, Rottefella has released a NIS compatible version of this product for retail sale. There has been a lot of confusion within both the racer and consumer population as to what this product is purported to do, what the actual testing results show, and what is recommended in terms of whether or not this is a good product. Accordingly, a lot has been written on this topic and we have compiled a review of the current literature.

Advertised Benefits

According to both Salomon and Rottefella, the binding wedge improves ski acceleration and edge control by increasing the efficiency, power, and length of each skate stride (Salomon, Product News). In a February 2010 blog post, Salomon notes that this is accomplished as the wedge increases ankle flexion, thus allowing for a more powerful beginning of each skate stoke - In other words, by increasing the angle the ankle, the ski 'squirts' ahead, up the hill (or ahead), increasing the 'free-glide' feeling (Salomon, Product News). Neither manufacturer recommends the use of the wedge in any specific conditions. Rather, both binding companies simply indicate an overall net benefit to the athlete.

Testing Experience

As with any technical ski product, it has rapidly become clear that the advertised benefits are not nearly so obvious when out on the trails. Mark Waechter of Nordic Ultra Tune notes that for a few sessions the effect is somewhat noticeable, but eventually good skiers will adapt and the wedge may not offer a long term benefit (Waechter, NIS Xcelerator Wedge). Similarly, Zach Caldwell of Caldwell Sport notes that after some early testing, his results were not conclusive (Caldwell, Binding Wedges).

Given the inconclusive nature of the early testing results, we must look to recent World Cup racing as the proving ground for this product. At the 2011 Tour De Ski, Zach was able to test multiple pairs of race skis, on race day, with and without wedges (Caldwell, Binding Wedges). In this article, Zach indicates that this was the first time the addition of binding wedges obviously resulted in faster skis. Therefore, it is evident that the wedges offer a benefit in certain situations and Zach suggests that we must consider the athlete, the ski, and the conditions in the determination of those situations (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes).

The Athlete

Unquestionably, the addition of binding wedges changes the geometry of the binding platform. Further, it is clear that some athletes like this change and some do not. Utilizing the pause button while watching some World Cup footage will quickly reveal that Lukas Bauer does not like the wedge, while Ivan Babikov has it installed in virtually all of his skis. Given the increased ankle flexion generated by the wedge (Salomon, Product News), it appears that skiers with good flexibility will adapt with relative ease (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes). On the other hand, athletes who have some stiffness may find their technique disrupted in an undesirable way and their shins getting sore (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes).

The Ski

By encouraging the athlete to weight the foot a bit further back (Waechter, NIS Xcelerator Wedge), wedges may reduce the load on the forebody of the ski. For those ski models that carry significant tension in the forebody (Fischer Carbonlite Skate, Madshus 118 Hard Pack), wedges may have a noticeable impact on the feel of the ski. This could be especially useful in softer conditions to reduce the ploughing effect these models can sometimes have.

The Conditions

Based on testing results, Zach has indicated that the wedges generally result in an improved feel in soft, wet snow (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes). In conversations I have had with Mark Waechter, it appears that he is of the same opinion. In addition, there are indications that the wedges may cause a reduction in stability in hard packed conditions. This is logical given the reduced forebody load noted above.

This position is consistent with the findings of the Fischer racing department. Frequently, the Fischer service staff have not seen a benefit from the wedges, however in soft and wet conditions they have found installing the wedges to make a significant difference (Caldwell, Oslo WM Tech Notes).

Conversely, Knut Nystad, chief of the Norwegian Ski Federation Service Team, has an entirely different experience. Knut indicates that it seems like binding wedges make the ski perform better, particularly in hard conditions (Nystad, Knut’sCorner). This position, however, is not consistent with the general consensus as most testing indicates that the harder the snow, and the faster the conditions, the less difference the wedges seem to make (Cramer, What’s the deal with binding wedges?)

Conclusion

The bottom line conclusion is this:

- In soft, warm conditions it is generally accepted that the wedges will improve performance and will not be a liability. We would recommend installing the wedges on skate skis intended for warm conditions.

- In colder, harder conditions it is not clear that the wedges will improve performance and they may result in reduced stability. We would approach wedges on skate skis intended for cold, hard conditions with caution.

However, as Mark points out, given the modest price of the wedges and the minimal impact on ski setup (installation is fast, easy, and non-invasive), this is a product that anyone could try (Waechter, Weighing in on Wing Wedges). 


Works Cited

Caldwell, Zach. "Boulder Nordic Sport - Binding Wedges." Boulder Nordic Sport Home. 18 Jan. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://www.bouldernordicsport.com/Home/tabid/164/itemid/254/amid/2000/Default.aspx-.

Caldwell, Zach. "Boulder Nordic Sport - Oslo WM Tech Notes #4." Boulder Nordic Sport Home. 15 Mar. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://www.bouldernordicsport.com/Home/tabid/164/itemid/316/amid/2000/Default.aspx-.

Cramer, Bruce. "What’s the deal with binding wedges?" Editorial. Boulder Nordic Sport Catalog - Winter 2011-12 Oct. 2011: 6. Boulder Nordic Sport, Oct. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://www.bouldernordicsport.com/images/catalog/BNS_1112_web.pdf-.

Nystad, Knut. "Knut's Corner." Editorial. Boulder Nordic Sport Catalog - Winter 2011-12 Oct. 2011: 3. Boulder Nordic Sport, Oct. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://www.bouldernordicsport.com/images/catalog/BNS_1112_web.pdf-.

Salomon. "Product News: SNS Wedge." Salomon Nordic News. 18 Feb. 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://salomonnordic.blogspot.com/2010/02/product-news-sns-wedge.html-.

Waechter, Mark. "NIS Xcelerator Wedge - Details and Photos." Nordic Ultratune Blog. 2 Mar. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://blog.ultratune.net/2011/03/nis-xcelerator-wedge-details-and-photos.html-.

Waechter, Mark. "Weighing in on Wing Wedges." Nordic Ultratune Blog. 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. -http://blog.ultratune.net/2011/02/weighing-in-on-wing-wedges.html-.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Becoming a Stronger Runner or Nordic Skier

Some thoughts on the keys to becoming a stronger runner or nordic skier.

As a runner or nordic skier looking to maximize your chances of having your best ever performance, you should aim to train everyday and if you are looking to maximize your performance even further train every day and gradually work your way up to 13 training sessions per week, training twice a day Monday through Saturday, and once on Sunday. The morning sessions should last between 18 and 24 minutes and the evening sessions should last between 24 and 90 minutes for a total of approximately 45 to 120 minutes per day. The only workout lasting longer than 90mins would be your simulation workouts and those should be scheduled every four to six weeks depending on your goal event.
Team Exspirt tearing up the track!
Slow movements don't help you become a better runner or skier, move at your best possible speed for the distance being run, in every movement, every day, every time you head out the door. The more you do it, the more natural it feels, and your body accepts it.


Beginners should start out with 6 to 24 minute recovery workouts for 3-4 weeks so that technique and strength becomes a natural rhythm. Running fitness takes between two and ten months to develop with beginners, with an average of around six months.
Hammering to the finish!
The system we use at the shop involves only four workouts, intervals, cruise runs, recovery runs and simulation runs of various lengths and intensities. Each of the workouts involves running the set distance at your best possible pace while maintaining relaxed fluid running form with no strain and without fading over the last half of the workout.


As well as these four main workouts you will find plenty of core strength, squats, chin ups, push ups and mobility work.
Team Exspirt out for trail intensity!
You never know what you're capable of on any given day. You simply can't listen to your body before you set out for your training because you will most likely always feel tired and look to the couch, but once you start training after six minutes you will start to warm up and feel great and strong. If you wait for a day to train when you feel good, you'll train about twice a year:-). Those days are rare. Your mind plays tricks on you. Learn to ignore it and keep training. If after the six minute warm up you still feel run down replace the days workout with a recovery workout or reduce the pace of the workout to match your fitness for the day. While focusing on speed and short workouts you will rarely run down and have sickness.


Don't take days off if you have access to training and even if you're incredibly sore, lace up and complete the workout at a reduced effort. This will help the adaptation process progress faster. Failing to train daily leads to more injuries, due to the inconsistent recovery rates amongst different tissues. Daily training is training under fatigued muscles. If you take days off, the muscles recover faster than other soft-tissues, which increases the likelihood of injury.
Team Norway time trialing!
When you train twice a day, you don't get as tight and don't need much stretching. Stretching is done while warming up and by completing the first two intervals and your last two intervals of each interval session in the 70-85% range.


You surely won't PR every workout, sometimes not for months. Keep pushing both intensity and volume to continue progress. If you can't take the tree down with one swing, keep taking smaller swings and it will eventually fall. Although there may be extended times where speed stagnates or even decreases, the general goal is to slowly increase your speed every few months.


Different workouts place different stresses on the body, so workouts have different paces. For the most part, cruise runs are easier on the body than intervals and are paced slower than your interval workouts but are still done with speed in mind. Running fast daily is no problem, but max intervals is too strenuous and for this reason the intervals are done every other day.
Coach, whats the warm up?
For peaking before competition, frequency stays the same (daily), but volume and intensity are reduced. Volume reductions begin eight days out, and intensity reductions begin 2-5 days out from competition. You're always giving it your all, but when you're tired the pace will be slower. The effort and desire mimic the competition, but since you're fresh at a meet the pace will be faster. This is the key to the system, when you rest before a meet you're not getting stronger, it's just that now you're finally able to pull together all of your power to use on the same day. In training, PR's come on anytime. The resting/peaking allows you to assume that you can hit the PR's on any given day and lets you stack the cards in your favor for the greatest chance of success.


Next week we will talk squats and what they can do for you as a runner or skier:-)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Fast Trax Ski Service

The team at Fast Trax carries three main brands, Madshus, Fischer and Salomon with a small sampling of Rossignol and Ski Trab.

Here is brief overview of the brands as outlined by Patrick;

Overview
Ski selection is without question the most important factor in ensuring enjoyment on the trails. Whether you are toeing the line at World Cups or enjoying a Sunday at the Strathcona Wilderness Centre, the right pair of skis is the difference between the best afternoon of your life and a miserable experience.

When selecting skis, there are two primary considerations: flex characteristics and overall quality. Skis need to be fit to both the skier and the targeted snow conditions. The flex characteristics include camber strength,  camber height, and pressure distribution. Taken together, these characteristics determine under which conditions a ski is most likely to perform at its best. 

More important than flex characteristics, however, is overall quality. Skis are made mostly by hand using materials that tend to have high levels of variability. The subtle factors that determine the overall quality are the difference between average and world class skis – unfortunately, not all skis are created equal.

Selecting excellent skis requires far more than a simple paper test or calculation based on your weight. Rather, selecting excellent skis demands significant on snow testing to understand the brands and materials. At Fast Trax, we work with local and national team athletes as coaches and technicians. We travel within North American and Europe to meet the technical reps, World Cup service staff, and engineers to better understand the product and refine our methods. We have invested significant resources in ensuring that you have the greatest skiing experience possible

Although all of the skis may be available by special order, those models carried in Fast Trax inventory are marked with a “*”.

Madshus



Overview – Madshus has been manufacturing cross country skis in Norway since 1908. Visiting the factory is like stepping into a Volkswagon commercial – the environment is bright, clean, and has a high degree of automation. During the past few seasons, Madshus has made considerable changes in the design of their skis and the current product is not comparable to that from even just a few years ago.

Heat Damage – Madshus skis have a reputation in Canada for being susceptible to heat damage. By improving tolerances for the density of the core, Madshus has addressed this problem to a certain extent. However, unlike other brands, the core of the skis is foam and does not absorb heat. Contrary to the popular practice of using extremely low iron temperatures. Madshus skis should be ironed using a temperature that will allow the wax to melt quickly and easily (i.e. hotter than you might think). The wax should be ironed in a single continuous pass (no going back to fix “mistakes”) and the skis allowed to cool before further heat is applied.

The Madshus Skier – Madshus skate skis are made for active skiing. They build speed from stride to stride and are noticeably quick as they are transitioned onto edge. The classic skis have some of the longest wax pockets in the industry and have an exceptionally supple feel.

The Madshus skier will be someone who skis with energy, as distinct from power. Their turnover will be high and they will be quick and light on their feet. If Lance Armstrong was a cross country skier, he would probably do well with Madshus.

Madshus Skate Skis

*116 (regular conditions) – Designed as a ski for universal conditions, this model does not see a lot of action on the World Cup. The resting camber is very high and the finishing stiffness is very soft. This results in an active, lively ski with a smooth feel. This model also features 4mm of sidecut (the others are straight) which provides a very secure feel, even in the most tricky of conditions.  

*118 (universal cold) – Marketed by Madhsus as a hard pack ski, it would be more appropriate to think of this as the universal cold ski. This model has a high resting camber, a medium finishing stiffness, and is by far the most used Madshus skate ski on the World Cup.

119 (universal warm) – It is best to think of this model as the universal warm ski. A low resting camber and a stiff finishing flex, as well as a softer tip, combine for excellent feel in slightly softer conditions. The light front end and focused pressure distribution mean excellent speed as the moisture content of the snow increases. 

Madshus Classic Skis

*102 (universal hardwax) – These hardwax skis have the longest pocket available and a camber that is high at rest, but low under load. This makes for a smooth, active feel that is easy to kick in a moderately forward position. These skis are at their best in colder conditions, but will work well right into red hardwax if picked with enough stiffness.

103 (plus conditions) – With a very different feel from the 102 model, the plus ski has a much lower resting camber that stays high under load. This is very effective in keeping warm hardwaxes and klister up off the snow and allows for excellent free glide. This ski has a short pressure distribution and quite a lot of tip splay, making it excellent it high moisture conditions.

Fischer


Overview – The most successful brand on the world cup by far, Fischer earned more World Cup points than all other brands combined for the 2011 season. Enough said.

Combinations­ – Fischer utilizes two different molds (shapes) and two different base materials for both skate and classic. Although in many parts of the world technicians prefer the warm base (the 28 base) as the most universal solution, in Canada the cold base (the A5 base) is preferable. Go figure – it’s cold here! That being said, it is possible to find excellent plus skis for cold conditions.

The Fischer Skier – There is a reason that Fischer is the most used brand on the World Cup: the skis are extremely universal and work for a wide range of styles. If you know that you want skis but don’t know what you want, it is safe to say that you will be comfortable on Fischer.

Fischer Skate Skis

*610/611 (universal conditions) – The most universal of Fischer’s skate skis, this model can be picked to handle extreme cold through to slush. A firm finish and low action creates excellent free glide but not a lot of energy response. This is easily the most used skate ski on the World Cup, in all conditions.

*115 (hard conditions) – The high point of the 115 model is further forward than the 610, which creates more tension in the forebody under load. The additional tension creates excellent stability and this ski is at its best in hard, transformed snow.

Fischer Classic Skis

*812  (all conditions) – Fischer’s standby classic ski tends to have a lot of variability and can be found with significantly different stiffness, action, and pocket shape. The combination of these characteristics means that the skis can be picked for anything from cold hardwax through to klister, but each pair must be evaluated individually.

This model tends to have a certain amount of residual camber, which can provide superior running speed in almost all conditions without compromising grip. The shape of the pocket means that the athlete does not have to have a forceful kick to close the skis, but it is really crucial to get the weight forward onto the ball of the foot.

*902 (plus conditions) – Increased camber height, significant residual camber, and considerable tip and tail splay make these skis an excellent choice for warm hardwax and klister conditions. An excellent addition to a fleet with multiple pairs, however this ski is not a good choice as a single pair solution in Edmonton.

Salomon

Overview -  Made in the same factory as Atomic, and owned by the same company (Amer Sports), Salomon skis have seen exponential improvements in overall quality in the past two or three seasons. The skis are now in the mix at the World Cup  level and the product continues to be refined.

The Salomon Skier – Similar to Fischer, the Salomon product is exceptionally universal and works for a broad range of skiing styles. Both the skate and classic skis tend to be set up a little higher than Fischer and, as a result, feel a little bit more lively.

Salomon Skate Skis

SG (soft conditions) – Designed for glazed or wet new snow, these skis have soft tips combined with a focused pressure distribution. A fairly specific ski designed for specific conditions.

Warm (universal warm) – This model has a short glide surface to reduce suction and improve acceleration. Excellent feeling in higher moisture conditions and an excellent choice as a universal warm ski.

*Cold (universal cold) – This model has a long glide surface to reduce friction in cold, dry conditions. A lively feel combined with excellent stability makes these skis feel slippery under foot.

Salomon Classic Skis­ – Similar to Fischer, the Salmon classic ski pocket is designed to close from the ends and is very position dependant. Staying back on the heel will cause the pocket to remain open, moving the weight forward on the toe will allow it to close. The cold skis feature a wood top sheet to ensure supple feeling in cold conditions. 


Rossignol

Overview – With a significantly different design philosophy, Rossignol skis are unlike anything else on the market. All Rossignol skis have the same base material and the various models are based on the same mold.

The Rossignol Skier – Everything about Rossigonol skis happen on a big scale and the skis will give a lot back to someone who skis big. The skis are not stiff, but they do favour someone who skis with power, as distinct from energy.

Rossignol Skate Skis - The Rossi skate skis have a high, active camber with lot of action. In other words, the input and output of energy for these skis happens on a huge scale. They demand a lot from the athlete, but will give a lot back. These skis are sweet for someone who skis BIG and is a powerful glider. These skis tend to be fastest when gliding on a flat ski and sort of die out when rolled on edge. This is why they favour someone who skis with a lower cadence but has a big, powerful push.

WCS 1 -  The stiffer version with a higher camber-height and significant action.  The ideal ski for strong, extremely fit racers on high-speed snow conditions (think sprinting in fast conditions). Approach this ski with caution as it can sap energy from the legs in a big way.  

*WCS 2 – This model has a more moderate flex and camber height than the WCS1 making it ideal for all snow conditions. The more universal of the Rossignol skate skis. Feels particularly good on the flats and has legendary acceleration and stability.

Rossignol Classic Skis - The general concept of the Rossi pocket is that it closes to a flat finish with little to no residual camber. These skis can be a little less demanding of a forward kicking position than some other brands (see Fischer 812). A light front end makes for quick acceleration, but the classic skis lack the stability that make the Rossignol skate skis famous. Nervous skiers may find these to be a little, ummm, nerve wracking on downhills and in the corners.

NIS C1 is the ideal ski in soft snow conditions and has a low camber with very soft kick. Due to the low camber height it can be hard to make these feel free except in conditions where the track is all but non-existent.

*NIS C2 is a universal classic ski with medium camber height and action.

NIS C3 is a dedicated klister ski with tall camber height and lots of action.