The Problem with Complete Weight Transfer

credit: Fischer Sports GmbH

Nordic Skiing Jargon

You’ve probably heard these terms before:

  • Weight transfer
  • Weight shift
  • Complete weight transfer
  • Commit to your ski

“Weight transfer” and “weight shift” mean the same thing. “Complete weight transfer” and “commit to your ski” are equivalent to one another as well. I dislike jargon, but these are important concepts to understand.

My comments about “complete weight transfer” towards the end of this article challenge widely held dogma. Rejecting the dogma improved my skiing and might help you ski better too.

What is weight transfer?

credit: Gan Khoon Lay from the Noun Project

We’re talking about how your body weight shifts from foot to foot during locomotion like walking, running or skiing.

When you walk or run, you weight one foot, then the other. With each step, you “transfer” your weight from foot to foot. We could say you “move” your weight from foot to foot, but that wouldn’t be as confusing.

So “weight transfer” is something you’ve been doing your whole life, literally with every step you take. “Weight transfer” isn’t unique to nordic skiing; what is unique is the extent of the weight transfer.

In walking and running, your centre of mass (COM) stays more or less between your feet, but in nordic skiing it’s moves more directly over each foot. It’s how much of your weight you transfer from foot to foot that distinguishes nordic skiing from walking and running.

Hopping exercise that demonstrates weight transfer

credit: Gilbert Bages from the Noun Project

Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart. Hop from foot to foot. Every time you hop, you “transfer” some of your weight from one foot to the other.

When you hop very rapidly, your COM stays in between your feet, but if you slow down and hop every 3 sec or so, you will “transfer” your weight more fully over each foot.

Why is weight transfer important?

Weight transfer is a big deal in nordic skiing because it makes a huge difference to your efficiency. Weight transfer allows you to use your body weight more effectively to add power to your leg and pole pushes. Weight transfer also improves your glide.

What is “complete” weight transfer?

(A biophysicist could give you a less simplistic and more accurate explanation than I can.)

In nordic skiing, complete weight transfer means that you get your body weight entirely over one ski. The test is whether you can hold your balance on a flat ski.

Think back to the hopping exercise. Only one foot is ever in contact with the ground, but that doesn’t mean your weight is “completely transferred” to each foot. It’s only when you slow down your rate of hopping to the point that you have to stand on one foot, maintaining your balance, that your COM is “completely transferred” to that foot.

The hop is analogous to your “kick” in skiing and the part where you stand balanced on one foot is analogous to your “glide”. Once you can hold your balance on one ski you have achieved “complete weight transfer”, “full weight shift”, “full commitment to your ski” or whatever jargon you like best. It all means the same thing.

credit: Fischer Sports GmbH

This isn’t a binary skill that you just check off a list, then move on. Many factors will affect your ability to balance on one ski – snow conditions, terrain, illness, fatigue, speed, the force of your kick, your range of motion etc. You’ll gradually expand your ability to balance on one ski to increasingly difficult situations.

Many cross-country skiing drills challenge you to balance on one gliding ski. The purpose of these drills is to improve your balance so that you can completely transfer your weight onto one ski.

If you’re good this, congratulations, you’ve progressed further than the majority of people you’ll see on cross-country ski trails.

If you’re not there yet, you can build up this skill by over exaggerating your glide and trying to maintain your balance on a single ski for as long as possible. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a lot of dedicated and deliberate practice.

The problem is when complete weight transfer becomes dogma

My objection to “complete weight transfer” is that it’s presented in black and white terms. Too often it’s taught as an absolute requirement of good technique when nothing could be further from the truth.

Adherence to the idea that you must achieve complete weight transfer has negative consequences for people’s technique. Attempting to always achieve “complete weight transfer” delayed my progress as a skier. I wish I had been given a more truthful explanation of weight transfer.

This is what I wish I’d been told:

  • Complete weight transfer is an important skill to master.
  • The degree of weight transfer is variable and depends on many factors. Believing that weight transfer must always be complete will be detrimental to your technique. It will cause you to over emphasize the glide phase.

Example 1: Time and tempo

In the hopping exercise the slower you hopped from foot to foot, the more completely you transferred your weight. It takes time to get your COM over each foot. You can’t do it at a high rate of hopping.

Tempo is the frequency at which you turn over your stride – how many strides you take per minute is a measure of your tempo. A quick tempo and complete weight transfer are opposing objectives. Over dedication to complete weight transfer will limit your tempo in situations where a higher tempo and less weight transfer would serve you better.

For example, one of the tricks to learning how to one skate uphill is to increase your tempo. If you aim for full weight transfer, you’ll get bogged down and won’t learn this valuable skill.

Example 2: Overemphasizing the glide

The relationship between complete weight transfer and glide should be obvious. You build the skill of complete weight transfer by practicing drills that over exaggerate the glide phase.

As a general rule, the more glide you have, the more complete your weight transfer. A longer glide gives you more time to move your weight more fully over your ski. The reverse is true as well – the more weight transfer you have, the longer the glide, but that’s not necessarily a positive thing.

Offset is an excellent example of a technique with less weight transfer. Sure there’s weight transfer, but it’s not complete. When skiers try for complete weight transfer in offset they create too much lateral gliding movement at the expense of travelling in a straighter path up the hill.

Frankly, if you can achieve complete weight transfer on an uphill slope, why aren’t you one skating instead?

The pro’s don’t have complete weight transfer in V1-offset and you don’t need it either:

It’s not a party trick

Even on the flats, overemphasizing complete weight transfer leads to poor technique. In skate skiing it creates too much lateral movement and inefficient pauses during the glide phase.

For some skiers complete weight transfer becomes something of a party trick. They spend too much time holding a balanced glide when they should just get on with the business of the next stride. Gliding is great, but there is a downside. You decelerate during the glide phase, so don’t over do it.

The other negative consequence I notice when skiers put too much emphasis on complete weight transfer is they excessively extend their arms behind them at the finish of the pole push.

Understanding the nuances will make you a more adaptable skier

Cross-country skiing is a sport that demands tremendous adaptability. Everything is changing all the time: the snow, terrain, other skiers etc.

There are general rules in nordic skiing, but the key is to understand them as general rules and to learn how they vary with different circumstances and objectives.

This is one of the major themes of the content inside our membership site, XC Ski Nation. We spend a lot of time discussing nuances and explaining how to be a more sophisticated and skilled skier.

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