The Myth of Complete Weight Transfer
Summary: The belief that you must “completely” transfer your weight to each ski is widespread. It’s often used as an instructional cue.
The advice is misleading and often causes skiers to overcommit to their glide ski.
Nordic Skiing Jargon
You’ve probably heard these terms before:
- Weight transfer
- Weight shift
- Complete weight transfer
- Commit to your ski
- Full weight transfer
“Weight transfer” and “weight shift” mean the same thing. “Complete weight transfer”, “full weight transfer” and “commit to your ski” are also equivalent. I dislike jargon, but these are important concepts to understand.
What is weight transfer?
The expression “weight transfer” refers to how your body weight shifts from foot to foot during locomotion.
When you walk or run, you weight one foot then the other. With each step, you “transfer” your weight from foot to foot.
“Weight transfer” is something you’ve been doing your whole life, literally with every step you take. It isn’t unique to nordic skiing; what is unique is the extent of the weight transfer in nordic skiing.
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 other forms of locomotion, such as walking, running, skating etc.
Weight transfer in action
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 rapidly, your COM stays 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 improves efficiency.
The more you can get your weight over each ski, the more you can push with your body weight instead of just muscling your way along the trails.
What is “complete” weight transfer?
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 while gliding 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 maintain your balance on one foot that your COM is completely transferred to that foot.
The hop is analogous to the kick (leg push) in skiing. The part where you stand balanced on one foot is analogous to your glide phase.
Many cross-country skiing drills challenge you to balance on a single gliding ski. The purpose of these drills is to improve your balance and build your weight transfer skills.
Once you can comfortably hold your balance on one ski you have achieved complete weight transfer. Congratulations! That’s a tough skill to master.
Complete weight transfer isn’t a binary skill that you just check off a list then move on. Many factors will affect your balance, such as snow conditions, terrain, and fatigue.
Over time your balance skills will expand to increasingly difficult situations.
The problem is when complete weight transfer becomes dogma
My objection to the expression “complete weight transfer” is that it’s presented in black and white terms, like it’s a mandatory feature of nordic ski technique, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only that, when skiers buy in to the notion that they have to completely transfer their weight to each ski several negative consequences result.
Don’t misunderstand me. Learning to balance comfortably on a single, gliding ski is an essential skill. Practice drills that over-emphasize the glide phase until you’ve achieved the skill of complete weight transfer in a variety of settings.
Just understand that complete weight transfer is a skill that will make you a better skier. How much you actually transfer your weight from ski to ski varies from technique to technique and changes depending on context.
Weight transfer is an adjustable variable, not a hard and fast rule. Believing that weight transfer must always be complete will be detrimental to your technique because it will cause you to over-emphasize your glide phase.
Tempo and weight transfer
In the hopping exercise the slower you hopped from foot to foot, the more completely you transferred your weight because it takes time to get your COM over each foot. You can’t do it at a high rate of hopping.
The same thing is true in skiing. The more glide you have, the more complete your weight transfer. A longer glide gives you more time to move your weight more completely over each ski. The reverse is true as well – the more weight transfer you have, the longer you will glide.
Tempo is the frequency at which you turn over your stride cycle – how many strides you take per minute. Learning to optimize your tempo for different situations is an important skill to learn.
The optimal tempo depends on how much you slow down between cycles. On hills and in slow snow conditions you’ll deccelerate more quickly during the glide phase, so a faster tempo is better.
A quick tempo and complete weight transfer are opposing objectives. You have to give up one to get the other.
Skiers who are over dedicated to the idea of complete weight transfer will limit their tempo in situations where a higher tempo and less weight transfer would serve them better. In their quest for complete weight transfer, they’ll allow themselves to slow down too much during the glide.
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.
Weight transfer in V1-Offset
V1-Offset is an excellent example of a technique with less weight transfer. Sure there’s weight transfer – you have to get your weight onto your ski in order to push – but it’s not complete.
When skiers try for complete weight transfer in offset they create too much lateral movement at the expense of travelling in a straighter path up the hill.
Frankly, if you can achieve something like “complete” weight transfer on an uphill slope, why aren’t you one skating (V2) instead?
The pro’s don’t have complete weight transfer in V1-offset and you don’t need it either:
Are you overemphasizing your glide phase?
Even on the flats overemphasizing 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 simply 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.
Cross-country skiing is a sport with a lot of nuance. Everything is changing all the time: the snow, terrain, speed etc.
There are general rules in nordic skiing, but the key is to understand them as general rules and to learn how to optimize technique for different situations.
If you would like to understand nordic skiing at this level, check out our membership site, XC Ski Nation.