“The Invisible Wall” An Unusual Diagonal Stride Drill That Really Works [Video]

Summary: Strong forward body lean is one of the most obvious marks of an advanced nordic skier. The “Stride Triangle” and the “Invisible Wall” are concepts that help novice and intermediate skiers learn how to angle their bodies forward without letting their hips fall back.

Forward Body Lean

It’s a challenge for novice and intermediate skiers to develop enough forward body lean. It’s not a position that feels familiar or comfortable to them.

The most common cue in circulation to help with position is “Hips forward!”

The problem with the hips forward cue is it typically causes people to arch their back and press their pelvis forward. What they actually need is simply to get their weight a little more forward on the base of the foot.

“Ankle flexion” is a cue that is supposed to help with body position too and prevent the problem of people weirdly pressing their hips forward.

But “ankle flexion” isn’t a meanful cue for most people.

The forward position of Nordic skiing is tough to get used to.

Flexed ankles in skate (left) and classic (right) skiing.
Flexed ankles are everywhere, but does that make it a good cue?

Visualize Your Stride Triangle

I invented the “Invisible Wall” drill to help with body position.

It’s hands down the best way I know for knocking adult skiers out of their regular diagonal striding movement patterns and improving overall position.

I start by having skier’s visualize a “Stride Triangle”. That’s the shape your legs make wrt the ground when you’re walking, running, skiing etc.

Here’s what a Stride Triangle looks like in walking:

Walking-Stride-Triangle-750
The Walking “Stride Triangle”

In walking, part of the Stride Triangle extends in front of the upper body. The lead leg swings ahead of the body and the heel strikes the ground in front.

If your classic ski technique is pretty much “walking on skis”, you’ll get a similar outcome. This is called “shuffle technique”.

Shuffle-Stride-Triangle
The Shuffle Technique “Stride Triangle”

It’s normal to heel strike in walking, but it’s not good for running or cross-country skiing. It’s one of the main challenges for novice and intermediate skiers.

In expert Diagonal Stride, the angles and positions are all different. The upper body is angled forwards and the Stride Triangle is tipped up and behind the skier.

Classic-Stride-Triangle-750
The Diagonal Stride “Stride Triangle”

The universal cross-country skiing advice to “keep your hips forward” is supposed to help skiers get into this position.

The hips are forward of the Stride Triangle, but compared to the shoulders and upper body, they’re actually further behind than they are in a shuffler.

That’s why the advice to “keep your hips forward” confuses people. Are the hips “forward” or are they “behind”?

“Hips Forward” Good Advice, Gone Bad

Hips-Forward
This is what “hips forward” means to most people.

The problem with the standard “hips forward” cue is that it interferes with developing forward body lean.

Tell someone to “get his hips forward” and he’ll probably press his pelvis forwards and arch his back.

Tell the same skier to “keep their feet behind” them and you will get a much better result.

“The Invisible Wall” A Drill For Diagonal Stride

Once you have the image of your “stride triangle” imagine an invisible wall that extends from just in front of your hips straight down to the ground in front of you.

You can make your Stride Triangle as big as you want, but try not to swing your leg forward of the wall. (It will still come forward, but not nearly as much.)

Here’s a 1 minute video of Kai explaining and demonstrating the drill. (For our international visitors, there’s a transcript at the end of this post.)

Video Transcript:

00:07
Another thing that can help you develop your forward body lean is more of a mental trick that I like to call the “invisible Wall”. Basically, you imagine there’s a wall extending from your hips down to the ground and your feet and legs can’t pass it, like that.

00:24
You can kick as far back as you like in this direction but you’re limited by the wall in this direction. Sometimes you might actually kick your toes a little bit past “the wall”, but it’s really more of a mental trick to make sure you aren’t going like that (pushes leg forward to demonstrate overstriding.)

00:44
Demonstration of skiing while imaging the Invisible Wall

21 thoughts on ““The Invisible Wall” An Unusual Diagonal Stride Drill That Really Works [Video]”

  1. This is a great pointer. I’m always confused when instructors talk about hip position which ends up being an elusive abstraction. This concept is much less confusing to me at least…

  2. Hi DNA – I agree! I remember being amazed at how far forward the racers leaned and how high the tail of their ski came off the snow in classic. Things really started to come together for me when I forgot about “hips forward” and just watched and tried to copy the crazy way the racers ski.

  3. Thanks for this post, Kim. I’m excited to get out on the snow to try it. I’m always trying to get my hips forward. Maybe I’ll have more luck getting my legs back!

  4. Thank you so much for your advice. Your approach reminds me of the “inner game” teaching approach of Timothy Gallwey. According to him commands like “hips forwards” are stressful and make the learner fearful of getting it wrong, so he/she is moving unnaturally. Gallwey favors the learner to focus on things like “the invisible wall”, so that he/she is “forgetting” to control specific movements and the movements would flow naturally.
    I was wondering whether you are aware of Gallwey. Although he is more in tennis, golf and snowboarding, I am sure his points can also be applied to cross country skiing.
    If you are interested, I would like to share with you my attempts to adapt Gallwey to my cross country skiing.
    Happy and blessed New Year.

  5. Hi Kim: A great concept and one I will have to work on ,as I am a horrible classic skier and notice how my lower back gets sore after classic skiing..I would also like to have you know another great skate skiing video put out by xc ski academy ,The guys name is David Lawerence and he demonstrates v2,v2a and no pole skiing. His point is in each cycle there is a double flexion and extension. Check it out.Also I notice with Kai that he is putting his shoulders and head over the gliding ski.Does that go back to the old saying of toe,knee,nose,when transferring your weight??Tom

  6. Hi Kim, thanks for this! After 3 years of skate skiing I’m still confused by “hips forward”, and this clarifies it a lot. As you mention, this is very similar to heal strike versus mid-foot strike in running. Any amount of over-striding turns into braking! For heal strikers, it seems counter-intuitive not to reach as far forward as you can because it feels like you’re covering more distance with a longer stride.

    Here’s another skiing phrase that confuses me: “bend your ankles”. That doesn’t give me much of a mental model except to think of a ski jumper launching off of a ramp. Ankle bend must be connected to knee bend and hip bend somehow. Why do I need to specifically focus on my ankles? As Hape mentions, maybe there are other ways to convey the right movement, other ways that are easier to envision. The stride triangle is definitely one of them! I’m looking forward to trying this out,

  7. This is very helpful, Kim – thanks a lot. I read the post and then went out yesterday in W. Bragg Creek to practice. I feel like this information provides a really important missing piece of the puzzle. I have definitely been bringing my feet too far in front of me and have never understood the ‘hips forward’ thing. Now I do! I did have to be careful to not fool myself into thinking I was doing as you suggest merely by jutting my chin forward. That was pretty funny at first but I soon got the hang of it. My back ski was actually lifting off a little which made me feel like pro. (sort of!) I never could understand how that even happened before. Coaches should definitely stop saying ‘hips forward’ as it’s meaningless. The ‘Invisible wall’, tilting and keeping feet behind are so much more effective. You’re a genius! Thank you!

  8. Thanks for the tip Kim, I’m a beginner roller/xc skiier and am really having a hard time not getting a sore back when I’m diagonal striding, I’ll be trying this out tonight to see if this helps..
    – Jay

  9. As a former teacher and an athlete who took up skate skiing late in life, at 60, and skis 80+ times a winter but I had no skating background I can’t tell you how many times I have heard things like hips forward and other vague and confusing tips. High hips forward undoubtedly works for some people but I would say for me and many others, probably more than not it is so vague and poorly explained that it either does nothing or leaves the learner wasting energy without any clear kinaesthetic tools. There is a video on youtube of Jeff Ellis and Kikkan Randall pretty much echoing this.

    Also given the abilities, foundations, and individual body of any skier, along with the specific conditions and terrain body angulation and amount of poling vs “legging” is always in flux… not to mention how much energy one is willing to expend or trying to conserve… and not to mention if the skier’s goal is performance, grace, long slow steady skating/skiing (efficiency)..so I greatly appreciate your addressing hips forward in this article and to some degree debunking it as one of the holy grails of skiing. Hip placement is best addressed in terms of the big picture of body balance and weighting … and these are not static but an evolving internal biomechanical understanding that one comes to if they truly explorer mindfully learning to skate/ski.

  10. Are you still endorsing this wall method of learning/training the diagonal stride? I am a new classic skier of about three years and I am a 62 year old exercise junkie! Mainly a long distance runner who just discovered the great sport of cross country skiing! I struggle though with technique and don’t want to learn something that’s not effective? I went out yesterday and did 30k mainly working on your wall/ triangle technique…. I felt it was getting there but do want to know in your opinion is this the best method for me to learn good technique for good diagonal stride?
    Thanks,
    Bob

  11. Thanks for the creative coaching ideas. I like the concept of avoiding just telling someone to do this or dont
    do that, but giving them excercises to discover for themselves what to do. The invisible wall concept
    gives you the feel of good ski position without cluttering your mind with difficult to understand lingo
    like “hip drive” or “lean foreward”. Also just envisioning the shape of the tilted foreward ski triangle works
    well to, I have noticed.

    To Tom in his post from december where he asks about leaning his shoulder and head over the driving ski ;
    Yes, that’s excellent, do that. I dont think that an advanced skier does that much, but as a drill it is helpful. It would be the next easy lesson to try after learning to rotate your hips.

    Thanks for the great blog.

  12. Hi Kim,
    Just stumbled on this site recently and I greatly appreciate the tips. This one in particular has been helping me.

    Just getting started on my skis again this year, (overcoming the stiffness has been job 1 for the past few days, at my age) but already thinking in terms of the stride triangle as I go. I’m finding this pretty easy to visualize, and my glide feels like it’s improving as a result.

    Thank you!

  13. Very, very helpful! I literally just put on my x-country skis for maybe the first time in 10 years, and was left feeling frustrated and defeated. How had I ever made these things work, I wondered… After a web search that led me to your video, I was inspired enough to go back outside in the dark and give it a shot. YES! Thank you for this great, simple tip.

    • You’re welcome! Body position and posture are super important in xc skiing and make a big difference to enjoyment. Simple, but powerful! I’m happy you had some fun on your skis!

      Night skiing… good on you :)

  14. “Invisible Wall”. I’ll definitely give it a try next time out.
    Is there any adjustment necessary for uphill diagonal? Currently, I found myself extending my foot forward (probably beyond the invisible wall) bounding uphill in order to get enough purchase.

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