“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: The Foundation of Expert Technique
I want to tell you about a drill we use for diagonal stride. It’s a bit strange and I’m not sure how it will come off in a blog post, but it’s the best drill we’ve discovered for helping classic skiers improve their forward body lean.
It’s big challenge for novice and intermediate skiers to develop enough forward body lean. It’s not a position that feels familiar or comfortable to them.
When you have good forward body lean you don’t have to muscle your way along the ski trails. Instead you can simply “fall forwards” with every stride, using gravity to assist your forward movement.
How do you do it?
You have to lean forward but keep your hips forward at the same time. When you think about leaning forward, you might bend at the waist, which is bad because it will shift your hips back.
But if you try to “keep your hips forward” you’ll might stand too upright and lose your lean.
Forward body lean should come from the ankles. Flexed ankles are the secret to keeping your weight forward in nordic skiing. Unfortunately deep ankle flexion can also make you feel like you’re going to fall on your face.
It’s hard to get used to.
Visualize Your Stride Triangle
The “Invisible Wall” is a drill I made up after I struggled and failed to help our skiers develop their forward body lean using more common coaching tips like “keep your hips forward”.
It’s hands down the best way I know for knocking adult skiers out of their regular diagonal striding movement patterns and helping get their body in the correct overall position.
Before I tell you about the Invisible Wall, I have to explain the “Stride Triangle” which is what we call the shape your legs make with the ground when you’re walking, running, skiing etc. (The “Stride Triangle” isn’t an official nordic ski term. It’s completely made up and unauthorized.)
You can think of the Stride Triangle as a visual or geometric concept that’s useful for understanding overall body position. It has a different shape and position relative to your upper body depending on your gait and your technique. This is easier to explain with images.
Here’s what a Stride Triangle looks like in walking:
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.
The great thing about cross-country skiing is that beginners really can “just walk on skis”. But that’s also the bad thing about nordic skiing – the majority of skiers will forever just walk on their skis and miss out on the joy of modern, technical skiing.
The Shuffle Technique is what you get when you walk on your skis. You can see that the Shuffle Stride Triangle looks similar to the Walking Stride Triangle. Just like in walking, part of the Stride Triangle extends in front of the skier.
It’s typical for people to overstride and heel strike when walking, but it’s bad in running and it’s bad in cross-country skiing too. It’s one of the key problems that challenges novice and intermediate skiers.
In true 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.
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
I used to tell our skiers to “keep their hips forwards”, but I noticed it didn’t really help them improve.
That’s one of the hard lessons of coaching – just because what you say is correct doesn’t mean it’s going to help someone ski better.
The problem with the standard “keep your hips forward” advice 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.
“Hips forward” makes people stand upright and works against the goal of developing forward body lean. So I stopped telling people to bring their hips forwards and switched tactics.
Instead, I told them to keep their legs behind them. It sounds contradictory, but really it’s the same advice, worded differently.
It made a big difference.
“The Invisible Wall” A Drill For Diagonal Stride
I begin by explaining the Stride Triangle, then I ask them to imagine an invisible wall that extends from just in front of their hips straight down to the ground in front of them.
I tell them they can make their Stride Triangle as “big” as they like, but they aren’t allowed to swing their leg any further forward than the wall. (Their foot 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.)
We are amazed at how this idea helped our skiers. It almost instantly transformed their technique and they all said, “That feels totally different!”
They talk about how they’ve been trying to keep their hips forwards and this drill makes them feel like their hips are “back”.
And they’re right. Your hips are back. Your hips are behind your upper body, but and in front of your Stride Triangle.
When you have well developed forward body lean, your hips will be in the middle, but they’ll “feel” like they’re behind you.
This Comes First
I think of a skier’s hips as a 2-part problem. First, you have to get the hips into the correct position relative to the rest of the body. Once you’ve got some forward body lean, you can start to work on how the skier moves his hips with each stride.
It’s not that the two problems aren’t connected. You won’t perfect your overall hip position, then start to work on how you move your hips. The two skills will develop and improve together. But, in my opinion, getting your hips close to the ideal position relative to the rest of your body is the first step.
We won’t blame you if you think the “Stride Triangle” and the “Invisible Wall” are strange ideas, but we hope you’ll give them a try. Like I said, these concepts have worked incredibly well in several skiers we’ve tried them on.
I’m genuinely interested to know whether they help you.
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.
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.)
Demonstration of skiing while imaging the Invisible Wall