Why Does the Knee Cave in on Skate Skis?

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Is it tight adductors? Weak abductors? Inactive gluts? Or are we missing the forest for the trees?

Regarding practical advice.

No. I can’t suggest exercises. As I said, as far as I can see there is no simple fix. My primary goal was to introduce an alternative narrative to explain this problem, as I felt it’s an important idea that’s largely missing from the conversation.

The best I can offer is the suggestion that you find a REALLY intelligent movement practitioner. It could be a yoga teacher, a pilates teacher, martial arts instructor etc.

You will know you are in the right place if they provide you with a great deal of precise cueing and opportunities to learn more about how you are directing forces into the ground.

They’ll explain how to load weight onto your feet, your hands, your sit bones and so on. They’ll talk about things like “charging up” your legs or arms and how you direct forces through the inner line of your legs and arms. They won’t get preoccupied with specific muscles. They’ll look for larger patterns in the body and in movement. You’ll need the opportunity to work with your bare hands and feet and many other bony prominences directly on the ground.

Your job will be to be a dedicated and engaged practitioner. Ultimately, it’s not about them learning your body, it’s about you unravelling the mysterious inner landscape of your body. Without consistent practice, nothing will change. I’ve been working on this daily for two years and I understand this is a job I’ll be doing the rest of my life.

If you are within reach of Calgary, I recommend the classes at the Yoga Therapy and Body Works Studio. They practice a unique form of yoga that is very powerful for helping with alignment and the owner, Danielle Pechie is one of the smartest “movers” I have ever met.

15 thoughts on “Why Does the Knee Cave in on Skate Skis?”

  1. Kim, I found this to be an excellent video in so many ways, particularly your effort, time and passion to think outside the typical box of how we ski and how the body moves. As a nordic ski instructor, I confront this very issue with various ability levels all the time, and found this very helpful. I must also comment on your fresh, new, maybe a bit courageous..approach to this and other topics about the overall athleticism of our much loved sport..and that is one main reason why I so thoroughly enjoy every aspect of your work at XCNation..always look forward to what’s next! Bravo!

  2. Thank you very much for this interesting and illustrative video.

    But what (exercises) would you recommend to work on the problem? Sorry, this is not very clear to me.

    • Hi Mike. I edited the post to address your question. Yes. I understand why it’s not very clear and I’m sorry. It’s a complicated topic and there’s only so much I can cover in one video/blog post.

      • Hello Kim,
        Thank you for your answer and your advice in the description of the post.

        Enjoy this yearˋs cross country season!

  3. I’ve found that form is by far the most important factor in skate skiing, much more so than in classic. One can shuffle along or power along with uneven downward force application on classic fishscale skis or in easy wax conditions and do OK. Sloppy skate skiing can actual result in the skier coming to a stop, especially uphill.

    As skating newbies are finding their balance, they tend toward short shuffling strides, edging almost all the time with very little side to side core motion. Edging is very stable, makes you fall to center when lifting a ski to begin another stride and very easy to regain balance with the opposite ski. In this stage, with short strides, the easiest way to edge is to pronate one’s feet, which tends to drive the knees inward.

    As the newbie becomes more confident, they will glide farther, likely experiencing some high side falls that drive more focus on balancing to center. They tend to find that bias to center (slight edging even when gliding) is more stable than a truly flat ski. Experimenting with side to side core motion usually feels unstable. So they go faster and faster with OK balance maintained by varying degrees of pronation, falling slowly from ski to ski with tremendous pole input both for push and balance. One can skate like this for years without a lot of trouble but real speed won’t be achieved, it’s exhausting and one skate is very unstable.

    The way to stop the knee cave, which is caused by your feet trying to pronate/edge for stability is to consciously move your hip out over the ski. Heard this a million times, yeah, but try and edge with your foot supinated and not high side. It can be done but not by someone who learned to pronate for stability. Follow Before Kim’s (?) right ski from the snow to her hip then do the same for After Kim. Before Kim’s left leg is collapsed too! After Kim’s looks like the racers later in the vid, beautiful. The rest of After Kim’s body is so much more relaxed, too.

    Forcing yourself to maintain good form will develop the proper muscles to maintain it but a conditioning program won’t magically put your hips, which are the key factors in skating well, over the skis. Gotta practice to do that. Gotta learn to kick and glide mostly on the balls of your feet, not flat footed as mediocre form will have you fall into in an effort to keep your skis loaded so glide remains even and kick, solid.

    Our season started a few weeks ago. I don’t claim to be a great skier but I am am engineer and tend to focus on the few things that make skating easy. If it’s easy, I can ski for a long time and go fast!

    I met a newbie lady a week or so ago who was edging along in the practice area of a local ski center with no poles, decent balance but just shuffling. We chatted for a bit; she asked if I had any tips; I said I’m not that great a skier but let’s try something, get your poles. I had her try one skate, something completely radical; her balance was good, so… Told her the kick ski is all that matters, glide will follow or you’ll fall over; use your poles for stability. Showed her how to one skate and after a few tries and a fall, she was doing it after a fashion. Yay! She learned the value of good balance, correct kick force direction and correct glide ski direction and loading. The other strides should be easy if she can one skate.

    My son and I skied for a while, returned to the practice area where she was doing much better and looking really happy! Took me five years to one skate well and I was an edger for a long time. I don’t think we start newbies very well.

  4. Thank you for this video!! I have this same issue with my right knee tracking… i have struggled with balance on my right leg for a long time, but have found with practicing yoga more frequently this year I feel like i am more aware of the weight distribution in my feet. I was out for my first ski of the season last week and noticed already my feet feel more open, and I have more control of the specific weight distribution throughout my right foot. I very much relate to what you are saying and will continue to use my yoga practice to help with this!

  5. Kim You have certainly a beautiful mind to come up with those potential causes of a problem! I personally don’t buy it! If the explanation of a problem is complex it is usually an indication that the problem has not been well understood yet. I have yet to see a resolved problem for which the solution was complex or at least difficult to grasp. So back to the drawing board! If I was faced with a skier having it’s knee cave in while skating I would first determine if the problem is physical or psychological by determining if the skier can hold the position on a non slippery surface or if the person is extremely scared of gliding on one ski as the glide on a ski is such a weird feeling to a nut that wants to control and explain every thing. Sometime it is good to just go with the glide. Just ski blind folded then you will not see your knee caving in! Find a location where the surface is so soft that falling is of no consequence and your goal is to have your knew cave outward until you fall. You might be in for a surprise seeing how much control you have on your knee while gliding and that falling is not that bad after all. In any case that is my take on that situation. I know you must have tried all those things before and That I am a total jerk this is not so bad as I have been called worst name before by my students! ???

  6. After dealing with the same problem during this sommer, I would say it is not that complex and complicated to solve.
    I watched your video about the Foward Body Lean concept and other videos where you favor this, thus I assume you are skiing this way (putting more pressure to the balls of your feet).
    The source of the problem (with knee pointing inwards) by you could primarily be the Foward Body Lean. Why so?
    I will write about it down below, but for the better understanding perform following test first:

    1.Stand on one foot and lower the upper body by flexing the knee and hip joint as you normaly do by skating.
    2. Distribute your bodyweight approx. evenly between 3 points under the foot, 33 % to the heel, 33 % to the ball of the big toe (to the inner part of the front) and 33 % to the balls of two smallest toes (to the outer part of the front).
    3. Start to unload the outer part of the front of the foot so that the weight (or pressure under the foot) you are taking away goes to the inner part of the front (to the ball of the big toe) until there is only little pressure under the outer part.
    4. Now do the opposite – unload the inner part and load additionally the outer part until there is only little pressure under the ball of the big toe.
    5. Repeat point 3. and 4., stay in the flexed lower skating position and watch what is the knee doing. Normally the knee is going in („collapsing” ) and coming back to normal position (to the same line between ankel and hip joint) again.
    6. Now vary the pressure to the heel, for example put 80 % of your bodyweight to the heel and play around with the pressure to the inner and outer part in the front. You will probably notice that it does not matter how much pressure (bodyweight) there is under the heel, it does not change the knee alignment. How much the knee moves inwards and back is determined by the ratio of weight to the inner and outer part in front of the foot. This is an important fact to keep in mind.

    So, in order to avoid the knee to „collapse” inwards, unloading the ball of the big toe is needed. But that’s easier said than done. Outer front part (two balls of smallest toes) load carrying capacity is limited and as the load increases the stronger inner part (ball of the big toe) takes partially over, which results in knee misalignment. Sure, strengthening the load load carrying capacity of the outer front part helps, but specially by Foward Body Lean (where there is too much bodyweight on the balls) it can not be enough. There is simply to much load on the balls of your foot because of the Foward Body Lean I assume. Consequently the load to the balls must be reduced. Try to leave the Foward Body Lean aside and instead of it focus on lowering your butt by skiing, that way you put more weight to the heel and less to the balls. Try to push (both, the first underpush right after landing the ski and the second main push) with your heel mainly.
    I personally have two pairs of skate boots (one pair has higher front part, it lifts toes a bit more the other pair) and two pairs of bindings („normal” Rottefella Xcelerator and Skate Pro with higher front part). The combination of boots and bindings with the highest front part suits the best for me by using One Skate, Two Skate and Free Skate, I have a nice balanced feeling by pushing mainly with the heel, because the high front part puts “kind of soft pre-tension” to the balls (right after landing the ski) so that the balls of the foot act more as the sensor (less as a „pusher”) helping to maintain balance. By using other boot-binding combination it is not so easy to find front-back balance.
    I am not saying this here written by me is right, it´s rather my personal findings and maybe something worth trying.
    So to conclude, I would recommend:
    1. Exercise to improve the load load carrying capacity of the front outer part of the foot (area around balls of two smallest toes). After two month of training this I noticed how (by walking) the outer parts „jump in” immediately by loading the foot.
    2. By skating focus your attention on lowering your butt.
    3. Push with the heel. You gain ski glide as a side effect.
    4. Try longer poles. By me (for some unknown reason) the longer poles are helping to keep precise balance on the heel.

    • Hi Aarne – thank you for taking the time to write such a long and detailed reply. I’m moved by your kindness.

      I think we are very close to being on the same page. I only have a few things to add.

      Regarding “Forward Body Lean”. I agree with you, that places too much weight forward and it is better to use the whole foot more fully. I actually deleted that video and post some time ago. I should really write a “Things I’ve Changed My Mind About” article. Forward Body Lean would make the list.

      Regarding pressure and your self-evaluation exercise. I am able to alter the pressure distribution on the base of my foot as you outline, but with little to no movement through the knee. I don’t have a better explanation than to say it’s because I am changing the “lines of force” down the leg. I can also change the pressure and move the knee, but, for me, the two actions are independently controlled.

      On the main issue, I think we agree. Pressure distribution across the bottom of the foot is an important piece of the puzzle. I mostly work on this via a glute bridge exercise (barefoot), which lets me closely monitor the pressure distribution. It reveals much more detail than I am able to sense in standing, either in ski boots or shoes. In that position and by moving very, very slowly, I can sense more precisely how the pressure works across the knuckles of each toe, the arches and the corners of the heel. This is why I say it’s complex: the more I “look”, the more I “see”.

      Ironically, part of the solution for me was to improve the ability to load the big toe joint. Even though the knee collapsed inward and an observer might guess that meant more pressure was on the ball of the foot, the opposite was true. Less pressure was carried through the big toe joint, so there was less strength and support along the inner line of the leg, so the knee collapsed.

      Another big piece of the puzzle, which I didn’t even address, is the role of the brain and why it might not even “let” you change the pressure across the base of the foot. That’s another reason I say it’s complex. Very often, we think we are doing one thing (i.e. moving the pressure to another part of the foot), when, in reality the brain is simultaneously altering another movement pattern and we don’t even notice (i.e. shifting how we sit back into the hips). Perhaps pain disappears and we assume the situation is resolved, when in actuality we just created another pattern that won’t make itself known for years to come.

      So many older skiers I know are progressively losing their ability to enjoy the sport. They feel they did “everything right”. They stayed active and exercised often, but their issues compound. It makes me sad and it gives me a lot of questions.

      Take care and all the best to you.

  7. Thank you for the kind words !
    I do enjoy reading your articles.
    Some additional thoughts, hopefully shorter today :)
    Notice on the fotos at the beginning of the video here, the skier on the right (good knee alignment) glides on the flat ski. On the left (knee “collapsed”) there is a glide on the inside edge of the ski, in other words the foot (and the ski) is rotated around the horizontal axis by approx. 25 degrees.
    In order to maintain (or reach) this glide on the inside edge, the skier must have (maintain or put) much pressure on the ball of the big toe and at the same time hold the opposite side (two balls of smallest toes) unloaded or put relatively little load to it,
    otherwise the bodyweight (the gravity) pushes the ski flat against the snow, as it is on the right foto. To exaggerate maybe, the skier practically performs the same test described yesterday – loads the inner part of the foot (on the left foto) and unloads it (right foto).

    Some questions to think about:

    1. Why is the skier (on the left) during the glidephase on the inside edge in the first place?

    2. Is the “collapsing” knee caused by the skate boot, which with it´s ridgid high cuff doesn´t allow to rotate the foot around the horizontal axis unless the shinbone moves with it as well? In this case the shinbone forces the knee inwards while the skier glides on the inside edge. What is the cause and what is the result ?

    3. Is the glide on the inside edge caused by “collapsing” knee, because of the ridgid high cuff of the boot ? What is the cause and what is the result ?

    • All excellent questions! The skier is me, so I have some answers. The reason the leg is bent is because it’s about half an inch longer than the other. I didn’t mention it because there are so many reasons people are misaligned – I see it everywhere! My main goal with the video was just to share some alternative ways of thinking that might free people up from the more widespread (in my part of the world) idea that you can use specific exercises to target specific muscles.

      Regarding the pressure on the foot. I know it looks like the pressure would be on the inside edge, based on the fact the ski is rolled inward, but it’s simply not true. The ski rolls in because there isn’t enough pressure along the medial line of the foot. As soon as I weighted the big toe joint, the ski ran flat. But that also caused a great deal of pain. My brain was orchestrating my movements to try to manage the situation and spare my joints.

      It’s a topsy turvy world!

  8. Kim, I would wholeheartedly add my appreciation as well to what you are doing. I’ve followed your site for several years now (and will sign up now just to support you! besides the great resource you provided.)
    I’m a rowing coach as well and our coaching training now includes what we call Talent Identification Protocols. These are various dryland tests one of which is Movement Screening. Perhaps you are familiar with this. Two of these tests that we do are Step Up and Box Landing. They are performed on an 18-20″ box. The objective is to assess the degree of alignment or tracking of the knee when force is applied either by stepping up or jumping down. It was a surprise to me how common poor tracking is with my junior rowers and I discovered with myself. Of course I immediately saw this problem applying to my skate skiing (I leave plenty of evidence of this behind me in the snow!) I never could get any coaches or strength trainers to tell me how to correct this. So I very much appreciate this discussion. It extends beyond the sport of skiing.
    I’m a big advocate of sport specific strength training (and now alignment training) before someone starts to attempt the actual sport. Entrainment is a product of repetition. And once someone exhausts there ability to execute correctly their repetitions regress and default to what they were doing before and so that is what is ingrained and reinforced and has to be undone at some point by even greater amounts of correct movement. Your frustration with your journey of recovery from injury is an example of this in wasted time with movements that probably just added to the condition. We are probably all dysfunctional (maybe not completely paralyzed) somewhere and need to develop the neuro-pathways that for example connect us to our feet. Where do you stand? We
    need to develop that sensitivity and everybody has a different level in this regard. As a coach you need to be able discern where that is with each individual. Find the “cue” that works. Thanks again KIm!!

    • Hi Jack – Thanks for you comment. I’ve noticed the same thing. As you say, even in young athletes, the inability to track the knee is quite common. It’s tricky because if you know it’s important to track the knee straight, you can develop very elaborate compensation patterns without knowing that’s what you’re doing. My knee “tracked straight” in almost any situation except uphill skate skiing (because I deliberately controlled it), but there were tell tale signs of trouble in other parts of my body. Most telling was my weight distribution on my feet and my head position. One of the most helpful exercises is a glute bridge with bare feet, flat on the floor. It’s common to unconsciously roll the weight to the outer edges of the foot in this exercise. It’s also hard for people to keep their feet pointed straight forward. I do this daily and try to direct the force needed to lift the pelvis down the inner line of my legs. I suspect the knee collapsing is principally the result of an inability to apply force down the inner line of the leg, which is why it buckles.

      • Hi Kim, I recently came across this article (https://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/dynamic-knee-valgus-villian-or-symptom/) which may only add to the confusion. I had revisited your article after a truly cringeworthy still photo of me near the finish of this year’s Korteloppett showed marked knee valgus. Although it’s definitely a good idea to screen/correct weaknesses, according to the article, it looks like some degree of dynamic knee valgus may defy attempts at correction, depending on the individual. As for me personally at this stage of my athletic endeavors (politely described as “senior”) I’m trying to reverse decades of compensation. Talk about diminishing returns – but still trying. Regarding the glute bridge, kettlebell trainer Pavel Tsatsouline recommends squeezing a pair of shoes or rolled towel between the knees when performing the exercise. This really focuses the effort along the inner line of the legs.

  9. I found the best way to fix this is through disciplined 1 legged hopping/gliding drills. First find your 1 legged static balance position, evenly weighted, knee over ankle, gently flex ankle keeping weight evenly distributed on foot. Once you are comfortable with stationary 1 legged balance on your ski, then challenge yourself with this dynamic balance drill:

    Find a gentle downhill and practise gliding on 1 ski. Keep upper body relaxed, with arms relaxed at side (don’t wave your arms around, or it’s a sign of you not using the right muscles!)
    Focus on keeping your knee “out”.
    Focus on feeling weight evenly distributed along the foot, especially noticing if you are weightbearing more on inside vs. outside of foot.
    When you feel like you start to lose balance and your knee is about to roll inwards to compensate, then “hop” that ski back under your body.
    Experiment with short, gentle hops – you don’t have to leave the snow, just unweight the ski, reweight it, while balancing on 1 ski.
    If the outside of your butt burns and you feel that the outside of your hip is working harder than the inside of your quads you are doing it right! Often gluteus medius is the weak link!
    Challenge yourself with increasing the distance and time you can stay on 1 ski WITHOUT rolling the knee in or waving your arms.

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