The Myth of Complete Weight Transfer

credit: Fischer Sports GmbH

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?

credit: Gan Khoon Lay from the Noun Project

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

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 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.

credit: Fischer Sports GmbH

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:

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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.

Understanding the nuances will make you a more adaptable skier

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.

11 thoughts on “The Myth of Complete Weight Transfer”

  1. Kim,
    I’ve always wondered if in classic skiing if all of the weight on one ski would collapse the ski and engage the kick zone thereby limiting the glide. Since the consensus seems to be that is not so then the answer must be that we engage the kick zone only in the transient when the kick ski sees more than the weight of the skier. Clearly this is a dynamics problem and any attempt at steady state analysis will be to some degree flawed. FWI in the dynamics community here in the states the COM is usually referred to as the CG. A complete analysis would entail modelling all of the springs and masses in the ski-skier system (eg…skis and body) which would be beyond my level of commitment to my favorite sport.

    I remain a perpetual beginner

    • Hi Phil,

      If I understand you: engaging the kick zone does limit the glide. In fact the ski should come to a complete stop and not glide at all during the kick.

      I doubt very much you are a perpetual beginner. You have a human body and a human brain, two marvels of nature. So long as you give them new stimuli, they will continue to amaze you with their performance :)

  2. I so love these articles, they help me ski efficiently and with less pain (arthritis). I find it amazing how good technique also is right for an aging body. Thanks again.

  3. I totally agree that higher tempo and steep hill climbing need less total weight shift. This leads to keeping ski moving. This is subtle and a very interesting observation. I’m working on climbing a steep hill on a golf course that faces north so it has good snow. You simply need to keep skis moving! The Birkie is very HILLY!!!!! Thank you!

  4. As a geeky Engineer, following Phil’s comments, Center of Mass (COM) and Center of Gravity (CG) really should be kept separate since their effects on locomotion are quite different. For a standing person, COM is near the navel, inside the body; CG is about midway between the feet, on the floor, outside the body. The CG of a person standing on one foot is somewhere under that foot. CG is the balance point from gravity. COM is the point where your entire body weight (mass) would be if it were concentrated at one place.

    The full weight transfer thing, to me, is one of those general rules that’s important to develop the balance to be able to ski at all, but for the reasons mentioned here, should be mostly forgotten later on. It doesn’t even make sense really, if you’re on one ski and your foot is steady or moving down, full weight transfer has already occurred. Keeping the weight transfer concept in mind in freestyle does however prevent moving from one ski to the other too soon, a lazy habit of mine at times, which leads to a half baked glide with my weight still over the kick ski.

    During a classic stride, the “skiing on eggshells” reminder is something I say to myself if I’m stomping my kick ski, losing the end of the push and gliding poorly. Proper weight transfer seems more important to classic; remaining on center, more important to freestyle. Both involve moving your COM to position the CG in the right place for the right amount of time to get a smooth push.

    Yesterday, the kids (14 yr old twins) and I were out at one of the local ski centers. Natural snow has been poor so far and machine snow facilities are packed with skiers. We were practicing climbing a sugary wall freestyle and the kids were wallowing and frustrated. With perfect timing, two college skiers came along, no poles, hands on their hips, side by side and herringboned (no poles diagonal or whatever) in perfect Riverdance fashion up the mushy hill in record time. Very impressive!

    My daughter said “Hey! Something’s wrong here! Did you see them? How’d they do that?!” My response was “Well, they’re very good skiers, but they kept their bodies tall and on center, facing straight ahead and popped from ski to ski very quickly, well before their skis slipped backward. Their stable bodies provided resistance for their leg pushes.” “But that’s not offset!” “No, but you’ve found offset won’t work here, you sink at the end of your glide, so bunny hop, tiny glide, instead…”

    Next time up the wall, both kids were hopping and smiling, but beat, so we went into the chalet for a while. Rules work well when they work. :)

  5. This is a critical area. I find that if I don’t shift some of my weight onto the weak side ski, I tend to stall out. I find that with better weight transfer to both skis, climbing is easier.

  6. Hi Kim,
    happy new year and lots of snow (black forest is going snowy know).

    In Livigno some days ago we did a lot of video-analysis especially in skating technique.(some guys said more than training:)).
    I was very dissatisfied with the quality of my weight transfer.
    Compared with our best skiers in the Club the whole motion seemed to be decent, slowly and forced, far away from smooth and fluently.
    Especially on my right leg the knee and hips are not in one line with the ankle and the shoulders were not parallel to the ground.

    I measured up the time from the moment the left bump leg leaves the ground to the moment the right leg leaves the ground. This time I defined to be the time of the glide-phase of my right leg.
    With coacheye it is possible to measure that period very exactly.
    It was about 1,2 seconds, so 5m gliding if your speed is 15km/h.
    I did the same thing with 6 other skiers, better and weaker ones. I was very surprised that my gliding period was as good as those one of our best skiers (who belong to the best 20% of all competitors in Skimarathons).
    The weaker skiers had about 0,8-0,9 seconds.

    I think I had a complete weight shift, otherwise my glide couldn`t be so Long .
    But the quality of the weight shift was not good enough to create a powerful and efficient kick.

    So I agree, the most important thing is not the length of your glide but the quality of your weight shift to create a powerful and efficient kick.
    In other words: do not invest too much time in gliding longer and longer, try to improve the quality of your weight transfer.
    The logical consequence will be a long gliding phase (which is different to a forced long-durance gliding phase).

    How to practice? I just think about…

  7. Good article Kim. A few observations … From my perspective:

    I agree with general principles of the points made and find it interesting – if not outright amusing – that back in 1973/74 ski season my instructor said “glide on one ski until just before you think your ski will start slowing down”; and so “when resistance increases (like cold snow, increased climb, and/or decreased energy), you will find that your stride shortens.” And, “now go ski”. That in 1973!

    I prefer the term/phrase “balanced glide” for techniques like 2-Skate, 1-Skate, and Diagonal Stride. Offset, as you rightly pointed out, is a different beast. Optimizing Glide IS important but only to the point at which the ski starts slowing down. And in offset the ski starts slowing almost at the moment the ski lands; which explains why the kick of one ski begins while the other ski is still gliding.

    I also think it is possible to teach the subtle but important preload that happens just as recovery foot passes current glide (and about to kick) foot. I find that this action can be over done or note done at all. For more beginner skier, I like a mix of various style and intensity exercises on terrain suitable for stimulating the need for a kick for the particular skier.

    • Thanks for sharing your insights, Glen. Sounds like coaches were already pretty smart in 1973 ;)

      I think we can do better than “complete weight transfer”, but I’m not sure “balanced glide” quite fits the bill. Shufflers are very nicely balanced and glide along just fine.

      I wish we could come up with expressions that help new skiers understand what they’re aiming for and don’t frustrate them like the current jargon does.

  8. Hiii Kim,

    Closely watching even just 1 World Cup Race, you will see the vast amounts of different balance and weight transfer situations. All are based on snow, terrain, pace ect.
    Don’t think, feel!

    Keep up the great work!

    Cya on the trails!


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