see also


[ under construction ] 



Does "stepping up the hill" help?

The idea is that when skating up a hill you try to land your ski as far up the hill as you have the sustainable strength to move your body up onto your foot. 

Lots of elite racers do this.  

I think the idea is that you increase the vertical component of your range of motion in your leg push. 

My current thinking is that the physics of this really works and it's important for efficiently getting up a hill. 

Note this is a different view than I have about stepping forward on flat terrain.

What makes stepping up so different from stepping forward?

  • The vertical force-direction is mostly perpendicular to the plane of motion of the skate-push, with the forward direction is mostly in the plane. 

It's magical to use sideways force to move forward -- in the same plane of motion.  It's just inefficient to try to use sideways force to move upward outside the plane. 

  • Speed is lower going up a hill, but the "magic" of skating physics works best at higher speeds.
  • Gravity is a special kind of force in ski technique, because it comes with a well-defined potential energy function.  That means that gains in fighting gravity can be easily transmuted into other useful factors. 

Video observations

Looks to me like Fulvio Valbusa is one who uses little forward step when doing V2 on the flats, but shows a distinct upward-and-forward step when he switches to V1 to go up a hill -- see Valbusa 1 video on JanneG's website

For stepping up on a rather steep hill see Carl Swenson in the last 7 seconds of Swenson 1 video on JanneG's website


Apply more leg-push force into directly lifting the upper body -- versus pushing out to the side?

Pushing to extend the leg can be out to the side (like in the skate-push phase of V2) -- which is magically transmuted into forward motion by the angle of the ski.  Or the leg can be extended to push downward, which then lifts the hips forward and upward -- which lifts the weight of the skier's upper body upward (like in the first part of the glide phase in V2).  

In V2 skate the direct upward lift of the upper body then allows its weight to drive a stronger pole-push.  But when climbing up a hill, moving a substantial portion of my body weight upward has value just in itself -- since fighting gravity is the biggest obstacle there. 

Seems like many elite racers do this.  

See the arguments above under stepping up the hill.

One idea is to only apply enough side-push to keep forward motion going, and put the rest of the leg-push into directly lifting the upper body.  To get a bigger range of motion for emphasizing the vertical component, the leg-push must be preceded by stepping the foot way up the hill. 

Disadvantage of direct lifting:  After stroke with substantial direct lift, the hip is higher than if the push had been all out to the side.  So the next ski typically lands with the hip higher and the knee less flexed.  But the range-of-motion for the next skate-push is largest when it starts from more knee flex.

I suppose you could allow the hip and upper body to drop during the leg-push, which would apply more skate-push force.  But when climbing up a hill, the main point is to keep moving most of the body-weight up, so dropping it down seems counter-productive and inefficient.

A better response to this disadvantage is just to be careful not to "over-do" it on direct lifting on one side -- more than the other side is ready to handle effectively.


Video observations

In some older videos of Daehlie in my collection, he seems to emphasize side-skate more on his hang-side and direct-lift more on the recovery-side.

I see a large percentage of leg-push going into direct lifting when Carl Swenson climbs a rather steep hill -- see the last 7 seconds of Swenson 1 video on JanneG's website


Should the time on the hang-side be longer than the time on the recovery-side? 


Here's the puzzle:  The full stroke-cycle for maximum-effective-work Open Field skate is:  (1) land pole-push-side ski + glide + lift hips and upper body (2a) start pole-push and help power it by dropping hips and upper body, (2b) start skate-push and continue pole-push (3) land recovery-side ski + glide, (4) skate-push + pole-recovery.  Five phases, but here numbered as four.  

When going up a steep hill, it's important to change the stroke cycle: 

(a) minimize or eliminate phases with low-power and no-power "dead spots"; and 

(b) focus on the high-power phases with most muscle mass with effective forward-motion leverage; and 

(c) shorten the range of motion of some muscles to their strongest and safest sub-range. 

The reasons for these changes are that going up a hill requires more power -- to simultaneously fight gravity and keep up enough speed to avoid lapsing into a non-skating herringbone.  And more power requires higher average force during the stroke.

The danger is that some muscle might be pushed to try to deliver either a peak force or a sustained rate of force beyond its safe limit -- and then have its performance degraded afterward.  That's one reason for (b), to focus on the big muscles that can handle more force.  And the reason for (c), since even the big muscles have weaker and stronger parts of their range of motion.  The justification for (a) is that if one phase is delivering little or no power, then the other phases have to deliver even higher forces -- in order to keep the average high enough to keep moving up the hill.

To modify the Open Field skate cycle for steep hills, the obvious changes are: 

  • minimize or eliminate phase (3), the passive glide on the recovery-side ski.
  • minimize phase (1), the passive glide and lifting of hips and upper body on the pole-push side.

For a steeper hill, the next change is: 

  • eliminate phase (1), the passive glide and lifting of hips and upper body on the pole-push side. 

And that takes us to V1 offset.

So now we have three phases remaining:  (2a), (2b), (4). 

The next big choice in the stroke cycle is:  Should the start of (2b) skate-push be delayed to after the start of (2a) pole-push? -- like for maximum effective work in in the V2 hints and Open Field skate hints?  Or should the two start pretty much simultaneously?

(A) If the start of (2b) is delayed until after the strongest part of (2a), then the time on the pole-push-side will tend to be longer, since it has two phases instead of one.

(B) If the starts are simultaneous, then the time on the pole-push-side will tend to be shorter, because there is much more force being applied, but the range of motion is not much larger than the recovery-side. 

Video observations

In some older videos of the great Bjorn Daehlie in my collection, he clearly takes a shorter time on the pole-push-side than on the recovery-side.

In the last 6 seconds of Carl Swenson climbing a rather steep hill using V1 technique in the Swenson 1 video on JanneG's website, I see pretty near the same time spent on each side -- but I used to think it was slightly longer on the pole-push side -- now it seems like he's to smooth that it's hard to tell exactly when he finishes one leg-stroke and when he starts the next. 

Responses to the puzzle

For getting up a steep hill, the problem is to keep applying enough force to keep going upward in a skating motion, but avoid peak force demand on a specific muscle. 

(A) One idea is that the "weak link" in the stroke cycle is the recovery-side leg-push, since it gets no assistance from the pole-push.  Therefore to spread force most evenly, it is better to have less overlap between leg-push and pole-push on hang-side.  So make up a separate new phase for the most intense portion of the pole-push (at initiation) -- with little or no leg-push yet.  Then make the hang-side leg-push (with minimal pole-push assistance) about the same as the recovery-side leg-push.  

Result:  a more even distribution of direct push-force over the stroke cycle, less variation in the skier's speed -- and slower turnover cadence.  Hang-side time longer than Recovery-side.

This sounds like Lee Borowski's breakthrough idea for expert V1 on page 30 of The New Simple Secrets of Skating (2001) -- and he closes by saying that the pole-push-side ski will glide longer than the other.

(B) Another idea is:  Don't bother about variations in my speed, as long as I don't stall out and stop skating.  Fully overlap the leg-push and pole-push motions, which results in much higher force on the hang-side.  So the speed is much higher at the end of the hang-side, and much lower at the end of the recovery-side.  Allowing the speed to slow down on the recovery-side is a legitimate way in physics to "assist" the leg-push on the recovery-side (it's like an "inertial" force) -- so the recovery-side leg is not over-burdened.

Result:  uneven distribution of force and speed over the stroke-cycle, but peak forces no more than for (A).  Speed variations produce slightly higher average air resistance drag than (A) -- faster turnover cadence.  Hang-side time shorter than Recovery-side.

Key point:  Physics says that it's easy to shift forces around the stroke cycle to assist or burden different phases (especially when playing closely with gravity-force).  

Turnover (cadence) and Power

There's no doubt if you make three pushes in a shorter stroke-cycle time, you're delivering power at a higher rate than if you made the same three pushes (two leg and one arm) in a longer stroke-cycle time.  So clearly (B) delivers more power.

But up a steep hill, that might be a higher power rate than is sustainable for an endurance performance.  In that case it is critical to find a way to generate power at a lower rate like (A).  Can we modify (B) to do less?

Yes.  If each leg-push is made with a less force, then the power burden will be less.  Due to the magic of skating physics, the range of motion can be adjusted by choosing the appropriate angle of the ski.

If each muscle pushes with less force, but more frequently, method (B) can handle the same power burden as (A), but with lower peak muscle forces.   

The only drawback of higher cadence is the extra work needed recover each leg back in underneath more times.  But this uses different (opposite) muscles from the ones that power the primary skate / "direct lift up" pushes.  So while leg-recovery does use some energy, it does not add significant burden against the critical specific-muscle limits on uphill skate performance.

Therefore looks to me like (B) is the more effective way to climb a steep hill:  make the leg-pushes as continuous as possible, and make the pole-push overlap with the leg-pushes as much as possible -- not try to put much of the pole-push into a "gap" between leg-pushes.

Video observations

First 3 seconds Swenson 1 video on JanneG's website:  Carl Swenson seems clearly to be starting his leg-push as soon as he sets down his hang-side ski -- no "gap" for the pole-push.

Start of PerElof4 video on JanneG's website:  In the first two hang-side strokes, Per Eloffson starts his leg-push as soon as he sets down his hang-side ski

Per Elofsson's hang-side arm and leg are pushing down in synchronized alignment in the EloffsonSlomo video on JanneG's website.

Note the fast cadence by Rene Sommerfeldt when he switches to V1 after 16:00 seconds into the Sommer1 video on JanneG's website.

More arguments for (A)

  • Since the pole-push can deliver a big upward-push force on the body, especially at its start, it makes sense for to use it to take on the "burden" of a distinct phase in the stroke cycle. This enables the stroke cycle to take a longer time, so the average power over the stroke cycle delivered by each leg muscle is lower, even though the power rate while actively pushing is the same -- so there is less lactate accumulation in the leg muscles.
  • the pole-push is normally a longer motion than the leg-push, so it has to "leak" beyond the time of the skate-push at one end or the other.

Objection to (B)

But in the V2 hints and Open Field skate hints, simultaneous start resulted in loss of effective work.

Answer to objection:  That's because there's several up-and-down movements of the hips and butt in V2 and Open Field skate.  So it's important to time the start of the skate-push at when the hips are low, because that's when the sideways range of motion is largest.

But in offset V1 up a steep hill, there should be very little downward motion of the hips and butt.  They should either be moving upward, or holding steady at the same level.  The reason is that in going up a steep hill there is already so much burden on the "upward lift" muscles that you do not want to add the burden of making the same lift twice.

Also since a large percentage of the leg-push force is directed downward (for direct lifting of the upper body), the loss of range of motion out to the side is less important than on flat terrain.

Also, since the main problem on a steep hill is moving the weight of the body vertically upward, it is counter-productive to try to help motion by moving a big portion of body weight downward (by leaning the upper body on the poles and dropping the butt -- to help the pole-push).  If you're moving the upper body down to move the lower body up, the net gain is much less than if you just directly lifted up the upper body.  So there's much less benefit in using up and down motion of the hips and butt to make pole-push force larger.

Therefore in V1 up a steep hill, it doesn't matter so much exactly when the skier starts the leg-push relative to the pole-push.  There is little reason to delay the start of the leg-push.  Waiting to drop the hips and butt a little further before starting the leg-push has little benefit. 

So why not start the leg-push as soon as possible in the stroke cycle?


why not start the pole-push at a different time?

Why start the pole-push at the moment the hang-ski lands?

Proposed analysis:  Since there are only two leg-pushes per complete stroke cycle in V1, and each leg-push goes into a skate-push, the pole-push is essentially all arms and abdominals, not from potential energy supplied by the leg lifting the butt.

So if the pole-push and pole-push are essentially muscularly independent, why does it matter how they are synchronized?

Why not have the pole-push overlap halfway across both leg-pushes?

Why not put the strongest part of the pole-push into a gap between the two leg-pushes?

some possible answers: 

  • putting the pole-push halfway across both would smooth out the force over the stroke-cycle.  Larger variation in velocity results in higher average air-resistance force.

(true, but this effect is not large at the low speeds on steep uphills) 

  • down-force is valuable during the skate-push to help the edge dig into hardpack snow.  The down-force of the pole-push offsets the weight of the skier's body on the edge of the skate-push ski.  The down-force component of the pole-push is largest at the start of the pole-push -- so timing that start during a gap between skate-pushes is the best way to safeguard edge-bite for the skate-push.

(maybe so, but then why use this timing in soft snow where edging is no problem?)

(But going up a steep hill, much of the leg-push of an elite racer is downward as a "direct lift" of the butt and upper body, not so much a "skate" to the side -- so edge-bite is less important, and anyway the greater downward component of the leg-push already supplies extra help for the edge-bite)

  • it's just less bother to coordinate things if the pole-push is synchronized with one of the leg-pushes (or at least its start or its finish is synchronized with something else).  If there's no significant advantage to de-synchronizing (see Classic striding), then might as well synchronize.


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