By Steve Hindman
Flow is the feeling, flow is the beauty and flow is the key to a graceful and efficient diagonal stride. Flow is an elusive thing to describe but easy to feel when present or absent. Here are a few ideas, concepts and drills to help you keep the flow, baby!
Waiting too long to move onto the next ski wastes effort, disrupts your timing and makes it hard to stay over your gliding foot. It is a lot like getting a bike up to speed and then letting it coast before cranking on the pedals again — more effort is needed to repeatedly get the bike back up to speed than to maintain a consistent speed with more frequent moderate effort. Pedaling a bike at a consistently high tempo is called spinning. To “spin” on skis, move onto the next ski before you lose speed or momentum.
Timing is the logical, linear detail that can help or hinder your flow. The timing of the kick phase is: foot stops, feet pass, leg extends. To stop your ski and begin your kick, you need to be over your front foot and able to continue moving forward by collapsing your front ankle and knee. From this flexed and forward position, you can extend your leg to press your wax or pattern into the snow, creating the grip you need to push forward and onto the next ski.
That’s a lot to think about, let alone do in the correct order and at the right time! To find your timing, switch out of your left brain and simply move sooner onto the next ski. Instead of trying to make each stride perfect and powerful, go for quantity over quality and see what happens.
Playing a game of hot potato from foot to foot will help you find the right time to move onto the next ski. To play, as soon as your full weight is over the ski, pass off the task of supporting your weight to the next leg. This is a bit rushed for most conditions and tasks, but is a great way to feel the freedom, grip and glide that comes from simply moving fluidly from ski to ski.
Push your body forward instead of your ski
The timing for walking is to swing the foot forward, then push the body over the foot. This works fine on dry ground, but not as well on a slick floor or an icy parking lot. To walk on wet floors and slippery surfaces, and to grip the snow with a ski, push your body forward first and then bring your foot forward and beneath you. If the leg swings forward first, you will end up between your skis when it is time to push the ski into the snow. This is why an ineffective kick is called a late kick — the leg and foot have swung forward before the kick begins.
While walking, your hands and legs swing back and forth at roughly the same time. In the diagonal stride, the forward leg swing should be sharp, short and forceful and quicker than the rearwards swing. To correct the timing of a late kick, and increase your flow, relax your rear leg after your push-off is complete. Your rear leg will continue to swing back after the kick, and then gravity will begin to swing it forward. Start your kick (foot stops as described above) before you bring your leg and ski forward with a sharp. short and forceful leg swing (ski stops, feet pass). Your rear foot and ski should arrive in front of you just in time to catch your forward flowing body as you kick onto the next ski. With the kick and leg swing timed correctly, your foot should not appear in front of your thigh and knee as you move from one ski to the other. Glance down as you play with this to see for yourself.
The tell-tale slap of a late kick can also be eliminated by moving farther forward over your front foot before beginning your kick and by lifting your rear toe. The goal is to flow onto your next ski after it is in front of your kicking foot, as shown in photo 1. If your ski hits the snow and is weighted while behind your front foot (photo 2), you will be unable to apply enough weight and pressure for a secure grip, your stride length will be shortened, and your flow will be lost. To land your ski in front of your kicking foot, flex your front ankle to move over your front foot and flex your rear ankle to bring your rear ski tip up and off of the snow before swinging your leg through (photo 3)
As the leg and ski swing through, think of caressing the track with the entire base at once as you land your ski in front of your kicking foot. This will minimize any pressure points along the base and maximize the glide. Focusing on landing the ski parallel to the track will also help eliminate any excess up and down motion (bobbing) from your push-off.
Mimic your leg swing with your arm swing by relaxing your arm and shoulder after the pole push, allowing it to continue to swing back before gravity begins to swing it forward. After your kick begins (ski stops), swing your arm and pole forward with a short, sharp and forceful motion so that your pole plants next to your foot with your hand in front of the basket. Your basket should hit the snow after your ski is weighted. To make this simple, make sure that your forward arm swing takes less time than your pole push.
Keep the Flow, baby!
Steve Hindman lives and skis in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of Cross Country Skiing: Building Skills for Fun and Fitness published by The Mountaineers Books.