The basic movements of skate skiing are more similar to T’ai-chi than any other activity I know. It’s no coincidence that skate skiing is one of the most efficient forms of movement we can do. I will explain the basic similarity here.
In both skate skiing and in most basic T’ai-chi movements we start with our weight on a rear leg set in one direction, and we press off that foundation onto a forward leg set or going in a different direction, usually about 50-80 degrees offset. The fundamental force to transfer from one leg and one direction to the next is a spiral emanating from our center, springing us forward onto the front leg. When we gather and settle on that front leg we then sink a bit (loading the “spring”) and then spring to the next leg.
In T’ai-chi we learn that a spiral is the most balanced, stable, and effective way to transfer energy. A spiral is a combination of both directional and rotational energy, a combination of both yang and yin. In T’ai-chi we also learn to move from our center, a point deep within us just below our navel, and near the front of the spine. I have drawn spirals in the accompanying photos of myself both skating and doing T’ai-chi to illustrate the key force we like to cultivate. If you can operate mindfully with this spiral at the center of your body, you can skate, you can do T’ai-chi, you can do a lot of things a lot more effectively.
When we compare skate skiing with “classic” cross-country stride-skiing, we shouldn’t be surprised that skating is dramatically faster and more efficient. By comparison, when we’re striding in-line, we still want to have a spiral force operating from our center down the power leg, but with the legs both going in the same direction the spiral force is restrained. To use a martial comparison, you wouldn’t want to punch someone or deflect someone’s punch with both your feet facing the same way. I figure that in skating I can go about 15% faster than I can in classic striding, even though my skis are traveling significantly farther, because they’re angling across the track as well as in the direction of travel.
I hope this helps build some more awareness of how our bodies like to work.
© 2016 by Andy Selters