Counter Balance Within PMTS
PMTS has its own terminology to describe skiing that is different from traditionally used -- for example, PMTS uses counter balance other systems use inclination and angulation. Many people from within traditional teaching systems have argued that PMTS simply uses different terminology for already existing concepts. As a PMTS instructor who is very familiar with the more traditional concepts, I know that the differences are not merely semantic. They are substantive. This awareness led me to begin a comparison of key concepts across official published materials. Originally, I had finished an article on the difference between the concept of angulation and counter balance, but after some really good feedback from several people, I have decided to hold off on any comparison right now and just make a simple post on the history of counter balance within PMTS. Doing this has been really useful for me and has highlighted some aspects of counter balance to which previously, I had not paid attention. Hope you also find it useful. Enjoy.
For this discussion of counter balance within PMTS, I have used the Anyone Can Be an Expert Skier (ACBES) series, The PMTS instructor?s Manual, and documents published on the HSS and PMTS websites.
Though there had been forum posts on counter balance dating back at least 2 years before the publication of Essentials, it was not until it?s publication that readers had seen explicit definitions and discussions of counter balancing in published form.
However, earlier writings offer some useful information about the concept?s meaning and development within PMTS. While it could be argued that many of the pole use exercises of ACBES 1 and 2 and the PMTS Instructor Manual address lower/upper body coordination (e.g., raising the inside hand, the strong arm, tucking in the stance side elbow when prepping for the pole plant, the pole basket push, etc.,), it is not until within ACBES2 that there is detailed explanation of the specific movements involved in lower/upper body coordination.
Lower/Upper Body Coordination in the ACBES Series
Much of the early discussion in ACBES2 focused on the more general concept of combined counter acting movements. The general picture of these movements is presented in the ACBES2 edge lock exercises (Harb, 2001 pp. 110-118). The overall image is one of rotating the upper body away from the turning direction of the skis while leaning the upper body toward the stance ski. In the immediately following section of ACBES2, within the arch-hand lift exercise (Harb, 2001 pp. 118-122), one can see the first identification of counter balancing in specific. The arch-hand lift exercise results in ?an upper body counter tilting? against the tipping action of the free foot that is meant to establish solid balance on the stance leg (Harb, 2001, p. 120). ?Coordinating ski and foot action with the upper body counter tilting is the goal of this exercise? (Harb, 2001 p. 118). These opposing and separate movements of the lower and upper body -- tipping the feet in one direction while ?counter tilting? the upper body in the opposite direction ? is the essence of counter balance. An additional important theme developed throughout ACBES2 is the idea that ankle movements create edging and the upper body movements are a secondary and independent reaction to the movements of the lower body for balance. In short, upper body movements are not edging movements; they are balancing movements. However, upper body movements become important for edging because the limits of one?s ability to firmly balance on one?s stance ski as one edges is a basic limiting factor determining how far one will be able to edge.
Counter Balance as an Essential
By the publication of Essentials of Skiing, the description of ?upper body counter tilting? is identified as the essential movement of ?counter balancing.? Essentials offers a much more detailed and explicit handling of counter balancing. There is an overview of how it fits into the turn sequence (Harb, 2006 pp. 12-15) and a complete chapter detailing the movement and effects of counter balancing along with targeted dry-land and on-snow exercises (Harb, 2006 pp. 119-137). In essentials, counter balancing is defined as the ?side to side tilting of the upper body at the waist or belt line? (Harb, 2006 p.12). More specifically, ?. . . the muscles that pull your ribs toward your pelvis in a lateral crunch, or bend, are the ones that counter balance the tipping action of your feet? (Harb, 2006 p.58 ).
Essentials continues the previous themes of ACBES2. First, the reader is reminded in several places that ?tipping is the first, primary quantity? (Harb, 2006 p. 12) and that ?tipping begins at the base of the chain? and the upper body adjusts as a reaction (Harb, 2006 p. 38 ). Second, it is reiterated that using ?complimentary movement of the torso [simply] allows you to attain higher angles with the feet at the base of the kinetic chain? (Harb, 2006 p. 39). In other words, counter balancing is a movement that complements/limits the tipping movements of the feet, rather than being an edging movement in itself.
Additionally, within Essentials, one can also see the description of two different uses/effects of counter balancing movements. The first use of ?counter balancing? is a relatively common sense one. At relatively slow speeds or low pressure parts of the turn, if there is tipping with no counter balancing, one immediately begins to lean and fall over. This is especially apparent when tipping the skis toward the downhill edges to engage the high-C part of the turn. Counter balance is a necessary ingredient for the high-C and it must be established before the edges change or going ?upside down to the hill? will ensure a loss of balance. ?If you wait until you are on your new edges to counter balance, it?s too late? (Harb, 2006, p. 119). One sign of insufficient counter balance in actual skiing, can be habitually weighting the inside ski (Harb, 2006 p. 57). For many people the inside ski is habitually weighted to mitigate the loss of balance that resulted from insufficient counter balancing against the tipping actions of the feet.
Another use of counter balancing is to control and manage the dynamic forces of the lower body. In more dynamic situations, ?the strong tipping of the lower body creates momentum in the direction of the turn, [therefore], there is a need of some upper body actions to counter this momentum? and keep the upper body from being successively tossed from turn to turn (Harb, 2006 pp. 12-13; p. 121).
If one skis on terrain and at a level that never requires a high level of dynamism, then one can get by without a highly dynamic counter balance. However, for anyone needing powerful, fast, or short turns, how dynamically one counter balances can be a determining factor for success (Harb, 2006 p. 120).
?Counter balancing? the dynamic forces of the turn requires the contraction of the muscles on the stance leg side of the torso. As the ?movement at the bottom of the kinetic chain causes my right hip to move or push to the [inside of the turn]? (Harb, 2006 p. 47) and the upper body crunches toward the outside of then turn, the muscles of free foot side of the torso stretch. Either an inability to contract or stretch the appropriate muscles can limit one?s ability to dynamically counter balance. Therefore, Essentials contains tips and exercises for strengthening and stretching the needed muscles.
Recent Additions to the Description of Counter Balance
Since the publication of Essentials further development of materials on counter balancing has continued. In a PMTS Newsletter article (?Energy that Helps Release after the Turn? Harb, 2006b ), there appears a detailed description of how the tension in the stretched side of the torso during counter balancing can be used to help the release and transition in dynamic turns.
If you contract the muscles on the right side of the torso, pulling the right ribs toward the right hip, then the left side will be stretched. In order to release the tension developed in the left side, one must only relax the right side. If you alternate the counter balancing movements rhythmically from side to side, then each time you relax one side, you get the spring effect on the other side of the torso that will start to pull you in the new direction (Harb, 2006b p. 4).
However, in order to be able to use the stretch response ?the muscle must be stretched beyond its relaxed length? (Harb, 2006b p. 6). ?If you are counter balancing, you can?t just tighten the muscles while the torso remains in line with the legs; you have to tilt the torso? and settle the hip into the turn ?enough to stretch the muscles on the free-foot side of the torso? (Harb, 2006b p. 6).
At this point, as the old stance leg is relaxed to release the turn, the contracted muscles of the torso can be relaxed in unison. The result is a quicker than usual edge change and movement of the body into a strong counter balance for the high C part of the new turn. However, ?in order to derive a benefit from pre-stretching the muscle, you have to release the stretch and contract those muscles right away? (Harb, 2006b p. 7). Just as the engagement and release of the lower body movements must be dynamic and without hesitation, the contraction and release of the counter balance must be dynamic and committed. When done correctly, the lower and upper body movements coordinate and reinforce each other in dynamic rhythm.
More recently, Harald Harb published a short, web article addressing the role of the pelvis in counterbalancing (Harb, 2007). In this article, he states that a consistent issue for many skiers at all levels is how to drop or settle the hips into the turn. Skiing with a ?high outside hip? limits the edge angles one can effectively achieve, limits the effects of counter balancing, makes it harder to counter act, and makes it harder to access the stretch response for dynamic counter balancing. Learning to settle the hips into a more level position requires the skier to adjust the muscle tension at the stance foot hip socket that allows the free-foot hip to rise relative to the tipping angle of the leg. If this is not done, the outside stance hip stays ?high? and the hips never settle into an effective countering position. However, this movement is not something most of people experience in their daily lives at the level that is needed for skiing. Therefore, for many people, it is something that has to be introduced outside of skiing and systematically practiced as counter balancing is learned. While there are some exercises in Essentials that address this issue (for example, the pole lean exercise), this article offers more focused dry land exercises to build awareness and control of the necessary movements.
Harb, A., Rogers, D., Hintermeister, R., and Peterson, K. (1998) PMTS Direct Parallel Instructor Manual. Harb Ski Systems Inc.
Harb, H. (1997) Anyone can be an expert skier 1. Hatherleigh Press.
Harb, H. (2001) Anyone can be an expert skier 2. Hatherleigh Press.
Harb, H. (2006) Essentials of skiing. Hatherleigh Press.
Harb, H. (2006) Energy that helps release after the turn. PMTS Newsletter, Vol. 7 No. 1. October 2006: PMTS.org (http://www.pmts.org/newsletter/0610/0610.pdf).
Harb, H. (2007) PMTS quick improvement: the pelvis in conter balancing. HarbSkiSystems.com. (http://www.harbskisystems.com/harald/061028.htm).