Posts Tagged ‘duane godfrey’

Duane Godfrey: Boom Height for Barefooting

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

I have been fortunate to receive the ski school experience over the years. I watch the instructor like a hawk and notice their exceptional instruction, analysis and driving skills. The staff is also cognizant and adept at changing boom height. On a given day, I have seen the height adjusted up to 20X.

Having seen the light, it seems to me that when skiing recreationally, one should consider changing boom height for different skiers and the tasks at hand vs leaving the boom at a fixed height and suffering through the consequences. On a given set at WBC, I see for example the boom set for starts and one foots (medium height) then lowered for front and back toeholds. For the next skier it might be raised to above medium height for turns and then lowered to medium or lower for toeturns. It all makes sense – learning and practicing under optimal conditions.

Yet recreationally I see groups that NEVER change the height even though these skiers are trying very hard to accomplish their goals. I notice them trying to learn back toe holds where the strap is literally above their head height with the skier wondering why it is so hard to get into the strap when leaning way too far away with straight ski leg trying to get the free leg up to the elusive strap. Same thing for toeups: Contrary to some beliefs, it is harder to learn this trick on the boom with the strap too high. You are less stable on the water with your free leg jacked up, one has to lean a bit further back than desired and it is harder to slam that foot in and/or place it in and drive it down; the upper body should be at least vertical or slightly forward while powering it up. Granted it is slightly easier to toe up on the SFH vs tower because there is some upward assist, however the adjustment in body angle while riding the butt is negligible. It is really pushing down on the standup leg that does the trick. For the simple basic front toe hold, it makes a lot of sense to have the boom lower so it isn’t so much a stretch to get that foot up, out and in the strap. The final act in getting the foot forward and in the strap is a slight arm pull yet when the boom is too high it causes one to straighten the free leg and lean back to get those last few inches. I can’t even type this without holding a mighty ab flex when imagining the dreaded high boom toeup and/or toehold!

WBC also uses a rope extension – usually 5’ (therefore 10’ total) from the boom that helps making it more like the longline. This extension is a really good idea as it also dampens the force pulling the skier straight. I tend to overturn my basic f-b. On the SFH or extension, the error is dampened and I can get away with the error without falling. Whereas on the 5’, when I turn past center, I find the recovery very tough and don’t need a practice fall to remind me. The 5’ is just too artificial to me. The extension also dampens effects of a too high boom.

Next time you are at a ski school, notice the driver’s attention to changing boom height for different skiers and differing tricks. Just my opinion, but I think it a worthwhile investment to get an adjustable boom clamp and becoming “expert” at quickly adjusting height a/r.

Duane Godfrey

Don't let this happen--lower the boom!

Jim Forster: My Barefooting Friend Duane Godfrey

Friday, August 8th, 2014


As we find ourselves right in the middle of the ski season, some of us are engaged in intense barefoot training, trying to improve our tricks, slalom and jump. But you can’t do it alone, you have to ski with other individuals that have similar goals. I have one such friend and ski partner in Duane Godfrey. For those of you not familiar with Duane, he’s one of the most dedicated, focused skiers I have ever met. His nickname ‘Captain Intensity’ can give you an idea of how dedicated he is to improving his skiing, and let me tell you, this guy can ski! I’m a ripe old 53 years old and can barely perform all four 180 surface turns consistently, but Duane who is 5 years older, can perform 180s, 360s and even 540s, including 1 foot turns! When I watch him ski, it gives me inspiration ( and hope ) to improve my skiing and maybe one day I’ll be able to do what he has. He serves as an example to young and old skiers alike that you’re never to old to learn.


But I have to tell you a story about Duane’s latest accomplishment. There he and I were, this past Sunday, skiing at my favorite place and behind my 2004 Sanger. We had perfect conditions, glass calm water and it’s Duane’s turn to ski. He starts with his usual back deep to 44 mph, position turn to the front and then a series of maybe 14 turns in variious combinations ( 360s, 180s, 540s ) and then he ends up in forward BSP. As he rides along, I’m thinking he”ll soon throw the handle to end the pass, but wait, he’s still skiing! He loads ino a front toe hold, waits a few seconds and then does a beautiful toe back. Now I’m thinking, OK, he’s done and he’ll kick out of it and on to the next pass……but wait, he pauses, sets up and does his very first toe front! And let me tell you, it was textbook perfect, no faltering or near butt outs, just a clean feet to feet toe front long line. His arms were raised above his head and he was all smiles, I think I heard his yell over the droning of the boat engine! I was truly amazed at what I just witnessed and now the bar has been raised.

But on top of his skiing, Duane is also a kind, caring person and will go out of his way to help anybody. I first met Duane at the 2010 Worlds in Brandenburg, Germany where we both competed for our countries ( he for Canada, and I for the USA ). We struck up a conversation on the starting dock and the rest is history. Duane comes to Florida to ski when he’s not flying as an Airbus A319/320/321 captain and we train together either at the WBC or in West Palm Beach. Being a pilot myself, the conversation naturally turns to flying when we’re not talking about skiing so there’s no lack of conversation between the 2 of us. As Duane heads off to the Canadian Nationals this weekend and I to the US Nationals next week, I just want to say ‘Good Luck Duane’ and look forward to catching up the next time we meet again!

Jim Forster

Duane Godfrey: Dear Ben and Ash…

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Hey Ben and Ash…or Ash and Ben???

Thanks for your help last week. Not that I don’t know this, but it is always useful to highlight my weak link: the left leg. Hence it was a left leg weak/week.

As I recall, the reverse one foot turns were lousy and even after reverting back to two, they were crap as well…always coming off the turning foot. Don’t know if I pull myself off or just am springloaded to ruin the turn by jamming in the supposed free leg…or both. Would like to go through some video next time down.

So, to break it up I was dismayed to hear Ben inform me that I would be trying shoe reverse line fronts – to force myself on that foot. I knew this would not go well–hence my expectations were well illustrated in the first two or three comedy skits. However, I actually made it around on the 3rd or 4th try, but slammed in the right foot so hard that it felt literally like landing a jump without a cup. Lesson learned and actually started to come to the front balanced on my left foot. Never made 3 in a row, but felt great nonetheless. (Did a “three-zee” with Ashleigh – she’s’ better looking.)

Anyway, I feel pretty pumped about doing a turn I thought impossible…thank you!! And thanks Ash for pointing out that I looked as useless as Ben on the shoe reverse toe front…you will recall that I made one after that incentive…I have standards you know…

In the jump sets, I actually was in control for a couple. Once again thanks Ben for the help and taking the time to illustrate with video between jumps

On the final day with Ash, did a few more reverse line fronts, including a few longline. Thanks Ash for your pointers… “look back, push the handle down and keep it there, turn the hips and ensure a controlled touch down at the front.”

Back wake slalom was a disaster and it was again literally drilled home to STAY LOW – do NOT allow being pulled up; do this event on the tower. Ended up doing cutouts until the feet sizzled. Again, a drill I am in need of.

So, what did I learn:
Stay on the left foot and don’t pull myself up.
Push down on the turning foot
Fight to keep looking at the back
Force the handle down coming to the front
Practice the rev line front regularly and gain some coordination
Exaggerate knee bend in the back px
Keep after jump practice
Stay solid and low in slalom

Thanks again and hope to see you soon


Duane Godfrey: One Foot Turns, A Work in Progress

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

So, I had hoped to finish off the toe-up practice stuff with an accompanying video…but haven’t filmed a video…hence a different topic: Setting up one foot turns

I remember a number of years back at Gliding Soles, that Keith told me about a better way of executing one foot turns. He explained that Eugene Sam had come up with the idea of turning like a stork with the raised foot pinned to the calf of the pivot leg. Keith said it was sound advice and that he was changing his technique.

We had all previously learned the one foot turn as holding one foot BSP, foot straight out front, and then executing the turn by turning the free foot from toes up (front) to toes down (back). This way worked for me (basic only) and my own particular thought was to reach the back px thinking of pointing my heel at the boat – to aid in not flailing the leg. However, I tend to overturn and I am sold on the advice of WBC of pinning the free leg because it will solve important aspects of the turn. When you pin foot to your calf, it forces you to turn with the correct forces and it is harder to throw the turn. Therefore, it is not comfortable when you have previously used other body parts/actions to throw the turn. As recently explained by David Small, the position feels awkward but one eventually adjusts, and the turns become much better controlled. It is better controlled because it
A. forces the proper use of the hips and
B. eliminates a flailing free leg throwing off the C of G hence losing balance….a flailing free leg is a lot of weight/force/distraction to contend with. Watch Ashleigh Stebbeings turn – very little movement, totally compact.

When I see falls from just basic one foots, it is a rarity that the fall occurs while standing on one: it is when the free leg contacts the water; therefore it is imperative that the foot goes back down with as much caution/rhythm as when it is lifted…same thing for turns. Putting the foot down early aborts the turn and will likely cause a fall or if lucky, just downgrade the turn. I am finding by trial and error that the penalty/faceplant for putting down early is not worth the unnecessary caution. Hiking the free leg, especially in the b-f, provides less opportunity to drop down and increases commitment.

I think a lot about skiing at home and what I want to try when I get back to FL. My f-b’s are overthrown and causes the free leg to flail hence adding to an imbalance and a battle to get balance at the back, therefore it is wasted time and setting up for failure. So, I need to setup and keep the free foot glued…relax..don’t overturn…stick the “landing” at the back px by coming down/cushioning. (Another tip from Mr. Small) For b-f (the harder turn and should be higher point value), I need different thoughts for my particular weaknesses -ie being pulled out of position, dropping the free leg, slow to regrab the handle, dropping the “free” shoulder, and being a wimp. Therefore setup with knee hiked, hold the shin flex all the way, and visualize success and the perfect front px. When I let go, keep looking back, hold up free shoulder while hiking the raised knee even higher, maintain strong shoulder, KEEP EYES OPEN, when coming to the front keep that handle in, ensure good knee bend and get that handle……C’mon you can do this as long as you keep that free leg raised HIGH!!!!

The above are what I think of for training and visualization. Then I will have to come up with one or two execution thoughts based on how it’s going and what I need. Finally, when the time comes, I am fortunate to have on-the-scene advice from WBC. You will have your own issues and lists.

Meanwhile I am sold on the pinned free leg concept and will work hard at trying to make my mind and body adjust.

I love this sport!

By: Duane Godfrey

Visualizing one foot turns

Duane Godfrey: Dryland Toe Up Practice

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

As I glance at my workout area I philosophize on the strength and technique of barefoot skiing. Winter is coming so all that most skiers can do now is stay in shape or get in shape for the spring through strength and dryland training. The way I choose to workout is to emphasize core and plyometrics; Multi-tasking balance exercises lunge/leap/hop/jump ex’s.

Meanwhile there are sport specific exercises one can easily formulate…it’s not rocket science… just mimic, add resistance and visualize. I don’t really agree however that one can thoroughly train the toeup through dryland practice as it is hard to simulate being pulled up. I believe that the best way to aid the toeup  is to really work the movement through exploding up one legged squats and jumps. Also, though I don’t advocate the exaggerated rock and throw technique in the actual toeup, (watch the pros – they just stand up without theatrics) I like to end a hard workout with rollups. Just drop down, roll back and then explode up without pushing off your free hand. I like to do these as a 2 foot standup and then roll up on one holding the free leg as in the toe up.

Doing this, especially when tired, really forces timing, foot placement and forward movement transformed upward. It also provides understanding of how all the forces come together to effectively get up by pushing straight down at the right moment.  It is a great core and plyo exercise combined; see how many you can do in a row! As a bonus, roll up and jump. If you can do a whole bunch, strength will not be an issue when you accomplish this start in the spring.

Next blog…practicing the toeup on water.

By: Duane Godfrey

The 2013 Canadian Barefoot Nationals

Monday, September 9th, 2013

The Canadian Nationals were held August 16-18 with site familiarization on the 15th. When I arrived Thurs afternoon, the wind was blowing around 30-45K (20-30 mph for the metrically challenged).  As the skiers trickled in, we were all amazed that the water was entirely skiable, in fact barely any roughness at all, so we all had the chance to practice slalom and trick runs.

Dwight Williams

The entire site was amazing. The hosts, Dwight and Michelle Williams, had a dream a few years back of having a ski lake. From start of digging (10 days) to skiing was 37 days as they created a world class venue. Becky Moynes (our new Canadian open women champion) got a hold of Dwight and Michelle in the spring of 2013 and they offered to host our Nationals. The preparation for our arrival was astonishing. Dwight even built a LARGE skier dock for the event.  As such, hands down, it is everyone’s opinion that this was the best venue and best ever event for Canadian barefoot skiing.

The boat crew change dock. A large screen TV was setup in the shade for spectators to watch the live feed.

Dwight set up bleachers in front of the jump. This location was also a great vantage point for watching the trick and slalom runs.

The Williams Family--I'm hoping they'll adopt me

The Canadian Nationals are held over 3 days: the Canadian Challenge RC (Fri), the Canadian championships (Sat) and the Canadian Open (Sun). The organizing committee went one further, make that three further, by having extended familiarization on Thursday, an extra “round” on Friday, AND allowed everyone to ski Sunday rather than just the usual top 8. Hence, Trick Jump Slalom on Fri, Sat and Sun for all who entered. On Fri, the extra round was basically familiarization for any skiers wanting extra practice and receive instruction. Steve Keating made his longline back deep, having never fully attempted this start prior to the tourney, while all the other skiers benefited from practicing  and being coached through the steps.

Travelling from afar, Lake Havasu AZ, was Gord Croteau, back for his umteenth Canadian National. Gord placed 2nd in jump, slalom and overall. There was a large contingent of Team Gordie fans (wearing team Gordie shirts) cheering him on as Gord performed somersaults in his slalom runs. We had only one American guest, Matt Michaelski who drove from Michigan and picked up Don Schwartz (2012 worlds Sr gold medalist) at Pearson Airport. Matt was back for his 2nd Canadians and participated as skier and driver. We will all be glad to see the return of our friend from Michigan.

Matt Michaelski ruining a perfectly good shot

Ruth and moi…enhancing this shot of the lake

Ruth and moi -- enhancing the shot of the lake

The weather on all 3 days of competition was perfect, hence perfect water conditions. Turn around times were minimal as the lake washed out immediately. The organization was flawless as Terry Jones, the entire Mike Spence family, Tim Weekes, Al, Barb and Becky Moynes and skier volunteers executed great driving, judging, scoring, boat changes, postings and venue adaptions.  When a slight washback was noticed from the jump on Thurs famil, Terry Jones took the initiative to turn the jump 90 degrees during trick/slalom and voila: no washback; perfect ski conditions hence only one reride, for rollback. The length of the lake was more than adequate and I can’t remember anyone running out of lake. As such many PB’s and records were posted.

Terry Jones working on the jump

Ski jump perpendicular to the lake for trick and slalom…and that might very well be my handle flying by!

The Weekes’ Sanger. Al Moynes, seen handling the rope while I slack off, judged all events hence was in the boat all day, every day. Al is a well respected Level 1 judge with three World championships experience.  George Weekes is driving, Becky is judging, Ross Holden (Mens 8 champ) is recording, and I am trying to figure out why I always miss one of two waves.

The dreaded visit with Paul Roberts on the pickup vessel. Paul is president of the OWSA – Ontario Waterski Association who travelled to Napanee and volunteered to counsel disheartened skiers. Here Ross Holden is in session with the Pres.

Enroute to a visit with Paul

One intangible that sets the tone for Canadian Nationals is the attitude of the skiers and officials toward each other. Our Nationals are low stress, friendly competitions where the skiers know each other well, volunteer and go out of their way to welcome newcomers. We had three skiers competing for the first time that did very well and showed great potential; all commented that their reticence to compete in a national competition was alleviated due to the friendly attitudes of the regulars and the officials….Mission accomplished and lessons learned.

Don Schwart,z having a laugh with newcomer Mason Timmerman and his dad Rob. The Spence girls, Michelle and Melissa, having just finished their trick runs. Marcel Brunet and Morgan Allen set to walk onto the start dock for their trick runs. We used Marcels Sanger for the slalom event and 2nd jump boat. Morgan Allen is Bram Alllen’s dad…Bram took 3rd place in Open trick

Steve and Shelley Keating took a free elevator ride to watch Terry in action.

The banquet was superb with great food, short speeches, some good laughs, competition videos played in the background and awards kept short. The overall medals were awarded at the ski site where in attendance were hundreds of friends of the Williams, followed by a great band and dance, fireworks and ski video being played off the side of the workshop with hundreds taking in the barefooting spectacle. Did I mention helicopter rides in the afternoon?

George Weekes was crowned Canadian champion, winning all 3 events and Becky Moynes took her rightful place at the top. This is a very proud moment for Mike Spence, VP Barefoot skiing Ontario, and the Weekes and Moynes families whose contributions have enhanced barefoot skiing in Ontario and Canada.

The dance following the awards…you can see on the right, tourney barefoot runs projected on the workshop.

Mike Spence, Becky Moynes and George Weekes

The Moynes Family

One final note about Becky Moynes and the hosts, Michelle and Dwight Williams. What a wonderful time had by all! Becky got the ball rolling, handled all the organization, skied, worked as an official and tourney director, and won in all aspects. Dwight is living large and created a spectacle unmatched. Thanks again for making this happen.

By: Duane Godfrey

Back to the Basics with Barefooting

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

duane godfrey taking a faceplant

Every time I go skiing with Keith St. Onge, I enjoy our conversations about health, fitness, eating habits and…thinking. This goes way back to when we first met at Gliding Soles, (his first barefooting school, also the name of his new book, Gliding Soles, Lessons from a Life on Water) – he was fun to hang with and was an open book on eating and training well. For me, shooting the breeze with Keith is always a great opportunity to learn all I can from a proven practitioner. I want to know what the best skiers think in setting up for accomplishing a trick and/or thoughts/focus before and during a slalom pass. It is important for me to unclutter the mind and just focus on what I need to think. It comes down to what works for me and what I need to be focused on. What I don’t need is to clutter my diminishing/clogged hardrive with superfluous over-thinking, when I should be focusing on one or maybe two setup thoughts. These need to be ingrained: hence the topic…ingrain the basics and free up the mind.

It is no wonder that the basics are the core of WBC’s mantra. Prior to joining  the World Barefoot Center, I was fortunate to work with those who also identified my weaknesses. Both Richard Gray and Paul MacDonald insisted that I need to smarten up and ingrain the basics to become a better and more consistent skier. Each have pushed one foots and toeholds – especially back toeholds, while their tone persuaded me get on it to avoid their ire. What has dogged all my back to-front one foot turns over the years – surface, line and toeturns is the fact that my basic forward one foot skiing position is terrible. To prove the point I was asked to merely demonstrate basic forward one foot position…

WRONG!! Foot forward, plowing, and straining was what I ended up with. “Do a front toehold” – foot flat, shin 90degrees to foot/water (shin flex), proper amount of knee bend – effortless…so then they’d ask, “why can’t you do a front one foot?”… obviously because I never thought anything of it other than just mindlessly doing something before something else. By concentrating on this one aspect, my one foot back-to-front surface turn, line front and toe fronts became much easier and actually do-able. So for me, since this is not yet ingrained, I need to remind myself that when coming to the front, I need shin flex and flat foot.

David Small has helped my back skiing setup by reminding me to ski flatter on my foot in preparing for the 1 foot b-f as well as pulsing down (absorbing the turn)when reaching the back from a 1 foot turn or toeback– these points are definitely helpful hence major setup thoughts – for now.  My goal will be to make this automatic so I can be more in tune with the turn itself – I still don’t see the turn, and for that I need to concentrate and actually have my eyes open!….Always see where I have been.

Back toes are another block-builder that I plan to do on a more regular basis.  It takes strength, determination, balance, smoothness, vision and accuracy to perfectly track the trough without movement….sounds like a challenge!  If the toes burn, you know immediately that the foot is not flat enough. If you are moving to the side, chances are there is not enough shin and foot flexion. When anything goes wrong with a back toe, it identifies a weakness hence a very good indicator to the skier of what needs attention thereby also improving self analysis. When doing back toes, one has to do everything in unison – again, a great skill to practice. Deliberately going off balance and rectifying are great exercises for overall skiing and completing the toe-back. These are important skills that sets one up for success in turns and wake crossings.

In conclusion, I will strive to remember that barefoot skiing is a lot of fun but can become a chore when only working toward tournament scores. Therefore, Note to self:  I will take the time to practice the basics and ratchet down the intensity;  striving to perform smooth and controlled warm up passes to set the tone for the harder stuff……….Stuff that requires solid basics.

Duane Godfrey

Duane Godfrey: Learning the Right Way

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

So, wondering what to write about, I came across a sentence in Carol Jackson’s blog on injury:

When you suffer a traumatic experience with a sports related accident, the episode is imprinted on a primitive part of the brain concerned with self preservation and survival.

Just change “brain” to face and brain and I can tell you about my first, and last for many years, barefoot waterskiing front to back!

My ski experience way back when, was to slalom ski until my lungs and forearms were bursting. Have a few more beers and challenge any driver to dump me off of a tractor tube towed by a super stretch/whippy Kmart waterski rope. Anyway, when completely bagged with bathing suit in tatters, I might top off a day of boat safety with a step off start at 55mph and then just stand there…maybe cross the wake a few times. Throw the handle and flip in. I needed a new challenge. And then… one day on TV and with great astonishment, I saw people barefoot skiing in special suits (likely to prevent bathing suit loss) doing actual turns! Was that possible? I guess so. Well – that’s for me!

So I told my buddies I was going to turn to the back and my instructions were “give me everything and trim that engine as high as it will go without bouncing – I’ll need more speed for this.” Up we go, and yes the engine is rising, the wake is imperceptible, off comes the ski and all is well. Now you see, I would naturally know that in order to barefoot ski you need at least 55 but faster was even better. How did I know this? I am young(er) and knew more about everything than I think I know now. So, I am wise, cool and relaxed…all I need to do is imagine a trick ski turn on a vertical axis and execute. When I get to the back, deal with it. Ok – quick rehearsal…slight down-weight about 2 inches and lead turn with head and shoulders – the body will follow… spot the horizon, keep a near vertical axis and be prepared to ski backwards. I’m cool, here goes…down-weight 2 inches, lead the turn with head and…..

Have you ever careened around a corner and raced up the stairs only to discover that the stairs go down? You might know whilst frozen in midair, that you have time for a complete or half thought like “Uh oh” or “brace for impact”! When you try a trick ski style barefoot turn at 55, no such thought materializes as the sideway impact occurs faster than your synapses fire – or at least if you are blessed
like me and perpetually a few frames behind actuality. As I floated in a lifejacket, that by miracle was still attached, I looked around for a boat obscured by eyebrow and flying chromium bats that were plentiful and splendid indeed; meanwhile asked myself, whatever happened to my daring endeavor?

I think I was looking maybe a bit sideways and have no recollection of the many sideways head/heels cartwheels executed down the lake with rigid body in perfect trick ski stance….for you see, I was still executing the turn though in a different time dimension–wondering where the horizon went. I’m not sure of what grade of concussion I experienced but I knew the performance wasn’t even close. Oh well, the day was young–so I went tubing etc., and decided to put that project, and skiing on bare feet, away for a while.

Dani Tipping wrote an article on a trick that eluded her: Taking some time away allowed a reset of her brain so she could accomplish the trick later in a different mindset. I needed a brief time-out …about 12 years. So, fast forward to 1998 when I first saw a boom and learned a backward start from my awesome friends, Roy and Christine Chidgy. I let out a loud yelp and next time, thought I would rip off a celebratory back to front. Hence commenced the epic saga of how many times you can paste yourself sideways.
That is a whole other story as I instantly engrained the matter of which I shall repeat, what Carol Jackson
said :

When you suffer a traumatic experience with a sports related accident, the episode is imprinted on a primitive part of the brain concerned with self preservation and survival.

No matter what my good intentions were, I could not execute without my subconscious kicking in and aborting the mission. Well, I finally got it in spite of myself then headed to a bonafide ski school for a week learning the basics and nailed the f-b on the 3rd attempt following a solid lead-in. What a feeling! Later, got the rev f-b 1st try but am still fighting with the rev b-f. Why you ask? Because I learned the basic b-f incorrectly. On the f-b, I learned the trick after a considerable time-out and executed the trick under professional guidance with a clean slate.

I came to understand the following by learning from professionals–strive to learn a maneuver the correct way from the outset, and then, only when you are prepared to accomplish that trick, do so following a solid pre-preparation of engrained basics. Seeing a young man like Chandler Cargile execute his first turn, through doing exactly what he is TAUGHT, is great motivation for me and solidifies the right and wrong ways to learn this wonderful sport. Do this–learn from the pros, and Bob’s your Uncle!

By: Duane Godfrey

Where does “Bob’s Your Uncle” come from?

Strengthening Shoulder Muscles for Barefooting

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

What do Brian Heeney, Mike Holt, Joe Pressendo, Dave Miller, Teri Larson and yours truly have in common…besides being old farts (sorry Teri)?

Before you can answer, shall we pause for a commercial?

The mechanic says to his customer “You can pay me now or pay me later.”

We are talking about preventive maintenance and recurring shoulder stress in this post. The skiers above are world competitors who had shoulder surgery over the past few months–six skiers under the knife and relegated to long and arduous rehabilitation. This is not just an infliction of the old; aggravation and injury can occur at any age. Why then, you might ask, are the best skiers unaffected? For one; they are in the best shape and two; they ski in perfect position, turn correctly and maintain perfect position. Therefore preventive maintenance comes from both skiing correctly and strengthening. Many of us are negligent on both counts though personally, the former attribute has eluded me.

I was diagnosed with a full thickness tear over five years ago and managed to keep it at bay through constant stretching and strengthening of the rotator cuff muscles; rehab and preventive maintenance definitely work. In the end, I could not keep my arm pulled in– hence contacted the local surgeon. After a six-hour surgery and three months later, I can now lift a 2lb weight above my head and do one pushup. You too can experience this fun filled atrophy … or you can be a proactive. I recommend “prehab” over “rehab” and will interject my opinions on ski fitness.

Please look at the following to increase your understanding of how the shoulder works and see what comprises the rotator cuff. Note the complex muscle and tendon system that keep the shoulder in its “socket” or the humerus head within the labrum. The shoulder is designed to be inherently unstable to achieve remarkable ROM (range of motion). The Amazing Amy, my athletic therapist, likens it to a golf ball on a tee where the rotator cuff muscles allow it to move and stay balanced in the tee.

The goal here is to gain an appreciation of the shoulder’s fragile complexity and what it is you are trying to protect. Just watch a bit and take what you like out of it:

Rotator Cuff Tutorial

Anatomy of the Shoulder

How the Muscles are Attached to the Humerus

Can a Rotator Cuff Tear Heal By Itself?

When we ski, particularly whilst turning, there can be tremendous forces exerted on the shoulder(s), particularly when out of position. (Chest proud, look where you’ve been, trust the turning leg and keep the arm in… are WBC mantra that will prevent being pulled out of position…(and note to self: don’t hang onto falls) Also, a windmill fall, where the limbs are flailing during the cart-wheeling water entry can whip the shoulder past its normal limits. A skier with better ROM has a better chance of surviving this intact.

A tear to one or more tendons, the labrum and other structures can be the result of one hard fall or cumulative repetitive strain and inflammation. The ensuing discomfort from repetitive strain can likely be relieved by icing and taking an anti-inflammatory and/or just laying off for a while. An inflamed supraspinatus tendon can rub on bone so like little piranha teeth– it will gradually cut a bigger and bigger tear until the only remedy is surgery… and quite a relief at that.

So, let’s get to the point: We all stay in decent shape and workout regularly…right? We know this is a physically demanding sport requiring a minimum threshold of strength and superior muscle tone and flexibility. We therefore know we need to prepare ourselves physically to meet the demands. The fitter you are, the more resistant you will be to the inevitable falls, forces and strains. Since shoulder pain/injury is perhaps the most common malady, why wouldn’t we spend just a bit of time strengthening and toning those structures that keep the shoulder secure?

Unfortunately, I feel this has been a neglected area of thought/exercise. So, find some time to do rotator cuff exercises and/or combine them with other exercises to save time. Here is my opinion/recommendation to get the best bang for the buck for overall fitness:

• Don’t lift heavy weights – strive for lean. You want a high strength to weight ratio for this sport. Do all exercises perfectly and isolate – you can’t isolate and achieve perfection with too heavy a weight as you will employ the “wrong” muscles while the “required” muscles undergo atrophy. The result of this will produce incorrect firing patterns that exacerbate the situation and create a habit that is very difficult to retrain. (This is a whole other issue that is prominent in arthritic knees where atrophy can cause complete shutdown of certain muscles hence compensation and an ingrained non-synchronous firing pattern…another battle I am fighting.)

• Balance while exercising and try off balance exercising to get the proprioceptors firing
• Perform explosive exercise – plyometrics…leaping, lunging etc
• Take care of your frame – strengthen the core, commit to yoga or another regime for flexibility and calm. Take all stretching and rotator cuff exercises to the full ROM and hold for 30s. Many of the yoga poses increase ROM and strengthen the rotator cuff hence it is a very good form of exercise for barefoot water skiing.
• Do regular rotator cuff exercises and stretches with a cane or dowel, Theraband and very light dumbbells. Combine with leg exercises.
I have 18 exercises done in 3 sets that take around 40min performed 3x/day…keeping in mind that 3 tendons were re-attached and the labrum was fully lacerated. You would only require a few because prehab is a lot easier than rehab! I also do a lot of stretching and exercise of the shoulder while walking. At completion of rehab and embarking on prehab maintenance, it will probably take 5-10min a couple times/day or, stretch before and exercise after skiing. Or just do something for the shoulder whenever it crosses your mind – you don’t have to be in a gym at a set time and place to shoulder strengthen. The following exercises are pretty simple to do however it is imperative to stretch and exercise to absolute full ROM:

• Inner and outer rotation at varying angles – be creative here
• Flexion (forward), Extension (behind), 45degree plane and abduction (side) with thumbs up, thumbs down and palms down. I prefer exhaling going up and exhaling going down. At the top, strain for every last 2.54 cm upwards.
• Small, controlled arm circles or alphabets at all angles and writing the alpahabet on the wall rolling a tennis ball in front mid and high and to the side mid and high and behind.

There are lots of examples on youtube that illustrate the above. The following is one and only a couple exercises are done. I like the method except for the last exercise where it should be done a lot slower and to full ROM…probably requires a lighter weight. Do this while rolling your IT band and this can be one of your greatest hits!

The following video has some good stretches:

In order to do the squatted exercise I think you’d have to be Gumby!

All the above can be done anytime anywhere, with or without very light weights and/or using a $5 Theraband. I have never lifted more than 5lbs doing rotator cuff exercises and the band can be taken anywhere. One needs to constantly remind oneself to pull the shoulders back and down and hold them there while concentrating on being still/statuesque and using the back to derive and increase the movement to the full ROM. The rhomboids will become stronger and you will be using/strengthening the rotator cuffs properly since they attach at the scapula (back). In other words, do all the exercises with concrete posture and really isolate. Watch and learn from others who exercise incorrectly ie see someone doing arm circles or lifts by throwing their shoulder using the large muscles and momentum to get the arm around…do it yourself incorrectly then do it controlled by not moving the shoulder or traps – notice and feel the difference in your lats– see that your better way takes more effort and tires your back; realizing that your method is actually exercising the small rotator cuff muscles. Why not balance on one leg whilst doing this and rip off one legged squats for good measure?

Bring shoulder awareness and posture into your constant conscious thought. What I mean by constant is to always think when raising a hand, that this will be accomplished without hiking the shoulder; rather raising with your scapular muscles whilst feeling the firing in your lats and back – ie reach into a cupboard or up to a shelf keeping the shoulder down. When you reach maximum height, stretch for more and you will be using the rotator cuff muscles to achieve “accessory movement” of the humerus head to the limit of the cuff. It takes conscious effort but it will become habit. Constant would also mean doing the exercises while walking and/or exercising the legs in your gym.

Shoulder exercises when done properly have the bonus effect of forcing correct posture; better posture makes for better resistance to the pull. The goal while skiing would be to ski relaxed yet hold posture while positioning the shoulders as indicated above. This positioning will greatly relieve forces on the rotator cuff. When I get back in the late spring, I will be doing my absolute best to keep my shoulders secure and not allow being pulled out of position….and really; this is in fact exactly what is instilled at WBC. I don’t want to throw away all this hard work!

Do you love barefoot skiing? Want to do it for a long time? Want to ski your best and avoid the knife? Performing shoulder prehab will minimize chance for injury and make you a better and more durable skier.

Good luck. Hope to see you soon on the dock warming up those shoulders.

Duane Godfrey