IIn all the time I spent with Joanna Hall, she barely stopped walking. I saw her coming towards me in Kensington Gardens, London, gliding between other pushchairs as if she were alone on a treadmill. When she caught up with me, I fell into step and we walked for an hour. Eventually, Hall would walk away and she would continue walking, as far as I knew, until we met the following week.
The Halls WalkActive system, a comprehensive walking-based fitness program, aims to improve posture, increase speed, reduce stress on joints and provide fitness, turning a walk into a workout and changing the way you walk forever. He says he can teach me and we set aside four weeks for my education.
It’s easy to be skeptical when someone claims that you can reap huge health benefits just by learning to walk better. You think: I’m already good at walking. And sometimes I walk a lot.
But according to Hall, a fitness expert who enjoyed a three-year stint on ITVs This Morning, hardly anyone is a good walker: not you, not me and not all the other folks in the park, who provide endless lessons in poor technique. . I notice that they are still getting where they are going. Don’t we run the risk of overthinking something that people do without thinking?
Hall tells me, If you ask someone, When you go for a walk, do you like it?, they’ll say, Yes, but if you ask, Have you ever had lower back discomfort?, a lot of people will say, Yes, I have back discomfort. , or feel it when I get out of bed, or tight in my Achilles tendon or stiff in my shoulder. And these are all indicators that an individual is walking suboptimally.
What are we doing wrong? Most of us, she says, tend to walk into the space in front of us. I want you to think about getting out of the space behind you.
If that sounds a bit abstract to you like it does to me, think of it this way at first: A good walk is an act of propulsion, of propelling yourself forward with your back foot. Bad Walk My type of walk is overly reliant on traction: dragging with the front foot. This shortens your stride, puts too much reliance on your hip flexors, and puts strain on your knees.
The struggle to get me to absorb this basic concept takes up most of our first hour together. My initial question about optimal gait was: Will I look crazy? I pictured big strides and pumping arms.
I promise you, you won’t look angry, Hall said. But when you walk uncertainly through a public park while someone instructs you on heel placement, you attract some attention. People think: poor fellow, he has to learn to walk again.
They are not wrong. It takes an enormous amount of focus to do something so basic, and so grounded, in a different way. It starts from the feet: I try to keep an ankle flexible and open, to leave the back foot on the ground for longer and to detach it, heel first, as if it were blocked with Velcro.
Feel the peel, says Hall. Touch. THE. To peel.
Next come the hips: I need to increase the distance between my pelvis and my ribs, stand tall, and create more flexibility through my torso. Then my neck: there needs to be more distance between my collarbone and my earlobes. I have to think about keeping all these things at the same time.
Hall acknowledges that, for starters, there will be what she calls Buckaroo! moments named after the children’s game with a wind-up mule when too much information causes the system to overload. This happens to me when, while busy monitoring my feet, stride, hips, and neck, Hall suggests that the pendulum arc of my arms needs a little more backswing.
What? I ask. My pace collapses. My shoulders sag. My ribs sink. My right heel drags along the sidewalk. I can feel, for the first time, how good my normal walk is. How did I become like this?
Hominids have been walking on two legs for more than 4 million years. It’s more energy efficient than walking on all fours and keeps your hands free for other activities, but this advancement has had its problems. Studies suggest that some common human back problems may stem from spinal characteristics inherited from our knuckle-walking ancestors.
Your walk can also be affected by how you sit, especially when you sit a lot: favoring one hip over the other at your desk or in the car. Little things were constantly creating that default neuromuscular pattern, which is just a little out of sync, Hall says. And it may not translate into anything, but over a period of time it can manifest as discomfort.
Also, he tells me, my shoes are wrong.
In between meetings, I work my way through the Halls WalkActive app, a mix of instructional videos, audio coaching sessions and walks in time to music at varying speeds. At this stage, I’m still perfecting my technique. Imagine having a post-it note on the ball of your foot, Hall says into my headphones as I turn the corner at the end of my street. And you want to show the post-it message to the person behind you. Feel the peel, I think. Read my heel.
Hall conceived of the WalkActive system more than a decade ago, during the double whammy of pregnancy and appendicitis. As soon as I was pregnant, even before I had the appendicitis challenge, I never felt like I wanted to do high-impact activities, she says. So walking was a natural thing to focus on.
She later applied the techniques to her clients, but the regimen she developed was originally for herself. She says: It came from a personal space of wanting to rehab myself, trying to walk through rehab, and going through a fit pregnancy.
The pavilion program may be low impact, but it is not low energy. By the end of our second session together, I’m exhausted, due to the concentration required and the distance we’ve traveled. A study commissioned by Hall showed that participants who completed a month of WalkActive training increased their walking speed by 24%. That alone amounts to a pretty big lifestyle adjustment, and suddenly you find that everyone is standing in your way. I’m not only faster, but taller, too, and my arms swing in a natural, easy rhythm, exuding a confidence that’s completely at odds with the rest of my personality. It looks, frankly, incredible.
Just before 7 a.m. on a Friday morning, I join Halls’ bi-weekly WhatsApp group, along with several dozen other people who also call in from around the country. I can hear the birds singing in my earphones as I walk out the front door, as Hall walks us through 30 minutes of fast, optimal walking in real time.
Leave that back foot on the floor, she says, so it’s a really sticky foot. Feel the peel. I feel it, I think, even though I’m actually stuck at a railroad crossing.
By our fourth and final meeting, I have the right shoes, as Hall advised. They’re ugly, but have a flexible sole and just enough width for your toes to splay out when your foot is on the ground. Today we don’t focus on speed but on varying the pace, slowing it down and shortening the pace, without compromising technique. That’s because, during our third meeting, I mentioned that on regular walks I found myself getting over the people I was with.
I like to say the technique has a dimmer switch, Hall tells me as we pass the Albert Memorial. You can turn it up or down, but it’s always on. He took my boast for a complaint. I didn’t mean that I feel bad for leaving my friends behind. I meant that I’m done with those people.
Perhaps the most telling claim Hall makes is that, in terms of fitness, walking may be enough. It can complement other forms of exercise, such as yoga and pilates, but if you do nothing else, improving your walking can still confer important health benefits.
I’m not anti-running, I’m not anti-gyms, I think they all have a part to play, she says. But I also think that, sometimes, if we just think about the simplest thing we could all do, and get people to do it better, even if someone doesn’t necessarily feel like they want to walk further, even if they just watched them change their walking technique and apply it to their commute, this can be powerful.
This is the real question: if after four weeks of training and 70 new shoes I will continue to walk like this forever. But after leaving Hall in the park, I walk across the street with my head held high, feeling the husk at every step, to my train, in case she’s behind me watching.
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Image Source : www.theguardian.com