I was recently back in the UK visiting home. I spent much of the time in Sheffield, where I grew up, visiting friends and family. While I was there I did lots of walking, and Sheffield and the nearby Peak District is VERY hilly. These are not the gentle rolling hills of Wilmington, Delaware where I live, but steep hills – “real” hills! According to Wikipedia, Sheffield’s “lowest point is just 29 metres (95 ft) above sea level…, while some parts of the city are at over 500 metres (1,640 ft).” While this definitely creates some wonderfully beautiful scenery, it also, needless to say, presents challenges to anyone walking in the area!
As an Alexander Technique teacher I was aware that I was using a LOT of effort to walk up these steep hills – but how much was actually necessary? I started experimenting with different ways of thinking and directing my movement. The most helpful thing, by far, for me to be aware of, was that of one leg always moving backwards in relation to my body. I’d already been thinking of this phenomenon quite a bit thanks to a blog entitled “A Question of Legs” by Alexander Technique teacher Karen Evans. Using this awareness when walking uphill proved incredibly helpful in reducing the amount of effort (excess tension) I used to move forward.
To understand this phenomenon for yourself, try this experiment. Take one step and pause so one leg is in front of you, but your other is still behind you and your back foot has yet to fully move off the ground. Take note of where your back leg is in relation to your body. It has actually moved backwards in relation to your torso.
In fact, with each step, the front leg moves back in relation to the rest of the body as the back leg moves forward!
I think one of the reasons that maintaining awareness of the leg moving backwards helped so much when walking uphill, is that it took my focus off the forward direction, the objective of getting up the hill and the effort of moving my front leg forward. With the focus on the backward movement of my leg, the leg moving forward just took care of itself, and indeed I did not need as much effort to move myself up the hill. I hasten to add, this didn’t mean I was expending no effort – those were steep hills! But the difference in the amount of effort used was quite noticeable, not just to me, but also to my walking companions who also tried out this way of thinking. One noted without any prompting, that it just seemed easier to walk uphill when she thought this way.
So next time you find yourself walking up a hill, remember the backwards movement of your legs in relation to the rest of your body. You may find it’s not quite as hard work as you expected.
If you have any questions or comments about this post, please use the box below. I’d love to hear from you.
That’s so interesting! Can’t wait to find a hill to experiment.
Imogen, what a wonderful experiment! I’m a little awestruck that my blog should have started this process. We write these things never knowing if they will hit or miss, if they are good or bad. Thank you so much for sharing. Oh, and you picked a great place to try it out. Karen
Thank YOU, Karen. I’d never paid much (any?) attention to the leg moving backwards before and it’s been SO helpful as you can see.
What a beautiful pic! I think that walking and running uphill is easier than downhill. I will pay attention to my gate next time, thanks!
Well, I’ll have to do a post sometime on walking downhill, which has a whole different set of challenges. Thanks for your comment!
I stand while I work at the computer, so while reading this I was testing out some of what you were describing, just moving as if walking (no hills around at the moment!) Fascinating concept, and I am looking forward to testing this out on a real hill. I think it might be of help to me even on a gentle incline on the treadmill, as that’s been harder for me since having my neck problems. By the way, that sounds like a wonderful visit for you!
This is so fascinating! Ha ha! I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it like that walking up a hill although I have done some interesting experiements walking up the stairs 🙂
I LOVE the alexander technique… I studied it for a short time! Wish you were closer to Cali!
Thanks for this helpful blog post. I am going to include this information in my walking clinic on Saturday–it adds some specificity to the way I typically teach about leg movements in walking. Although we will be walking on a level surface, I’ll try it out myself later on an uphill terrain–wish it could be the Peak District! Lucky you. 🙂
I think this awareness is great for regular walking – it just really came into its own when I used it going uphill! Glad it will be useful for your walking clinic – have a great time!
WOW! I love how a shift in your focus from the struggle of moving forward and UP the hill was changed by shifting your perspective from the concept of which leg was providing the momentum. Nice!
I love your focus on body awareness. I’m not a climber, but I’m sure it takes a lot of focus and dedication! Keep up the great work!
What a fabulous experiment of walking thinking and doing. I must try this when going uphill. I did Alexander Technique and found it enormously helpful. I still use a lot of what I learned, as our bodies are essential in this world.