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.