Keeping Exercise Fun
By Melissa Allen
As you may
have discovered for yourself, sticking with an exercise program long enough to make it an actual habit can be difficult, to
say the least. While hopefully most of you reading this are either currently exercising or planning to start doing so in the
near future, almost all of you will at one time or another grow tired of your current fitness program. That is the point that
will either make or break you. In order to make fitness a lifestyle and develop a new and lasting habit for yourself, you
have to persevere beyond the point that initial boredom may set in.
Unfortunately, most people expect immediate results
when undergoing a fitness program, and expecting so often leaves people disappointed when they don’t meet those high
expectations. If you stop and think logically about how it took you possibly three years of living a sedentary lifestyle,
eating fast food, and not exercising, then it is logical not to expect to drop 20 pounds of body fat and gain five pounds
of muscle in the first month!
Rather than expect immediate results, you should focus on taking it one day at a time
and look for the enjoyment and feeling of fulfillment in your new lifestyle. Trust that your efforts will pay off, and look,
listen, and feel how your body is changing. It will surprise you how in-touch you can actually become with your body over
the course of a few years. Observe whether or not you feel an increase in energy, or possible you are hungry more often than
you were before (signifying an increase in metabolism). You may notice a feeling of rejuvenation for life—you’re
now looking forward to each day because you’re feeling good! Along with that may come feelings of optimism and maybe
even improved relationships with loved ones. Possibly you won’t require as much sleep as you did before. You’ll
probably be surprised at the impact the exercise can make on your life.
These are things that most people overlook
when passing judgment on their newly undertaken fit lifestyle. It is obviously important to achieve physical results as well,
like changes in body measurements, weight, and the way your clothing fit, especially if your life depends on it, but don’t
overlook the intrinsic changes along the way.
So remember to give yourself some time and don’t expect immediate
results. Instead just try and learn to enjoy the process. It actually feels good to feel good!
Words on Fitness Walking
by Lawrence Gold, certified Hanna somatic educator | somatics.com/gold.htm
Fitness walking is the most accessible exercise for people
of all ages. However, as people age, general physical problems tend to crop up - pain, stiffness, joint degeneration and loss
of balance. This article undertakes to address those issues and to suggest how people might deal with (correct, not
"get used to") them and get the most from a fitness walking program.
with people's staying with any exercise regimen (assuming they're motivated)?
The most basic, and most obvious answer
is this: pain.
Old injuries (and pain associated with aging) interfere with all activities by making us not
want to move and by draining our energy. So, let's start by addressing the question head-on.
of Pain to Improper Movement
Pain commonly coincides with (and results from) improper movement patterns. Here's
Let's start at the beginning. The basic function of muscles is movement. However, muscles may also (and commonly
do) interfere with movement when they get conditioned to stay tight at all times. Involuntary, improper movement patterns
result. It's not just a matter of "not knowing how to move properly", as if you could just decide to do so and do so, thereafter.
Movement patterns are acquired by learning and repetition.
Improper Movement Patterns Involve Muscular Tensions
patterns are acquired by learning; they're not automatically "given" by birth. In general, people develop their movement (coordination)
patterns by example, by the daily demands of life, and by athletic training.
Improper athletic training techniques
often lead to acquired muscular tensions that are reinforced by continued training and athletic activity, itself. Young people
also observe others, particularly family members, as their examples of how to move, and move that way for a lifetime. It's
not exactly imitation, but a kind of contagion similar to how seeing a person yawn makes you want to yawn. Learned, improper
(or poor) movement patterns make injury more likely.
Muscular tensions are also acquired by another kind of learning
-- the learning that injuries and stress provoke: people tighten up. The common guarding reaction against pain -- cringing
-- involves muscular tension, tension that can (and commonly does) last indefinitely. A lifetime of injuries and stress shows
up as muscular tensions that accumulate as aging progresses.
Let me be clear about something: aging doesn't cause
these muscular tensions; reactions to injury and stressful situations cause these muscular tensions, which then become habitual.
The notion of "old injuries, old muscles" causing pain is a fallacy. What is behind the pain is "old tensions," still in place.
muscles generate pain in three ways:
- muscle fatigue
- over-compression and inappropriate movements at joints
- nerve entrapment (pinch) between muscle-and-muscle or between
muscle and bone.
One common consequence of tight muscles'
effects on joints, besides pain, is joint-replacement surgery. Muscular tensions cause overcompression of joints, breakdown
and dissolution of cartilage, and bone-on-bone situations. Muscular tensions from old injuries lead to joint-replacement surgery.
term, "stiffness," describes the sense of extra effort required to move when muscles are no longer pliant, joints, no longer
The term "stiffness", however, is not very informative about its causes and even misleading (inaccurate).
do not and cannot become "stiff". They may become contracted, tight, but not "stiff". The only things muscles can do is tighten
and relax. The tightness of one muscle or muscle group attached to a body part (e.g., upper arm) would interfere with opposing
muscles that are attached to move the same body part. The feeling is of stiffness, but it is not the stiffness of muscles;
it's the stiffness of movement due to muscular oppositions (called "co-contraction").
EXAMPLE: The biceps of the upper
arm (which bends the arm at the elbow) opposes the triceps (which straightens the arm at the elbow). If the biceps and triceps
become habitually tight, bending and straightening movements of the elbow feel stiff. The same is true of all other joints.
cause of stiffness is joint friction. In the healthy state, joints are lubricated by a super-slippery liquid, called synovial
fluid, secreted by the cartilage of the joint. As people get older and fail to consume adequate amounts of water over a lifetime,
their tissues, including cartilage, lose water. Synovial fluid decreases and thickens; internal friction makes joints stiffer.
Over-compression of a joint over time by over-contracted muscles leads to breakdown of the cartilage, further impairing
its ability to generate synovial fluid. Inflammation, by the way, is the body's way of force-feeding fluid into parts of the
body that need it. Dehydration and joint damage may therefore result in joint inflammation to support secretion of synovial
Tight muscles not only cause improper movement, but also cause joint breakdown and stiffness, which compounds
Balance results from good coordination and fluid movement. It depends
particularly upon uprightness -- right-left symmetry. A side-tilt right or left, stooped posture or swayback throw balance
off and decrease the speed at which we can move safely. Being off balance slows us down.
Balance is largely a matter
of freely adjusting pelvic movements, which control the position of the center of gravity. A freely moving pelvis, in turn,
depends upon responsive and resilient musculature of the trunk and legs.
The oddity is that as people acquire muscular
tensions and lose good balance, they do things like lean forward in the characteristic stooped posture of the aged. This action
may be an attempt to minimize the distance between themselves and the ground, should they fall, but it actually predisposes
them to a fall by shifting their weight forward of their center of support. It's a misguided effort. The most secure posture
for balance is fully upright.
I'm not going to go into a discussion of posture, here, because posture follows from
muscular control and coordination, and the techniques for cultivating muscular control and coordination take more than a few
words of advice; they involve specific training.
Instead, I'm going to address some of the common forms of improper
movement that lead to pain, stiffness, joint degeneration, and poor balance, and then speak of the form of training that can
ERRORS OF IMPROPER MOVEMENT
Improper movement isn't a sign that a person isn't
paying attention to "proper" movement; it's a sign that their habitual way of movement, their way of moving when they're not
thinking about it, is improper.
That's a matter of habituation -- how a person learned movement, the degree to which
they refined it through practice into good coordination (grace), and how injuries of the past have left impressions on the
nervous system that cause guarding reactions that affect movement.
instruction given for walkers is "swing your arms." This is a less than ideal instruction; a better instruction is "turn your
shoulders and chest side to side in rhythm with each step." This kind of instruction leads to the undulating movements of
the saunter, an attractive movement pattern typical of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.
Note that balance is maintained
in walking by opposite-and-balancing turning movements of the chestand-pelvis. These opposing movements involve a twisting
action controlled by the muscles of the waist. The shoulders and arms follow the turning movements of the chest; the legs
follow the turning movements of the pelvis (hips). This kind of movement is the basis of the saunter.
a person swings his or her arms, s/he often does so as a substitute for that twisting movement at the waist; s/he does what
I call, "the refrigerator walk," a term that makes sense if you've ever watched someone walk a refrigerator across the floor,
which moves as a single block. How labored that is!
When shoulders and chest are thus immobilized, excessive muscular
effort is needed at the hip muscles to swing the legs forward and back. This excessive effort conditions those muscles to
get abnormally tight, which in turn compresses the hip joints and leads to hip joint replacement surgery. In addition, tight
hip joint muscles (flexors and extensors of the legs) limit movement, slow walking speed and increase the labor of walking.
Proper twisting at the waist is essential for long-term health of the hip joints.
I've oversimplified this discussion
a bit to make a point. Now, I'll add back what has been subtracted: the proper application of arm swinging. In leisurely walking
(strolling), the arms hang freely; the more vigorous the stride, the more the arms and shoulders engage to add power to the
stride. The momentum of the arms, shoulders, and chest pass through the center of the body to the pelvis and legs with each
new step to help move the hips and legs, which brings us to the next error of form:
In the natural strolling pattern,
arms hang freely and move in a pendular rhythm with overall body movement. In the natural saunter, arms and shoulders, now
moving like a powered pendulum, contribute to movement.
In vigorous walking, arms and shoulders continuously recycle
the momentum of the hips and legs by switching directions quickly, front to back and back to front. The arms and shoulders
are not passive, but active, as movement pumps. Bent elbows shorten the effective length of the arms, known in physics as
"the moment arm," (for those who know physics). Perhaps it would be better called, "the momentum arm," for the shorter the
effective length, the less momentum is stored and retransmitted to the pelvis and legs.
Bent elbows contribute to the
habit of immobilizing the muscles of the waist by reducing the effect of the upper body upon the lower body. Although the
bent-elbow technique is common and preferred among seasoned fitness walkers, an alternate, straight arm technique efficiently
passes momentum from the upper body to the lower while encouraging the twisting movements at the waist essential for fluidity
Walking on the Outer Edges of the Feet
The feet are constructed with the largest,
weight-bearing bones at the inner three toes and smaller, balance-adjusting bones at the outer two toes. The outer toes form
an arch that enables a foot to adjust to uneven standing surfaces. The average standing weight distribution on healthy feet
is about 65% heels, 25% inner three toes (medial longitudinal arch), 10% outer two toes (lateral longitudinal arch).
The purpose of stretching is flexibility, but stretching doesn't
accomplish that purpose very well. Generally, people find stretching difficult, unpleasant, and slow. Stretching produces
only a temporary reduction of muscular tension and disrupts coordination of the stretched muscles with the rest of the body.
The more forceful the stretch, the more the disruption of coordination.
Stretching hamstrings, for example, causes
knee instability, which causes instability higher up in the body, which in turn interferes with balance and reduces the power
available for walking.
Because we move as a whole and maintain our balance by good coordination, coordination is more
important than isolated stretching of muscles. People need to think, instead, in terms of control. The control I speak of
is control of movement, which also involves the ability to relax muscular tensions instilled by years of injuries and stress
and to coordinate movements efficiently. Coordination is something that stretching can't develop.
I will introduce
the alternative later on. For now, let's just say that there is a self-training process that can easily and lastingly eliminate
the accumulated tensions of a lifetime without stretching, and thereby accomplish the goal of stretching, which is flexibility,
and more: better coordination.
Many people believe that breathing comes from
chest movements. However, relaxed breathing uses the diaphragm primarily and the chest only secondarily. The whole torso inflates.
to breathe deeply often end up becoming shallow chest breathing. A better way to breathe deeply is to exhale fully, then let
inhalation occur on the rebound. As an experiment, try exhaling and stay exhaled until you feel the need to inhale. Then,
let yourself inhale. Feel the difference.
The arches of the feet are not rigid
architectural structures, but dynamic springs held in shape by the soft tissue (fascia) and muscles of the feet and lower
legs. Fallen or high arches indicate muscular and soft-tissue problems in the legs and feet that can be improved by correct
coordination training and sometimes by soft-tissue manipulation combined with movement (as in RolfingŪ).
TENSION PATTERNS FOUND IN MANY PEOPLE
As I have said, chronic tensions, present in significant amounts in
most people, interfere with good coordination, free movement, and good balance. Now, I'll specify common patterns present
in people, patterns that not only interfere with mobility, but also with the results of training programs designed to prepare
people for fitness walking.
Tight Hip Flexors
The hip flexors are the muscles at the fronts
of the hips that cover the hip joints and bring the knees forward. The visible sign of tight hip flexors is a butt that sticks
out and a noticeable fold at the groin. When those muscles are too tight, they restrict the distance the leg can move back;
they shorten the stride. By shortening that distance, they also prevent the natural spring in the step called "toe-off."
Tight chest muscles prevent free shoulder movements that add momentum to walking. They also
restrict breathing. Inability to swing the arms comfortably in large circles by ones sides generally indicates tight chest
The hamstrings do more than help propel the body forward; they also
control foot direction (by twisting the tibia in the knee joint) and affect ground contact (by altering foot pronation/supination).
Tight hamstrings are a common condition also remediable, not by stretching, but by retraining the muscles to their normal
length and responsive pliancy. Tight hamstrings produce the sensation of heavy legs and, by preventing the knee from straightening
completely, causes the quadriceps muscles (fronts of thighs) to tighten and grind the kneecap against the knee joint, leading
sometimes to kneecap pain (chondromalacia patelli).
The muscles that raise
the shoulders interfere with fluid shoulder movement and make walking more labored.
Shoulders go up under oxygen starvation,
as in athletic effort. It's an attempt to get more air when abdominal breathing is blocked by tight abdominal muscles and
tight intercostal (rib) muscles.
Raised-shoulder breathing is no substitute for free breathing. The abdominal and intercostal
(between ribs) muscles must be free to move.
Tight Back Muscles
When back muscles are tight,
they interfere with the free twisting movements of the waist necessary for a free saunter. In addition, they interfere with
breathing and may introduce pain and stiffness to overall movement.
Tight Belly Muscles
"tight gut", the holy grail of many exercise conditioning programs, interferes with breathing, distorts posture (contributes
to stoop) and interferes with free movement. A belly should be soft to permit easy breathing and upright posture.
protruding belly is usually a sign not that the belly muscles are too soft, but that the back muscles are too tight. Those
muscles bend the spine into a curve like that of an archer's bow; the belly naturally protrudes forward.
A tight neck, apart from being painful, often indicates that a person is a "chest breather." Chest breathing
uses the neck muscles to lift the ribs to breathe. Compared to diaphragmatic breathing, chest breathing is inefficient and
labored. Chest breathers often have a tight belly, as well.
Tight calves contribute
to fatigue in walking and something else - they deprive the walker of spring in the step. The reason? Tight calves are always
somewhat fatigued and therefore weakened.
Another consequence of tight calves: tight hip joint flexors. The reason:
lacking spring in the step to help propel the leg forward, the walker must overuse their hip flexors, which get conditioned
to be tight.
FITNESS WALKING EXERCISES
One popular fitness-walking program offers a series
of exercises to prepare people for fitness-walking. I will describe and discuss a selection of those exercises, below.
Knee Lift, Straight Leg Placement
INSTRUCTION: "Lift your knee high and straighten it as you bring your leg
Such an instruction is necessary for people who have:.. drop-foot or tight calf muscles.. tight hamstrings
is a neurological condition of weakness or flaccidity of the shin muscles. However, if tight calf muscles are involved, the
correct instruction would be to retrain those muscles to be more responsive to free the foot for lifting.
If the involved
muscle groups are not retrained, the exercise as described may lead to excessive arm motion in an attempt to help the leg
movements made laggard by contracted muscles.
Hip Rotation Twist Drill
hip rotation very strongly so there is a stretch effect."
Hip rotation depends upon free and responsive muscles of
the waist. This exercise seeks to cultivate responsiveness of those muscles.
There is a tendency among people who don't
have freedom and responsiveness at the waist to tighten the hip flexors too much to bring the leg forward in stride. That
can lead to excessive muscle fatigue and joint compression.
Free hip movement proceeds in rhythm with chest/shoulder
movements, but only if hip flexors are free and the waist muscles responsive.
"Walk a line, crossing feet over the centerline, keeping upper body stabilized to minimize twist."
This is an exercise
for the muscles of the inner thighs (the adductors). It is helpful for cultivating balance, as those muscles help control
sidebending (through coordination with the trunk muscles) and leg positioning.
ADDED INSTRUCTION: Feel and squeeze
with the inner thigh muscles of the rear leg to help the forward leg to cross over the line. Stay erect.
INSTRUCTION: Walk along a wall and swing your arm in a circle parallel to the wall.
is an exercise that assists swinging of the arm, shoulders and chest, when synchronized with the walking rhythm. It depends
upon free shoulder musculature.
People whose chest muscles are tight find this exercise impossible to do as described;
they can't bring their arms behind them. Again, stretching won't help much, as those muscles are in the grip of a tension
pattern maintained by the brain that must be unlearned before the muscles will fully relax and lengthen.
INSTRUCTION: "Take short, fast steps with hip rotation and flexion; increase number of steps within
a given distance."
This conditioning exercise develops speed of movement. It depends upon good balance and freedom
of the hip musculature from excessive muscular tension.
Extension of the Leg Behind Drill
"Feel the weight in the foot of the back leg move from heel to big toe."
This conditioning exercise seeks to cultivate
longer stride and full foot contact with the ground. It depends upon freedom of the hip flexors (front hip joint muscles)
and of the calves from excessive tension and upon responsiveness of the calf muscles (for spring in the step).
Upper Body Drill
INSTRUCTION: "Hold elbows at 90 degrees, hold hands still at hips - to isolate upper body
This exercise has the effect of damping out momentum that might otherwise be transmitted between the upper
and lower body. An unnatural movement pattern not seen in agile individuals, cultivation of this movement pattern overworks
hip flexors, impedes balance, and slows movement.
It might be used temporarily to cultivate hip movement in individuals
who use a lot of arm and shoulder movement in walking, but the tendency to immobilize the pelvis during stride would defeat
The tendency automatically to move the arms and shoulders is an inherent movement pattern built into
the human design and should be cultivated, not interfered with or inhibited.
a little exercise you can try: alternate walking forward with walking backward.
Walking backward prevents the usual
habits of movement from taking over. It gives you practice in making full foot contact with the ground and improves your balance.
Remember to alternate.
A Remedial Drill for Tight Calves
A movement maneuver called, "The Athletes'
Prayer for Loose Calves," frees tight calves, imparts spring-in-the-step, and improves foot contact with the ground. Instructions
can be obtained via the internet by sending email to Athletes_Prayer @somatics.com.
walking involves uprightness, fluid movement throughout the whole body, and responsive adjustments of the Easy walking involves
uprightness, fluid movement throughout the whole body, and responsive adjustments of the whole body to changes of speed and
direction. In short, easy walking involves freedom of movement and good coordination.
Click for more words on athletic training.
See video of The Athletes' Prayer for Loose CalvesLawrence Gold is a long-time practicing clinical somatic educator certified in The Rolf Method of Structural
Integration and in Hanna Somatic Education, with two years' hospital rehab center experience (Watsonville Community Hospital
Wellness and Rehabilitation Center: 1997-1999) and articles published in The American Journal of Pain Management (Pain Relief
through Movement Education: January, 1996, Vol. 6, no. 1, pg. 30) and in The Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients (A Functional
Look at Back Pain and Treatment Methods: November, 1994, #136, pg. 1186 ).
What Nature Can Teach Us While Walking
by Cindie Wilding
I love hiking and being outdoors. While I really love beautiful
places I've never seen, and trails to hike that remind me of being a kid and exploring, I am also happy just walking outside
in my neighborhood. There is something about taking the time to be outside and observe what is there, that takes me off the
hamster wheel of doing doing doing. Instead of noticing my email alert telling me I have a new email, I can notice flocks
of birds flying in formation, notice the songs they sing, notice the wild turkeys that show up where I live. In giving myself
the time to notice these little things outside myself, I can also notice what happens inside myself - the thoughts and the
'monkey mind' disappear and my planning mind has an opportunity to take over.
I think walking, just the forward movement
allows my planning mind to help me move forward too. I sort through things and come up with the most amazing and creative
Yesterday as I was out walking while the wind was blowing fiercely, I was thinking of the metaphor of life that
presented to me -- circumstances can make me feel like I'm being pushed against and I might need to struggle a bit to push
back, but I won't get pushed over, I will keep walking and I can stand strong inside my own strength.
Just some things
to ponder. This weekend if you feel stuck in a problem, frustrated or just bored, take a walk outside and see what you notice.
See what messages nature might provide for you.
Life Coach and Certified Retreat Coach Cindie Wilding loves working with people
to help them reconnect with their authentic self. Through one-on-one coaching she motivates, inspires and supports others
who feel stuck, to envision what they want for themselves, and take the steps to get there. She leads retreats designed to
allow time to go within, to nurture and provide self-care and to learn more about one's self.