My efforts to walk without devices frequently remind me of trying to unscramble a scrambled egg. An egg cannot be unscrambled because once heat is applied it changes the composition of the egg. Similarly, I am trying to defy existing patterns and mechanics I have used for over 30 years to move and learn new ones.
I have dubbed the general labors of my walking program as “training” because of the frequent repetition, coaching, and drills required in my efforts. After years of working with a series of fitness professionals, I started to think about what elements have remained constant in my training.
In my training, there is a lot of repetition— demonstration and reiteration of visual and verbal cues from the professional I am working with along with correction of posture and limb position to try to impress a pattern in my brain that is foreign to me.
When you scramble an egg, first, you are supposed to crack and thin the egg with milk. Then you are supposed to whisk the mixture until everything is combined. Finally, you cook the egg over a particular level of heat.
When you walk, the process is supposed to look something like this. A person is supposed to stand “tall” with a straight back. A person is also supposed to bend their arms approximately 90 degrees at the elbow I learned; and swing with the opposite leg. When this sequence is performed “correctly”, it is supposed to balance the body.
When a person walks, their heel is supposed to hit the ground first and then there is supposed to be a type of “push off” from the toes. There are other nuances about having steps of equal length… When my efforts to perform these walking steps do not come together as intended there is a re-introduction to the steps and sequences and the process begins again.
During one training session, like many sessions before, I stood in the middle of the fitness center training room with two thick, long, black ropes laid out by my feet. The ropes are there to act as guides, and I walk in between them. I walk back and forth between the ropes approximately ten to twelve times.
The fitness professional working with me regularly intervenes and maneuvers my ski poles, (my replacement for crutches), straight ahead, closer to my ribs and sides, or in some other pattern. They support the adjustment of my foot position. I hear the verbal cues, “Use your legs, not the poles,” and based upon the adjustment, I repeat the sequence. During my completion of the sequences, the fitness professional might have me perform the walking drill outside on cobblestone, concrete, or inside on a carpeted or a wood floor surface. Regardless of what the surface is, the sequence is the same.
Once heat is applied to an egg, there is no going back. Once an egg is cooked, the flavor, texture, and consistency of the egg are different. When I work with a fitness professional, we are striving for the creation of new movement patterns. Unlike scrambling an egg, I am trying to break and unscramble old patterns to establish new ones. Once the process starts, there is no going backward and I have been forever changed by the effort.
This article was originally published in the “Endless CapABILITIES Blog”, and National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, sponsored by The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (www.nchpad.org). NCHPAD is part of the UAB/Lakeshore Research Collaborative and supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number U59DD000906 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).