By Gretchen Wilson
The military uses drills because they’re an effective way to train precision of movement and cultivate a habitual response. Try using this gait drill practice in your senior fitness class on a regular basis to help students build awareness of correct gait mechanics. For variety, once students become familiar with the cuing ask them to take turns calling out the drill. Begin this gait training exercise by explaining the action associated with each cue. Understanding the “action” behind each cue is an important part of getting the right results. This drill practice is taken from the Sit and Be Fit BET (Balance Enhancement Training) course. For information on the full course, e-mail g[email protected].
Begin in a neutral standing position. Familiarize students first with an awareness of the starting position cues.
Starting Position Drill Cues
Cue: “Check your posture”
Action: Lengthen the spine, lifting up through the crown of the head. Align the ears, shoulders, hips and ankles. Feel the weight of the body equally distributed across the soles of both feet.
Cue: “Feet point forward”
Action: The toes point straight forward and stay in that forward position throughout the gait cycle.
Cue: “Eyes forward on the horizon”
Action: Look forward and out, while maintaining an awareness of your surroundings through your peripheral vision.
Cue: “Head over pelvis”
Action: Feel the head centered over the pelvis. With each step feel the pelvis and head moving forward together as one unit.
Gait Drill Cues
Cue: “Swing the leg and opposite arm forward”
Action: Leading with the knee, swing one leg forward, from the hip joint, in unison with the opposite arm. Maintain upright posture with shoulders back and down.
Cue: “Heel strike”
Action: Firmly plant the heel of the forward foot, pulling the toes up towards your nose.
Cue: “Rock forward through foot”
Action: Rock through the forward foot from the heel to the toes, feeling the ground beneath the foot as the weight of the body shifts from the back leg to the front leg.
Cue: “Lift the back heel”
Action: With most of the weight shifted to the front foot, lift the back heel.
Cue: “Push off with the back toes”
Action: Engage the toes of the back foot by pushing off with them, activating the fast twitch muscle fibers for a burst of power.
Cue: “Weight shift”
Action: Feel the ground through the base of the forward leg as all the weight shifts from the back leg to the forward leg.
Cue: “Swing the back leg through center with opposite arm”
Action: Feel the movement of the swing coming from the hip joint (for the leg) and shoulder joint (for the arm). Picture the limbs swinging through the neutral center position in a fluid motion, like a pendulum, or a smooth golf swing. Imagine the leg and opposite arm are a team working together.
Once the class becomes familiar with the full set of directions, simplify the cues by using the bolded words. Students benefit from practicing gait drills on a regular basis. By breaking each step down, and practicing with verbal cues in a slow methodical rhythm, you are hardwiring the neural pathways between the brain and the body, planting seeds for good body mechanics. Through repetition this practice becomes a life skill that will stay with a student long after they leave your class.
As an instructor, you are in a powerful position to help people improve their gait, balance and functional fitness. By doing so, you give them resources they need to age with independence. Keep up the great work and enjoy this very special calling!