Walking with a Metronome
Your body loves rhythms; it thrives on them. Your heartbeat, your breathing, your need for rest are all based on certain rhythms that either occur naturally in your body or that you've established in your life. The more rhythm you establish in your daily routine, the better your body likes it. Rhythm is a nature's way of providing structure, of keeping order in the house.
When your body has a rhythm to follow it knows what to do and when to do it. If you go to bed regularly at 10pm and get up at 6am, your body knows… “now I get to rest, now it's time to get up.” And it does so more easily and readily than when it doesn't have a regular schedule. That's why parents are often encouraged to keep their children's bedtime schedule as consistent as possible, even on weekends and during school breaks; because kids function better when they remain within their expected rhythm and structure.
The same holds true for your exercise routine. If you walk regularly every day, your body gets used to that rhythm. If you routinely do a specific kind of walk once a week, say an hour-long trail hike every Saturday (in place of your usual 30 minute neighborhood weekday walk) your body will learn to anticipate this pattern and condition itself to make that extra effort on the weekend.
One way we use rhythm in ChiWalking is with our stride rate, or cadence … which is the number of strides you take each minute. I have found that most people do best when they maintain a consistent cadence depending on the speed they're walking. The best way to regulate your cadence is with a metronome.
Cadence varies slightly from person to person based on their height, weight and level of conditioning. Cadence usually falls within a 10 strides per minute (spm) range depending on the type of walk you're doing. For example, for a Loosening, Chi-gathering, Calming or Meditation walk, your cadence should fall between 55-65 spm. For an Aerobic, Hilly, Energizing, or Focusing walk, your cadence should be 60-70 spm. An Upper-Body walk is best done within a slightly narrower range of 55-60 spm, while a Cardio or Race walk moves along briskly at 70-80 steps per minute. All of these walks can be found in the ChiWalking book.
In order to help your body maintain a steady cadence, I suggest using a metronome. Most walkers feel a huge difference in their walking almost immediately. Using the metronome has an effect on many aspects of your form, because when your cadence is correct a lot of other things fall into line. Also, when the metronome's beep keeps your cadence for you, you have fewer things to think about. Several clients have said that the metronome gives them a greater ability to focus on other ChiWalking Form Focuses. I use a metronome almost every time I walk. It sharpens up my entire form. It is without question the best gizmo that I know of to enable the rhythm of your walking. This small, clip-on metronome is the best we've found for walking and is available in our online store.
How to use your metronome
Most walks you'll do will fall into one of three categories: slow paced (relaxing) 50-60 spm, medium paced (aerobic conditioning) 60-70spm, or fast paced (cardiovascular conditioning)70-80 spm.
First, find out what your current slow pace cadence is. To do this, take your metronome with you on your next walk. After a few minutes, when you are nicely warmed up and walking at what you would consider a comfortable conversational walking pace, turn on the metronome and match the beep of the instrument with the step of your right foot. This means that the metronome should beep every two steps. It may take a minute or two for you to perfectly align the beep with your foot strike, but just listen, and adjust the metronome faster or slower until it's a perfect match. When you've done this you've determined your current slow pace cadence. Is it at least 50 steps per minute? If it's slower than 50 spm your walking won't give you as much health benefit as it could. In order to burn calories you have to increase your body heat, and if you don't walk fast enough to raise your body temperature you won't burn as many calories per stride. Some of our slower walks start about there so if your cadence is quite a bit slower than that, don't worry. In fact for the next week, don't change anything other than using your metronome every time you walk. Set the instrument to whatever your current cadence is, and spend the next week just practicing to walk matching the beat of your metronome.
Then, each week thereafter, adjust the metronome one beat faster and walk at that cadence. Your body will adjust to the small weekly increase fairly easily, and gradually you will have adjusted to a slightly faster, regular cadence.
You might find that it is easier and more natural to walk with a beat that is similar to a waltz rhythm, where your metronome beeps every three steps. If you always keep cadence by focusing on only one leg, you may end up inadvertently developing an asymmetrical stride where you emphasize the use of one leg over the other. To avoid this you can set your metronome to beep on every third foot strike. So your footsteps with the beat would go: right 2, 3…left 2, 3…right 2, 3…left 2, 3…beep 2, 3…beep 2, 3…just like a waltz.
I suggest using the waltz rhythm as soon as you have gotten through your first week of using a metronome. You can use it right after you've determined your beginning cadence. A nice added feature of this is that you don't have to listen to as many beats every minute.
Here's how to switch from one beep of the metronome for every two strides, to a waltz rhythm (one beep every three strides). It's a simple calculation. Take your current cadence, divide by 3 and multiply by 2 and set your metronome for whatever number you come up with.
Maintaining a consistent rhythm while walking will make your walking more effortless and relaxed than ever. Just the way it should be.