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“All strenuous exercise will reinforce the existing coordination of the body or the lack of it. The amount of mal-coordination present and the strenuousness of the exercise will determine the good or harm that will result. For this reason I often recommend walking as the best way of getting exercise.” From Patrick Macdonald, The Alexander Technique As I See it

This was first posted on the Swimming Without Stress blog in March 2016.

‘He looks like he’s still on his bike,’ said Cheryl about a fit looking, 30-something Spanish guy at our hotel in Lanzarote.  Riding a road bike tends to cause you to pull your head back against your spine and shorten your lower back. This triathlete, mincing towards the pasta and fish,  did sort of look like he hadn’t stopped cycling. He had a nice sun tan and looked aerobically fit and lean. But something was going wrong with his general coordination. And all that time in the saddle wasn’t helping.

I’ve got a road bike (like proper cyclists and triathletes use) and I shorten my back when I ride it.  But I also have a Dutch bike, which is a different thing altogether. You push down with your legs and your head can go up to the sky. It takes about 25 percent longer to get anywhere.  But when cycling for leisure, that’s good.

When running,  there’s no equipment to blame for shortening your back.  I find walking better for me – up and down hills, with my arms swinging in opposition to my legs.  There’s a kung-fu teacher who lives in our village.  He looks fit but also strong and well coordinated.  I’ve noticed he walks – a lot, purposefully, with a solid back.

Swimming may be one of the best things you can do to promote a healthy relationship between head, neck and back and to develop coordination of arms and legs.  But it can also be one of the worst.  If you’re twisting your neck, gasping and making Popeye shapes with your mouth to inhale, that might be something to look at.

Too many people throw themselves into triathlon training without the first idea of what they’re doing to their general coordination in the process. I did this, with naive enthusiasm,  in my twenties.  But the lovely thing about triathlon as a sport is the choice you have, of things to do for exercise.

Like a triathlete I dip every day into my treasure trove of activities to get myself moving, breathing, sweating. Swimming with attention to the glide, walking my dogs in the hills or riding uphill to the pool. These are opportunities to work on lengthening and widening my back as well as maintaining my modest aerobic fitness. I’m not bothered about getting any fitter, I’m not training for anything. But I’d like to be able to do what I can do now when I’m an old man.

Two of my best pieces of equipment are my Dutch bike and my dog Ned, both sturdy, reliable and low maintenance, how I’d like to be myself!

We all need exercise but we have to look carefully at what we’re doing,  why we’re doing it and what our needs are.

For more posts on swimming and the Alexander Technique, visit the Swimming Without Stress blog

Visit the Cardigan Alexander Technique website for more information on Alexander lessons.