Brain vs. Brawn
Jessica Smith’s Walk On: 5 Fat Burning Miles intrigued me for a few reasons: it was walking, it had mix-and-match segments, but most interesting, it promised to make me smarter while I walked.
The premise is that mixing it up by combining different arm and leg movements would stimulate your brain. I’m not sure I buy that it would make a person all-around smarter, but I thought it might improve the parts of my brain that handle coordination, something that I’m sorely lacking right now.
The DVD has five one-mile walking segments, each one 13-15 minutes long, sandwiched between a 5-minute warmup and a 5-minute cooldown. When you launch the DVD, you can play all the segments, or click the segments you want to play in whatever order you want to play them in.
The walking segments have a beginner (instructor Jessica Smith’s mom!) doing modifications, which I really appreciated. Exercise videos typically have someone super young and fit doing the beginner modifications. It was great to have someone more relatable to follow – someone who is actually at my age/skill/fitness level rather than someone more advanced who is pretending to be a beginner.
The warmup didn’t feel that different from the walking segments to me. You marched in place with some arm movements and occasional variations in leg movements. That having been said, it was fairly easy to follow, and some of the variations were unexpected, kind of fun, and definitely a workout for underused muscles. For example, at one point she has you marching on just the heels of your feet; not something I’d seen in any other workout, and boy, did you feel it in your shins.
The first walking segment is the 15-minute Brain Booster Walk, on which I pinned all my hopes for improved coordination. The focus here was on asymmetry, both in the number of reps per side and what the left and right sides of your body were doing at any given time.
In some exercises, Smith mixed up the number of reps you did on one side vs. the other, to keep your brain from getting complacent, I guess. She did a good job of cuing exercisers about how many reps were coming up, so these weren’t too tough to follow.
The tougher exercises were those where you were doing different things with your right vs. left arm. Clearly I’m not destined to play the piano, because I had a lot of trouble doing two different hand movements at the same time. One exercise in particular had you punching upward with one arm while punching out in front of you with the other arm. I could punch them both in the same direction, or I could punch one up and one straight down, but I could not for the life of me punch one up and one out in front. It was like trying to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time.
The Belly, Buns & Thighs Walk clocks in at just over 14 minutes, and features lots of knee lifts, hamstring curls, side steps, and squat-inspired moves. Nothing too innovative here, but fairly easy to stay on track with the exercises.
The 15-minute Power Posture Walk uses arm movements to strengthen back and chest muscles. Like the Brain Booster walk, this one has some non-traditional moves. At one point, Smith announces that “we like to experiment here”, and that experimentation makes for a fun workout. I’d do this one again.
The Turbo Charged Walk moves at a very brisk pace: the mile takes just under 13 minutes. The speed of this walk made some of the moves more difficult to follow, most notably a zigzag move where you walk diagonally in various directions.
I was fully prepared to hate the Boogie Down Walk, since the name implied that the walking would be combined with complicated dance moves. A few minutes into the 15-minute walk, I thought I might be wrong, but then she introduced the cha-cha. And just when I felt I was starting to approximate a cha-cha, she switched it up with a reverse cha-cha. I felt hopelessly confused for big chunks of this mile. Clearly I need additional brain boosting before I attempt any more cha-chas.
The major beef I had with this DVD was the cooldown segment. It felt like the pace was too fast for cooling down. While it included many classic cooldown stretches, you were also doing brisk sidesteps at the same time. If I opted to use this segment, I’d ditch the sidesteps and just stand still while stretching.
There are also two bonus 15-minute workouts on the DVD: one focused on strengthening your feet and ankles, and the other focused on strengthening your knees and hips. Both of the bonus workouts were somewhere between strength training and stretching. The pace was slow, but you were definitely working your muscles (and in the case of the feet and ankles workout, a lot of muscles that you’ve likely never worked out before).
For the hip and knee workout, you do spend some time lying on the floor, where it can be difficult to see what Smith is doing. I definitely recommend previewing this one before attempting the workout for the first time.
In all the segments on this DVD, Smith does a good job of explaining the movements and letting you know what’s coming next. As a bonus, the soles of her sneakers are neon orange, so you can really see what her feet are doing at any given time. She’s also very encouraging for beginners who might be feeling frustrated about not doing everything perfectly.
With so many different walking segments to choose from, the DVD is a little bit of a mixed bag. I think the Brain Booster and Power Posture walks will stay in my regular rotation though. Both are different enough to be fun and challenging, but still in the realm of possibility for uncoordinated exercisers.
And if the workouts boost my brain as well as my brawn, that’s just a bonus.