Fitness

Walking on Stilts

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If you celebrate Hallowe’en, your holiday-related exercise may involve organizing a costume then walking around the neighborhood or elsewhere in that costume.

This year there’s a slight twist on my Hallowe’en exercise: I’ll be walking on stilts.

I have never had a desire to wear stilts before. But last year when friends had the idea for the next local Hallowe’en parade of dressing up as “Landstriders” (tall quadaped animals from an 80s children’s puppet movie), I thought, Why not?

Fast forward months later—we have homemade peg stilts (thanks Lisa’s husband) that put us about one or two feet higher off the ground. It feels like 10. Though we are on stilts for the first time, our front legs will give us four points of contact and extra (much-needed) balance.

Uses and types of stilts

Stilts may be used for work (e.g., drywalling), as props for entertainment (in circuses, parades, and other performances), and for recreation or exercise. No matter how you are using stilts, they require balance, coordination, core and leg strength, and other skills for walking, running, or jumping off the ground.

By Rdikeman at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Here are some of the major types of stilts:

  • Handheld stilts are poles that people stand on and hold onto the polls. There are also buckets or cups that are held onto the feet by users. You may remember them as “romperstompers.”
  • Peg stilts are brace stilts whose base is more narrower than the user’s foot, which requires them to keep moving to stay upright and balanced.
  • Articulated stilts, usually made out of alumnimum, have a larger foot than a peg and allow for some toe movement when lifting the stilt.
  • Jumping or spring stilts have a fibreglass coil leaf spring design that allows users to run, jump high, and perform acrobatic tricks.

In addition to the need for strength and skill to use them, stilts comes with the extra risk of falling from a high height. The simplest advice I found for neophyte stilts walkers includes these points:

  • Keep an open (but not too wide) box stance to so legs are no more than shoulder-width apart
  • Don’t cross your legs while you walk
  • Don’t lean back

Stilts, fitness, and feminism

How is stiltswalking a fit and feminist issue? As stated, this exercise requires strength and other body abilities. It also not only allows for fun, creativity, and expression in daily use or performance; there is a connection between stilts and prosthetics. Stilts (and other adjacent technologies) can get you taller than your body’s height and aid with locomotion and/or balance.

Lisa Bufano performing on Queen Anne table legs. sfslim, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I was particularly moved learning a little bit about American artist Lisa Bufano, who used prosthetic stilts in incredible choreographed performances, some of which had toured worldwide. A gymnast and athlete, Bufano aimed to draw attention to her body’s abilities and differences in ability since becoming an amputee at the age of 21.

Although Bufano is no longer with us, you can see a tribute to and selection of her powerful artistic work, including videos, at the website http://www.lisabufano.com.

Below are a few videos of women from around the world on stilts. See if you can identify the stilt types they wear. I am inspired by their confidence!

Caroline Bernier-Dionne (QC, Canada)
Posted by Janna Travels. Performer unknown (but presumably from Russia?)
Demi Skinner (Australia)

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