Pedestrians in New York City are eclectic: You’ll regularly spot walkers and amblers, dashers and sprinters, trundlers and joggers. But you’ve likely never seen a skipper. To skip down Park Avenue or across Canal Street would invite more frowns than a clumsy jaywalk or hopping a subway turnstile.
Skipping is the one mode of bipedal transportation mysteriously—and unjustly—maligned as taboo. When in a hurry, we’re taught to dash with poise. When we have a free moment, we tend to meander. When we’re feeling jubilant—well, you can grin, but don’t let your joy show in your gait.
Yet try skipping sometime—alone, on a dimly lit street, or in the company of only your closest confidants. It seems like a pretty good workout. And it’s fun. Somehow, this pleasant mode of transportation has been blacklisted. But why?
According to Robert Gregg, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, it has to do with efficiency. Gregg studies the human gait to help design prosthetic limbs. “Skipping is a perfectly fine way of locomotion, but it requires more metabolic energy than walking does at most speeds, or running does at high speeds,” he said.
Skipping makes more scientific sense elsewhere in our solar system. “In low gravity, like on the moon, skipping is more energetically efficient than walking,” Gregg said. Skeptical? Watch Neil Armstrong extraterrestrially hop-skipping.
Gregg notes skipping occurs naturally in 4- and 5-year-olds, who are still navigating the intermediate space between walking and running. Once children master running, though, skipping wanes. “They discover pretty quickly they can run at the same speed as skipping, and they’re a lot less tired while doing it,” Gregg said.
And so we cast aside skipping at a young age, neglecting to revisit it as adults. When we do encounter grown-ups skipping, it’s a strange sight.
Alberto Minetti, a professor of physiology at the University of Milan in Italy, notes skipping can occasionally make a subconscious appearance in adults. “Adults sometimes [skip], particularly when descending stairs,” he said. “Sometimes also you use it … if you’re running and you need to [turn] a corner.”
Otherwise, it’s simply not worth the energy. “Skipping is very expensive,” Minetti said.
Shouldn’t skipping, then, provide a hearty workout? It does. But to the dismay of some experts, it’s yet to catch on in the posh gymnasiums that dot Manhattan or the early-morning sidewalks bustling with cardio fiends.
Jordan Metzl, a Manhattan-based sports injury doctor, triathlete, and fitness author, says it’s entirely worthwhile. “People should skip as part of any workout they do,” Metzl said. Skipping is a plyometric, or jump-training, exercise with the ability to “build tremendous strength in a very short period of time,” he added.
For those who dread the cramps and fatigue that come with running, skipping is an excellent surrogate, says Courtney Chung, manager and an instructor at The Movement, a fitness studio in Manhattan. “Skipping gives you that same cardiovascular effect, but it’s a little bit more fun,” she said.
To fully understand the subject, I felt it necessary to skip: 10 blocks through the East Village, and during rush hour. I did not don sneakers or workout raiment—that seemed a half-measure. This was a task best performed wearing a suit and wingtips, with briefcase in hand.
Here are my observations from that humbling experience:
- It’s strange how a simple change in gait can bring on such crushing humiliation. To try and maintain confidence while people stared, I silently replayed what Robert Gregg told me: Skipping is a perfectly fine way of locomotion. Skipping is a perfectly fine way of locomotion.
- When skipping in semiformal attire, unbutton your blazer. It allows for a less constricting skip.
- I wasn’t so concerned about strangers eyeing me. What was most upsetting was the idea of an acquaintance spying me from afar, unable to hear my explanation that, really, it’s all for the sake of journalism.
- The ratio of derisive glares to bewildered reactions was approximately 2-to-1.
- Skipping through a passel of pedestrians is difficult, and requires practice.
Even after this exercise, my reporting felt incomplete. What my research called for was not an academic’s acumen, nor a journalist’s brief stint of skip tourism. I needed a veteran. And who better than a 7-year-old, a member of that lucky demographic allowed to skip free of judgment?
Patrick O’Hagan is a second-grader living in Long Island’s Floral Park. He lists skipping—alongside hockey and swimming—as a favorite pastime. Skipping is “fun,” Patrick says, and “not that scary.”
When asked what he might think if glimpsing a grown man skipping down the street—tie flailing, cheeks a deep red—Patrick was completely earnest. And it made me wish we’d spoken before my East Village experiment.
“I think it’d be nice to see an adult skipping,” he said.