I know what you’re thinking. “Umm, Drew I’ve been walking for a long time, I totally know how to do that”… Yes. You have been walking for a long time! But are you sure you know the intricacies of how to walk with ideal biomechanics?
This actually came up recently in conversation with an amazing yoga instructor who came to certain realizations about her own walking habits! It was a profound realization and one that will surely positively influence her health – so I figured I would share some of the intricacies of walking that you may or may not know about! And, well let’s face it – walking is just such a riveting conversation!!! 🙂
First and foremost, we’re designed by nature to be great walkers and runners. Running is an entirely different thing, so we’ll leave that alone for now. But walking, or our ‘gait’ as it’s technically called is a pretty interesting thing and can have many implications for tension development and can play a role in conditions such as knee, or low-back pain (something all of us have experienced to some degree). And whilst Thai Massage is clearly a great option for pain management, it’s always to go to the source, and often that means finding more appropriate movement patterns.
The first thing we need to understand is the cycle of gait. Essentially we are supposed to heel-strike when landing our foot. If you’ve ever tried to walk with a toe-strike (or perhaps you wear 6 inch heels and no longer know how to walk properly?? You and I will have words later…), you’ll understand how awkward it feels, right? Awkward walking isn’t great.
Now that you’ve tried that out in your heels… you may have also noticed that a natural take off is actually performed by the big toe (or ‘halux‘). This one’s a doozy, and it’s often a piece of the puzzle that is missing! For decades now, certain industries (like the orthotics industry) has promoted the action of foot ‘pronation’ as a bad thing. When actually if they spent just a few more minutes explaining, you would know that pronation as an action is a completely natural and desired part of walking – it’s the small amount of “rolling” from the outer heel towards the halux/big toe through a cycle of gait. Pronation is only a negative thing when it’s your resting state physiology; when you’re in a constant state of pronation. If you’ve been concerned about pronation, you might actually have spent most of your life walking on the outer edge of your foot and taking off with your outer toes, and not the halux!
Funny/strange story: walking and gait has been something that I remember being fascinated with since I was a young child. I have vivid memories of being aware of how everyone walked, how I walked and how I trained my feet to be parallel instead of pointing outwards like my mother’s (love you mum!). I was probably about 6 years old… definitely an odd kid, but I guess it foretold a fascination with human movement!
Speaking of turnout or or “splay-footedness” (the opposite of pigeon-toed), it’s actually not the most ideal situation…it’s not terrible, so don’t worry mum, you’ll totally be fine! But it decreases the force with which you can take off, and it increases the likelihood of bunion formation through the transfer of oblique forces down the length of the toe as you take-off with each step.
If you find that you need some more “take-off” strength or you find that your arches are flat/weak, perhaps from walking on the outside edges of your feet for too long, then there are many strengthening exercises you can do, but one that has shown some very useful benefits in the literature is called “Short Foot”. Here’s a fun foot video for your viewing pleasure that explains it nicely:
Now that your day has been made with that video (you’re welcome), you can now start to practice at home!! If you want more of the anatomical explanation behind short foot, this video here is great.
But wait – there’s one more thing I want to tell you about walking! I know, who would have thought you’d be committing to the longest blog post ever about walking??! But it’s important, I promise. It’s all about walking FASTER.
You know when you’re in a hurry and you don’t really want to run but you need to still get there faster than a regular walk? Yeah, well, first please refer to this post by Daniela about “slowing it down” 😉 and then we’ll continue talking about walking faster.
Often times we think that in order to walk faster, we need to take larger strides. This is a poor choice – don’t try to match your tall friends’ stride length…it’s not a good idea! The best thing to do is to take MORE steps – trying to keep your stride length the same or perhaps even a bit shorter, increase the frequency of your stepping. You may look like you’re in more of a rush than you actually are, but it’s far more biomechanically sound to do so. Why, you ask? I’m glad you asked:
- When you take larger strides, you recruit different muscles that aren’t used to doing this kind of work (and nor should they be).
- You also end up getting more length through rotation of the lumbar spine, meaning your pelvis is really moving a lot from side to side, which means ouch, in the long run [walk]. When you walk, basically all the action should come from the hip joint (where the femur inserts into the pelvis), not from the movement of the pelvis itself. So the next time you’re walking, place your hands on your ASIS (frontal hip points), pretend it’s not awkward to be doing that on the street in broad daylight and then walk, noticing if your pelvis moves a lot, or if most of the movement happens below when your hands are. If your hips are moving a lot, try shortening your gait.
So now that you have the low-down on walking, the only other suggestion I have is to walk more. It’s so darn good for you!!
I hope that was a valuable use of your time…and even if you didn’t learn anything, I hope you at least laughed a little. If you didn’t, please don’t tell me.
Enjoy your walking!