Walking….there’s nothing to it…right? We’ve been doing it since we were 2 years old (maybe a bit later for those slow learners out there). Sure the way we walk has evolved over the years but is it something we really need to be paying attention to?
Now we’ve all seen an interesting gait or two before. Maybe you’ve noticed something weird about the way a family member or a friend walks. Or perhaps just a complete random staggering/swaying or strutting in your direction as you leave the supermarket.
The classic gait that we can all identify is the ‘drunk walk’. Something we can probably all envisage and re-enact without too much trouble.
Check out this entertaining link below. Which one are you? Do any of these remind you of a certain someone you know?
How good is this guy? Haha the dance fight…..classic!
Lets put laughs aside just a second while I ask you this..
Do you ever notice that when you walk you strike the ground heavily with your heel? This may be particularly noticeable when you are in barefeet and walking on a wooden floor where the noise carries. Or on concrete where this impact can really hurt. A heavy heel strike is likely due to overstriding which is most often influenced by tissue restrictions in the ankles or hips, sometimes coupled with hyperextending of the knee upon contact with the ground. Regardless of the cause, a heavy heel strike increases impact forces and is inefficient.
Do you walk like a duck? Walking with the feet turned outwards is often due to hip restrictions associated with the glute muscles and rotator muscles of the pelvis. Maybe you notice one leg/foot is always turned out but the other is not? If there is severe tightness or imbalance in the hips, it is almost certain your low back is taking more load and impact than it should be.
While I’m quaking on about ducks, how about the Donald Duck walk (increased anterior tilt resulting from a muscle imbalance between the anterior and posterior muscles of the hips, thighs and trunk). Or perhaps you’re the complete opposite and walk with your tail tucked between your legs and your pelvis leading the body around which is once again the result of a muscle imbalance and poor posture.
Commonly addressed in our clinic is the trendellendburg gait. Where the hip drops and the pelvis sways as you walk. Often accompanied by a caving in of the knees. This is associated with weak glute and trunk muscles and increases loading on the hips, knees and low back.
In short, the way in which we walk is important and can be influenced by many things; lots of sitting, old or ongoing injuries, joint and soft tissue restrictions, and our posture. These issues will be amplified once stride length + impact increases (ie. running, jumping), or when load is added (ie. carrying weight while walking or weight lifting).
Here is some reference for getting your walking back in a good state:
Alignment and Posture:
The anatomical position (as depicted below) provides a basis for your standing skeletal alignment. You’ll notice the feet are pointing straight ahead and are aligned underneath the hips. The palms are facing forwards (that’s right! Forwards…We’re not monkeys) and the head, shoulders, hips and knees are aligned vertically over the feet. Obviously you do not need to emphasise the jazz hands as they are in the picture, but the shoulders should not be rolled forwards with the palms facing behind you.
Walking is one of the safest and easiest ways to incorporate movement into your day. If you are walking well with good posture and technique, this will set you up for getting longevity out of your body and being prepared for more advanced and dynamic movements, whenever and in whatever form these dynamic actions may be required in your life.
Here’s a basic blueprint for good walking mechanics:
Stance and set-up:
- Position your feet a fist width apart with your toes pointing straight ahead.
- Create a gentle bracing of the core by exhaling and creating a mild tucking under of the pelvis. You should feel a contraction of the glute muscles and lower abdominals here but this should not be a 100% squeeze for dear life! Think of using approx. 20-40% of your full force. It is a contraction you can maintain and that still allows you to breathe in through the diaphragm. No point having good posture if you’re fainting due to oxygen deprivation!
- Imagine you have a fish hook attached under the back of your head, pulling you up for the ceiling. This should feel like a lengthening of the spine. As if you are trying to make yourself taller.
Step and shift your weight onto your front leg as it passes underneath you
- One of the most common faults associated with walking is over-striding. When taking steps that are too long you are essentially putting on the brakes every time the heel strikes the floor. You are far better off to take slightly shorter more regular steps and have your foot contact the ground just a few inches in front of the body so that as your body weight is shifted onto that leg, the leg is positioned underneath the weight of the body.
- If you set yourself up following the stance and set-up sequence above, then imagine slowly falling forwards from the ankles (keeping the rest of your body in your setup alignment) and let your foot step forward to catch your weight. Good walking is actually a subtle version of this ‘falling forwards’ process.
Maintain straight feet
- Imagine a straight line drawn on the ground between your feet and spanning into the distance. As you take your steps, each foot should continue to land parallel to the line and at the same distance away from the line (directly underneath the hip).
Now go practice! Carry some awareness while you walk. With practice, ‘good walking’ will become natural!
Deskbound- Kelly Starrett
Born to Run