Walking is fundamental. Everyone does it day in and day out, but very few people ever think there’s a right or wrong way to walk. We tend to stand up somewhere between 12 and 18 months of age, take our first steps to the cheers of our parents, and are thereafter left to our own devices. Here is even an article we wrote on the Health Benefits of Walking.
The way we learn is through imitation, most often of our parents, grandparents and siblings, who were never taught and quite possibly had injuries and accidents that also impacted their movement patterns. Add to this the fact that we’re the first bipedal species to walk upright, and we’ve been doing it for only a few hundred thousand years — nothing more than a pimple on the face of time. We’ve had a very short period and little guidance when it comes to getting ambulation right.
Here are three easy ways to improve your walk, starting today.
1. Take shorter steps.
Contrary to most people’s beliefs, short strides will make you go faster than long strides. You just need to take more of them. Too long strides lead to a host of troubles including hyperextension of the knees, which is also a major issue for both walking and standing.
Hyperextension is when a joint has been taken past its normal range of motion. In the case of walking, we hyperextend the knees when our stride is too long and the area behind the knee locks backward with each step we take. If you tend to hyperextend when standing the odds are you will hyperextend when walking.
Long strides also tend to take the legs too far out in front of the pelvis so that we land too forcefully on the heels and fail to keep the pelvis on top of the legs which is essential to successful forward motion. If a stride is too long, the calf has to push backward in order to propel the body forwards. This is the exact opposite action of correct walking.
You don’t have to take tiny steps; you only need to shorten your stride enough so that the calf doesn’t push backward to propel you forwards.
2. Lean slightly forward.
Ask people if they tend to lean backward or slump forwards when standing and almost everyone will say they are round shouldered and slumped over. People think they walk that way as well. Frankly, shoulders might slump forward but they are most often still behind the hips and therefore leaning back. So while walking, the legs move too far in front of the pelvis and the torso leans behind it. This happens due to excessive tucking of the pelvis, and generally being tight in the muscles at the back of the body, specifically the hamstrings at the back of the thigh and the muscles of the lower back.
When we lean backward to walk forward, we fail to engage essential core muscles that should be involved with every step and we don’t take advantage of the propulsive nature of gravity.
Walking is meant to be controlled falling, where the body leans forward enough to almost tumble and then catch itself with every step.
If you take the lower body back and hinge the upper body slightly forward it is fairly easy to correct the tendency to lean backward.
3. Alternate your arms and legs.
The body is a self-healing machine and every step is meant to be a spinal twist that tones the organs and engages the abdominal muscles in addition to the muscles of the arms and legs.
Each step should include the arms and legs working in opposition with the right arm moving forward the exact distance of the left leg and then that pattern switching for the left arm and right leg.
If the body does this with every step throughout the day every muscle is involved with our gait patterns and the body gets worked out fully and completely.
Unfortunately because many people take too long strides, lean backward to move forward and fail to alternate the arms and legs, we miss out on so many of the healing qualities that are inherent in walking correctly.
It isn’t hard to change the way you walk. Try to employ these three simple tips today and see how your body feels at the end of the day.
As originally published on Mind Body Green.