What if the majority of people do not fully understand how to walk and might even have done it all wrong all along?
When I decided to start writing about what I have learned with years of exploration and learning, it was difficult to pick a subject. Then I figured I would start simple and take it one step at a time and talk about walking.
Before discussing about how to walk, lets explore the various components our marvelous body gave us to achieve this. I know, I know, most people just want to know how to do things without understanding how it works, but I hold you all to an higher standard.
First and foremost, our walks utilises multiple key muscles, joints, tendons to keep stable. Instead of listing them all, I’ll focus on the main areas that we all need to keep in mind. These key areas are (from the ground up):
- The feet
- The knees
- The hip and gluts
- The core
- The upper back and arms
- The head
Each one of these components can affect the walk we do on a day to day basis. It is said we walk about 3000 – 4000 steps per day in average (10 000 steps minimum if we want to stay healthy). That is a lot of steps, so if we are doing it wrong, that is a lot of wear and tear on the body.
Why should I care about this? Well most people will say that knee pain is caused by bad feet and knees … but have you noticed that it is only 2 components out of 6 … and the other 4 are actually quite messed up now a days because of how much sitting we do (more on that later)? So I feel we are being duped by people trying to sell us shoes, braces and orthopedics … and you guys deserve unbiased information.
Alright, lets see if we can go into more specifics. The structure of our feet is quite interesting, we have an arch to allow our foot to absorb shocks, 5 toes for balance and an heel for support. Unlike what people would have us think, our feet is closer to a tripod than a table (see picture for details). This means that our weight should be equally distributed between 3 prongs: the heel, the big toe mound and the small toe mound.
How does this impact me? Have you ever examined how you walked? If you went to buy shoes, I’m sure some salesman shot you one of these terms: flat feet, overpronation, underpronation, supination… To be honest, after seeing more than 5 chiropractors, I noticed that different people will always diagnose different posture problems. Apparently, I overpronate, underpronate and have slightly flat feet? All in all, it’s hard to have viable information, so its up to you to know as much as you can on the subject.
How should I use my feet then? Well first off, take a moment to notice how your weight is distributed when standing. Just stand a moment and focus on your feet. The weight should be roughly centered in the middle of your foot, meaning about 50% of the weight on your heel and 25% on your external toes and 25% on your internal toes.
Alright, now lets put some motion into this, first the heel should hit the ground first (unless you are sprinting, running barefoot on concrete or jumping … use common sense here, I don’t want you all to get shattered heels / knees). When the heel hits the floor, it sends a signal to your brain to start activating the leg muscles chain: calf, hamstring, glut. Once they start firing up and bracing for the incoming load, it’s time to put some weight on the external toes and then internal toes. And then when we remove the weight from the foot, we lift the heel, then the external toes and then the internal toes (using the big toe and second toe to propel your stride).
Of course, when sprinting or jumping, the weight comes in on the forefoot before the heel. As I mentioned before, heel striking when jumping without cushioning the blow with the forefoot first can cause injuries.
Now we can move up to the knees. They are simply an hinge from which our calf and hamstring connects, so nothing much to say. Except, that there is some things you need to be careful with.
First of all, the knee was not meant to absorb extreme shock, the muscles around the joint are constantly working to lower the impact. However, if we lock our knees, the muscles don’t have a lot of room to absorb the impact and the knee takes the brunt of the force. Long story short, don’t lock up your knee, always strive to have a slight bend in the knee.
Also, the knee is like a lever pivot, so the farther forward the knee moves, the more pressure is exerted on it … as a rule of thumb, your knee should never bend further than your toes. This applies to walking, squatting and even sprinting to some extent.
The hips and gluts
These muscles are almost as important to our walk as our feet, yet we often ignore them. I personally feel like I failed at exercising / walking if I don’t feel any strain on my gluts. However, hours of sitting tighten the hips and shutdown the gluts.
The best way to activate the gluts when walking (aside from focusing on them) is to move your weight back and lean forward slightly (see image). This will force the glut to engage to prevent you from falling backward.
Another victim of our sitting habits. The core grows weaker over time because we don’t use it often and sitting makes them stiff (most impacted muscle is the rectus abdominis).
A way to fight this and force the core to engage when walking is again to move the weight back and lean forward. This forces the core to engage to prevent you from falling.
The upper back and arms
Well this is fairly simple right? Our arms swing back and forth. Not so fast, first of all, because we wear backpacks and slouch all day, our upper back becomes weak and our trapezoids are doing all the work. So yes, we swing our arms back and forth, but it is also important to keep pinching our upper back and keep our shoulder low (and hopefully not wear a backpack).
Why is the head important in walking? Well the average head weight about 10 – 11 pounds (about as much as a baby). On top of that, the head sits high above the feet, which increases the amount of force it can apply on the feet (principle of levers). This mean you better make sure it does not interfere with your walk. Here is a list of things to do:
- Do not look down to your feet all the time … or look down at the smart phone.
- Do not look up all the time.
- Do look straight .
- Do look around every now and then. Look up, look left, look right, look down, look sideways … you get my drift. This will not help your walk, but it will help your neck muscles keep relaxed and fight back a stiff neck. Humans used to be explorers and have to gather food / hunt prey in the forests … now we often just stare blankly in one direction for hours… not good.
Applying what we learned
Alright cool stuff, I guess we are done now. Before I let you go, lets go over everyday problems and how what we learned can be applied in every day activities.
Going up the stairs
This one is simple, we need to keep our knee bent and all that good stuff. But what we can do is lean in even further than usual to move most of our weight forward and force our gluts to move back. This will increase our balance and also give us a killer workout.
Going down the stairs / down a hill
This one is a bit trickier. Often people say going down the stairs is bad for the knees due to the impact we get. The main issue is that people want to walk down the stairs … when they should see it more as a reverse box jump.
The reason is that if we want to walk (aka have 1 foot touch the ground at all time, we have 2 choices:
- Lock up our front knee and let our weight fall on the lower step while we bend the other leg. That is bad because it literally drops all your weight on your knees. An alternative to that is waddling down the stairs.
- Use the back leg as support and bend it until the front foot touches the stairs. This is bad because the knee goes way in front of our foot causing a lot of pressure on the hinge. If you had bad knees that will hurt right away.
Then how am I suppose to get down those d*** stairs? Simple, just do as if you were jumping down the step one at a time using the forefoot to cushion the blow then let the heel take the weight and then repeat.
Wearing a backpack
Sadly for us, backpacks is the best way we could come up to carry stuff. These things forces our shoulders to shrug to keep the backpack up and pulls us backward with the weight. To top it all off, the backpack prevents us from using our upper back because we can’t pinch our shoulder blades. To help diminish the negative effects, here is a few tips:
- Invest in a good backpack with good support
- Read up on ways to properly load a backpack (heaviest stuff near your back, smooth things on the bottom like a sleeping back and light stuff on top)
- Take rests and do some shoulder shrugs / rotations. Just get some movement of the upper back and shoulders to reminds your brain these muscles exists.
- Don’t overload your backpack.
- Remember to lean forward to move the weight of the backpack over your legs and keep your weight centered.
Reading your smartphone / book / wearable
Don’t do it … just don’t. It is not worth it.
Hopefully you learned a few things. Did we miss anything? If so, feel free to let me know on the comments below and I’ll amend the text. I know I did not talk about footwear, wearables, exercises to help, etc. These things will come in separate posts.
- Walking speed and gait asymmetry: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4047486/
- Working on the muscles from hip to ankle: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4595922/
- Calf and plantar fasciitis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4595922/
- Hip and plantar fasciitis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5106421/
- Rehabilitation of various feet pathology: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2786815/
- Weight and pressure on various areas of the foot: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3284282/
- Feet weight bearing and rolling technique analysis (more even load is better than usual western technique): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3585310/
- Gait retraining: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4745249/
- Tripod analysis of the foot: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3748891/
- Joint manipulation of the foot: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2953346/
- Shoes and barefoot and foot strike: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4495985/
- Foot posture and knee / hip pain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4039193/
- Influence of the knee on the ankle: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4118219/
- Orthopedics shutting down leg muscles: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5276782/
- Knee pain caused by hip weakness and feet over-pronation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445255/
- Leg length discrepancy and knee / hip / spine pain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4593034/
- Lower kinetic chain issues in females: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2953297/
- The core: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Core_%28anatomy%29
- The foot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot#Pronation
- My personal trainer: Kyle Christ.
- My chiropractor: Lucy Osgood.
- My physical therapist : Don Young.