Optimal Walking

It sounds pretty obvious........of course you know how to walk, but the question is do you walk in a way that engages your more than 600 muscles or are you, like many of people who live in the western world - using less than 1/2 of them?

When we don't use our muscles regularly, our tissues will shrink around what we ask of them. The body is designed to be as efficient as possible - so it takes the logical leap that when you haven't used something for a while, there's no sense putting energy into that area.  If we are sitting for much of the day and tend to move in limited ways - that is going to translate to how much muscle is available to us when we walk. We might swing our arms with vigour and power forward - but our tissues are only allowing us to access just so much of our potential full range of movement (think sensory motor amnesia here).

Studies have also proven that many people walk in a way that could be more reasonably compared to continually stopping themselves falling. This might sound unlikely but take a look around you. How many people are moving around with their wrists forward, their heads coming forward of there shoulders and a definite, even if subtle tilt forward? You might be surprised (and yes, I am a pain in the proverbial to go for a walk with - and if you were thinking that this way of walking sounds a bit like red light reflex, you'd be right).  

Very few people actually utilise the muscles we were built to use. Our habits of walking actually paint a very clear picture of why we might be in pain and what we can do about it.

There is no quick fix
We live in a time and place where many people jump in the car to go and pick something up that is maybe a ten minute walk away. We tend to tackle our wellbeing programs in short grabs - perhaps 20 to 30 minutes here and there, and then a great deal of the rest of our time is spent sitting. Our bodies were designed for regular and wide ranging movement. We need to move more and in more ranges of motion. It's not about pummelling ourselves - it's about enjoyable, healthy movement for much more of the day. Healthy movement with good alignment leads to natural bone strengthening and cell rejuvenation.

How is your balance? - Maybe your TFL needs some love
We have some potentially brilliant and strong muscles that, in many of us, are neglected and under-utilised. Perhaps primary among these are the tensor fascia latae muscles that we are supposed to engage when we walk. When we learn how to walk well we learn how to push off the heel of the back foot while holding ourselves upright - really utilising the TFL and the gluteal muscles. This is also at the heart of good balance.  (Important side note here is that you simply can't get a good push off and stride if your calf muscles are restricting you. So go grab that 1/2 dome, and bonus points if you are calf stretching while reading this!)

What do we need to do?
Start by moving more, try for one hour a day of an enjoyable walking program. Get some hills in there and some grass, some sand, some rocks - vary your terrain so the muscles of your feet and ankles can get moving too. Take your time to get used to a more conscious way of moving and if something doesn't feel right stop and reassess.  We can't change many years of moving a certain way in one walking session.  Give your tissues time to respond.  You could be gently thinking about:

  • Feet straight ahead

  • Feet pelvis width apart

  • Push off the back foot (good one to work on on the flatter, more even surfaces at least initially)

  • Work on the arms coming back rather than forward

There is more, but too much for one blog. You can read Katy Bowman's new book "Move Your DNA" and I do still have a few copies left of that one, or you can dip into the wonderful articles on her website.

Home Focus Week 6:

  • Calf Stretch (30 seconds to 1 minute each side) x 2 or more times a day
  • Toe Stretch (30 seconds to 1 minute each side)
  • Pelvic List (30 seconds to 1 minute each side)
  • Walking on the Spot ( to practice arms and leg coordination, around 1 minute)

...and get out there and walk for an hour or more, every day! Next week I'll talk a bit more about walking, and we'll even mention shoes (yaay, zero drop minimalist shoes - it doesn't get much more exciting than that!....) I'm really glad I didn't meet myself when I was 20. I don't think we would have gotten along terribly well (I would have told myself where I could put my zero drop shoes for starters...)