Walking Isn't Just Walking--Part 1
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
Walking Isn’t Just Walking—Part 1
You might be thinking, “I know how to walk. I’ve been doing it all my life!” But, have you ever taken time to really watch how people walk? In my work as a licensed physical therapist clinician, I've assessed a variety of gait patterns in my patients and witnessed how they affect health and daily activities.
In this series on Walking Isn't Just Walking, I explain natural movement and form, barefoot/minimalist shoes vs. traditional shoes, and tips for transitioning to a barefoot walker/runner.
We will start with natural movement and form…
The Foot-Ground Connection
Did you know that the soles of our feet have more nerve endings than our fingertips and lips, which means they have a huge sensing capacity and role in our movement and posture! Our feet are meant to optimally move our body and keep us balanced by sending signals to our brain, called proprioception.
Natural movement and form are about using our body the way it’s supposed to be used. From our shoulders down, but especially our hips and legs, our body has its own built-in spring and shock-absorber mechanism—muscles, ligaments, and tendons. If our feet aren’t allowed to do their job bending, moving, flexing and balancing, then their function will move upstream into our ankle, knee, hip and back, and cause problems. In order to explore natural movement, you will eventually want to take off your shoes and connect with the ground.
Forefoot Strike vs. Heel Strike: Heel striking is the action when your heel makes contact with the ground first, followed by the ball of your foot in a sort of continuous rolling motion. Heel strike jolts the string of bones running along our upper heel and radiates upward through our leg and continuing toward our upper body.
This method of walking or running has become natural for us over time because it requires minimal effort, but in reality it’s often the cause of joint pain and spinal trouble. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to encounter a mindset in gait training that heel strike is a component of a normal gait, even in the physical therapy world. One possible reason for this is (I make this assertion based on my research findings) traditional shoes, especially athletic shoes over the last fifty years or so, have caused a variety of gait deviations including heel striking. With the exception of women’s high-heels (whose torture on their own is accepted for the sake of vanity, lol), the reason I think this is plausible is because most shoes are designed to cushion the foot thereby diminishing proprioception, support the arch which makes it weaker, inhibit flexibility to prevent the foot and toes from bending/flexing because the shoe soles are stiff and hard, and crowd the toes thereby immobilizing them.
Forefoot striking is when your forefoot makes contact with the ground first, rolling backward and finishing with your heel on the ground. This movement activates the string of muscles in our foot and minimizes impact on the bones in our heels and ankles. We also move this way in certain circumstances, like when we climb stairs or dance, and when toddlers learn to walk. This is beneficial for the health of our ligaments, tendons and joints. It also tones up musculature not only in our feet and legs, but our whole body, and actually requires more energy compared to the heel-to-toe style, thereby burning more calories!
Make "Strides"—Techniques for Natural Movement and Form
Natural movement and form are important to our health, and should feel relaxed, light, and easy. Train yourself to have natural movement and form by:
Not reaching your foot out in front of your body (over-striding). Instead, try to get your foot to land under your body—so, it's kind of going up and down, rather than out and back.
Pushing off with your hind leg by using the muscles in your buttock and posterior leg muscles of your hind leg which forces your other leg to move forward. You can check to make sure you’re engaging your glutes (large muscles in your buttocks) by placing your hands over your buttocks. You should feel your glute tense up a bit with each footfall as it accepts the load, and that same glute should tense up even more when you push off to take another step so that your hand gets a little “pushback.”
Swinging your arms, opposite arm forward with opposite leg forward, which creates a hip rotation that forces the opposing hip to naturally elevate for efficient movement.
Maintaining proper posture by holding your head straight and keeping your chin parallel to the ground, engaging your core by slightly contracting your abdominal muscles, and keeping your shoulders over your hips, and your hips over your feet, which also helps prevent over-stride and heel strike.
Walking is an essential function of our daily life and is the most repetitive movement we do. Natural movement is the obvious healthy choice just like eating natural (real) food. When we use our body the way it’s designed to be used, we're more efficient and less susceptible to injury—which enables us to reach for the stars to experience and achieve great things!
To explore natural movement, you eventually want to take off your shoes and connect with the ground. One way to begin transitioning to barefoot is wearing barefoot shoes. There are several good ones on the market but I prefer Xero Shoes because they’re legit barefoot shoes that are also stylish—from hiking to running, and walking to casual closed-toed and sandals. You can find a link for Xero Shoes at my shop page www.PrimalPrescribed.com/other.
I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to contact me with questions or feedback. Next in this series on Walking, I will discuss Barefoot vs. Traditional Shoes. Until then, be well and live awesome!
All of the information in this writing is for educational and informational purposes only. We are passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle and aim to share that passion with you through coaching, blogs, readings, chats, social media, etc. Primary sources to ensure accurate and current content, including studies, scientific references, and statistics, are found below:
Steven Sashen (2019) The Movement Movement