Understanding Proper Walking Form

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In our information age, our range of everyday movement has massively declined. From our twenties on, an inactive, sedentary lifestyle means we lose flexibility, muscle mass and endurance by up to 2% a year.

It is accepted that regular exercise improves our resilience to daily stress and improves fitness to prevent and deal with anxiety and depression, hypertension and arthritis. However the majority of people are exercising wrong and are damaging themselves.

Most people walk and run with their feet pointed out to the sides (due to missing internal rotation in the hip, see previous chapter) resulting in their ankles collapsing with every step and their knees rolling inwards. There are only so many repetitions before your joints have had enough. Our bodies are designed to be pain free into our 80s; don’t blow your knees or hips before you’re 40.

How to walk correctly

As my Alexander teacher states, how we exercise is more important than what we do. We need to listen to our bodies rather than wear headphones and carry on running past the pain. But why we are exercising is the most important component – what is it we are actually trying to achieve?

Walking and running are an ideal aerobic exercises. As hunter gatherers we did a lot of brisk walking, breaking into a run to catch food or avoid danger and it was important we had an efficient cardio-vascular and respiratory system. Both walking and running helps our postural support muscles (especially our glutes which are turned off in most people) and they tone the legs and aid flexibility. They should make us feel better and give us more energy; it’s just ironic that most of us are destroying our bodies doing it.

On the ball

In Malcolm Balk’s ‘The Art of Running with the Alexander Technique’ he states that for our running stance, the weight needs to be on the ball of your foot. Your heel is one fingers-width off the ground or just resting on the ground but not weight-bearing. Contrast this to most people who heel strike; however this is not our fault as we have been made to wear shoes with a big heel lift all our lives (women especially).

Zero Drop shoes have no heel drop, the ball of your boot is on the same level as your heel. The ball of the foot is the portion of the foot between your arch and toes. As you walk, your weight is transferred from your heel to the ball of your foot. If your body weight is not adequately aligned over the ball of your foot, pain and swelling in that area can occur.

Traditional running shoes change that natural ability as most come with a big heel lift. This was done to give you padding so when you land on your heel it reduces the forces you’re dealing with but ironically, it does the exact opposite.

Mimic being barefoot

With zero drop or barefoot shoes there is no forward tilt; however you have to be careful as the major shoe manufacturers have jumped in with their own offering now but are still placing an inch high of foam in the heel between you and the ground combined with a raised toe-spring to compensate which doesn’t let your toes flex naturally. Or they come with a sole that is stiff or only bends from the heel forward – not suited to natural movement at all. Plus they will likely still have excessive arch support.

I used to wear orthotics. At some point in my teenage years I was ‘diagnosed’ with having flat or pronated (rolling in) feet. However the arch needs to do its job of giving you spring when you run and having a solid base destroys this natural and evolved ability. Kelly Starrett from MobilityWOD states that he’s never been able to restore an arch in an athlete’s foot before. I’ve restored mine from throwing out my orthotics. Be careful what advice you take!

When I was in Boulder (publishing my first book Coffee Shop Entrepreneurs), it was great to meet Stephen Sashen the CEO XeroShoes at their warehouse. I first heard of Xero from seeing him pitch on Shark Tank and it was awesome to pick up some barefoot shoes which Stephen said he even uses to hike up the mountain trails out in Colorado. There needs to be enough cushioning so as not to bruise the bones in your feet but the soles of your shoes need to bend and these type of barefoot style shoes are awesome. Also the new Barefoot Company ‘Free Your Feet’ range are excellent and shoes such as the Xero Shoes Prio get great reviews on Amazon (below).

Xero Shoes Prio - Men's Minimalist Barefoot Trail and Road Running Shoe - Fitness, Athletic Zero Drop Sneaker - Imperial Blue
  • The lightweight, flexible performance shoe for road running, trail running, fitness, Crossfit, hiking, and more...
  • Foot-first design. Wide toe boxes let your toes spread and relax. Zero-drop, non-elevated sole for proper posture
  • Low-to-the-ground for balance and agility. The flexible sole lets your feet bend and move naturally.

Push don’t pull

In order to move well you need to learn how to use gravity. Rather than pushing which causes strain, you instead need to lean forward from the ankle joint and fall into a walk or running stance. And when running you simply pull your foot up quickly towards your hip rather than push out at the back. Walking and running should be effortless. Learn to ball strike and keep your feet straight and it will be. It’s all about turning on your glutes and pushing off from the back leg (not the front leg to lead) as in the video below.

How NOT to walk properly

There is a lot of bad advice out on the internet on how to walk properly such as “keep your shoulders pulled back. Don’t do this! You should not be pulling anything back, rather you should be aware if you are hunching forward or letting your shoulders roll forward so that you can go back to neutral.

Good posture is about not doing rather than doing 🙂

Last update on 2018-12-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

About the Author Richard Patey

On a lifelong mission to unbreak myself :)

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