what happens to our posture when we walk? Man started walking upright when he took a stick in hand and created the first tool, a stone ax. Since then, we have been moving on two legs and walk this way almost exclusively. But still, every person has their own “walk.” Your walk can be influenced by your physical state, mood, character, and even your plans for the future. There are a lot of descriptions of the way people walk: light, easy, heavy, brisk, stealthily and many others. There are as many kinds of walk as there are moods.
Walks vary. You probably agree with me on that, and now I need to convince you of the strong connection that exists between your walk and your health. Walk is “posture while moving.” Do you know how many steps you take during your typical day? A pedometer can help you find out. You have to take 10,000 steps per day to load your skeletal and cardiovascular system minimally. To lose weight, you have to add 2,000-3,000 steps. During our lives, we take millions and hundreds of millions of steps. To take a step, you have to enable your entire musculoskeletal system, especially your knee and hip joints and feet, to work. The most frequent place for the elderly to have pain is in their leg joints. That’s why different ointments for the joints are the best-selling items in drugstores. So it’s important to understand that your walk influences the health of your joints and spine, and how you walk now defines how you will walk for the rest of your life!
The first step is said to be the beginning of any journey. So what are the mechanics of walking? Let’s look at this complicated and interesting question more closely. Do you know what the difference is between walking and running? In both cases, both legs are used. The thing is though, that when we are running, we are flying! This statement describes the phase of running when both legs are off the ground. This doesn’t happen when you’re walking, because one of your feet is always touching the ground. Children usually start walking around the age of 9-12 months. One step with the right foot and the next step with the left foot form the walking cycle. Then the cycle repeats. That’s why it’s not hard to learn how to walk. But it takes a little more practice and an understanding of a few basic principles to learn how to walk correctly.
Walking makes the whole skeleton work. Your legs make up about 30% of your body weight; the remaining 70% takes part in walking as well, but passively. If you count how long your feet are in the air while walking, you will see that they are off the ground about 40% of the time. 60% of the time they are touching the ground. Your feet touch the ground simultaneously for a very short period of time, and most of that time, the majority of your weight is on one foot. If you’re not convinced of the fact that this is a very complicated biomechanical process, consider this: 11 leg joints and 57 muscles in each leg take part in walking! (The connection of the fifth lumbar vertebra and the first sacral vertebra are counted as one joint.) The process of walking is recorded in the neural nets of your cerebellum, spinal cord, and brain trunk. You walk without even thinking about it. It is involuntary. However, you can also consciously influence some elements of walking, and this will permit you to improve your posture while walking and your walk itself.
Let’s pretend we have a video of a person walking. We’re going to watch it in slow-motion to make an in-depth analysis of a single step and the whole walking process. So sit down in a comfortable arm-chair and watch this fascinating movie. One step begins with the touching of the ground with a heel. The entire body weight falls on the heel and is pushed on it. Then, to make the force lighter, the body weight is carried to the rest of the foot, and the body is moved forward. At the same time, the knee joint is bent. These moves lighten the force and the initial contact of the foot with the ground. To feel how strong this force is, try to walk with totally straightened knee joints. Your brain will be stressed so much, that you will not be able to do this for even one minute. So carrying the body weight from the heel to the toes is an important moment. This process can be either passive or active. You need to know that most people’s toes work only 30% of the time while walking. Sometimes, they work 50% of the time, and that is much better. Touch the bottoms of your toes and the soft padded cushions at the base of your toes, especially of your big toe. These spots are meant to take almost your whole weight while walking. Walking actively is the primary sign of a correct and healthy walk. Active walking means you are actively pushing your foot off the ground. This is only possible with the help of the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle. Gymnasts and dancers have well-developed gastrocnemius muscles. A person’s biological age can even be defined according to the state of this muscle: the more elastic and trained it is, the younger a person is biologically. And vice versa. If a 30-year-old person’s gastrocnemius muscle is sagging, it’s said this person got old too early. Pay close attention to this! Please! Let’s repeat the whole walking cycle: brief leaning on the heel, carrying of weight to the front edge of the foot, and toes, by means of the calf (gastrocnemius muscles). In short, you are rolling from your heel to your toes actively. This move is even, and your walk is fluid and flexible.
Let’s apply our theoretical knowledge to practice, as usual. Try to walk the wrong way first, that is, without pushing off from the ground on your toes. You’re walking like a feeble, elderly person now; your feet are shuffling. Your calves aren’t working at all, even though your body is moving in space. People who don’t use their gastrocnemius muscles move like this. Their slouching and shuffling weakens their gastrocnemius muscles, and they eventually can hardly walk actively.
The second phase of this experiment is the reverse: active walking. Try to push off the ground with your toes and calves with all your strength. Your step has become wider, and it seems like you have started jumping while walking. This walking style is typical for active young men who try to look assertive. The prominent Russian stage director, K. Stanislavsky, who paid great attention to an actor’s posture and movement, wrote what a perfect walk for an actor should be: “… the upper part of the body with the chest, shoulders, neck, and head should not experience any pushes, should be quiet and completely free while moving… “
Our two opposite and extreme experiments helped you feel how your muscles and feet work when walking. While walking, you have to touch the ground with your heel and then carry your body weight to the front edge of your foot, simultaneously raising your heel with your gastrocnemius muscles. If you manage to do this, you will feel some rolling through your foot with each step.
An attempt to influence walking with the help of the principles described here was made while producing the shoes MBT, Massai Barefoot Technology. Massai belongs to an African tribe. These people are tall and have a straight and flat posture. They can walk without shoes for miles. Kay Müller, who lived in their tribe for several years, studied their peculiarities and invented shoes that have a thickening in the middle of the sole. When walking in such shoes, the foot rolls from heel to toe involuntarily, mimicking the smooth movements of the Massai people. Manufacturers of these shoes report that this loads the calves and buttock muscles more intensively, and many women really appreciate this.
When you change and improve the way you walk, it’s like giving a gift to your knee and hip joints. If you want to stay upright, rising on your toes, then you can do it only by straightening your entire spine. Walking with active feet improves the posture of the whole body. In the practical part of this book, you will learn exercises to help you change your walk and the work of your feet while walking.
Now you know about your feet and legs, but what should you do with your arms while walking? The upper part of your body, your head, and arms are passive passengers that move with your legs. It would be very difficult to walk smoothly without your arms. When walking, movements of your arms balance your body. That’s why they move opposite to the legs. When the right leg is moving forward, for example, the left hand is moving forward and vice versa. This synchronous work of the opposing arms and legs creates the smoothest movements of the body and the head.
- Not only the physical state, but also mood is reflected in a person’s walk.
- Active pushing off the ground with the toes is the primary factor in walking improvement.
- Correct, active walking maintains a healthy, balanced body position and saves leg joints.