In our current EverWalk Book Club selection, The Last Great Walk by Wayne Curtis, a great deal of attention is paid to walking gaits. During the nineteenth century, a number of books were written analyzing the most efficient human gaits. Back then, two primary forms of human locomotion were advanced — the straight-leg vs the bent-leg approach.
The straight-leg method was thought to be the best for infantrymen — ensuring they would keep adequate distance from one another. But the French army disagreed with this approach, preferring instead the bent-leg method modeled after infants learning how to walk. Knees bent, body leaning forward — allowing gravity to pull one forward.
Although the latter was the method used by Edward Payne Weston, the subject of our book, it has since been modified by contemporary science. Indeed, scientists are paying a great deal of attention to the topic of walking gaits. In recent years, the US government has been analyzing people’s gaits as a means of identifying people. Indeed, our individual walking styles and idiosyncrasies can serve as a kind of visual fingerprint. Even from a distance, we can identify one another by how we move through the world. Our gaits are as distinctive as our DNA.
Think about it.
And yet, how much attention have to paid to how you walk? And, for that matter, what is the best way to walk?
According to most modern scientists, paying attention to our walking gaits, techniques, and posture can make a world of difference — keeping us in alignment, reducing wear and tear on the body, preventing pain, reducing aches and fatigue and injury, and improving balance and stability. Although this isn’t hard per se, it does ask us to be more mindful.
At the end of the day, a good walking technique employs the heel-strike method — hitting the pavement with your heel first, then rolling forward to the balls of your feet as the leg pendulum swings forward. This allows for the maximum energy transfer and the least energy waste.
How you walk, of course, depends on the type of walk in which you are participating. Walks are thought to fall into the following categories:
- An amble.
- A casual stroll.
- A steady walk.
- A brisk walk.
- Power walking.
- Race walking.
- Marathon walking.
- Nordic walking.
In some of the latter, rules come into play which require the walker to use techniques that ultimately are less beneficial for their physical health. But for the majority of us who are out for anything from an amble to a power walk, having a more mindful walking technique can make a big difference.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO WALK?
There are concrete things on which each of us can focus to maximize our longterm walking pleasure. Here are some tips for walking properly, as elucidated by Healthline:
KEEP YOUR HEAD UP
When you’re walking, focus on standing tall with your chin parallel to the ground and your ears aligned above your shoulders.
Imagine your head being pulled up gently by an invisible piece of string that’s attached to the ceiling. This may help prevent you from dropping your head into your chest while you walk.
Keep your eyes and gaze forward.
Focus on an area about 10 to 20 feet ahead of you while you walk.
LENGTHEN YOUR BACK
Focus on elongating your spine while you walk. Try to avoid slouching, hunching, or leaning forward, which can put stress on your back muscles.
Keep your shoulders down and back
Your shoulders also play a key role in your walking posture and technique. If your shoulders are tense or hunched forward, it can strain the muscles and joints in your shoulders, neck and upper back.
To ensure that your shoulders are correctly aligned while you’re walking, do the following:
Bring your shoulders up high in a shrug-like motion, then let them fall and relax. Using shoulder shrugs helps relieve tightness or tension, and puts your shoulders in a natural position that allows you to move your arms easily.
Try to keep your shoulders loose and relaxed, not tensed up toward your ears or slouched forward. You can do shoulder shrugs occasionally while you’re walking to ensure that you’re keeping your shoulders relaxed and in the right position.
ENGAGE YOUR CORE
Your core muscles also play an important role when you’re walking, and help you move more easily.
As you take each step, focus on tightening and engaging your core muscles by pulling your belly button in toward your spine. This can help you maintain balance and stability. It can also relieve stress and pressure on your back as you walk.
SWING YOUR ARMS
As you walk, gently swing your arms back and forth at your sides. Make sure you swing your arms from your shoulders, not from your elbows.
Don’t swing your arms across your body.
Don’t swing your arms up too high. Keep them around your midsection, not around your chest.
Healthline also has suggestions for what NOT to do while walking:
- Don’t look down. Looking down at your feet or phone too frequently can put unnecessary strain on your neck.
- Don’t take very long strides. Your power comes from pushing off your rear leg.
- Overstriding can put too much stress on your lower leg joints.
- Don’t roll your hips. Your hips should stay as level as possible while you walk.
- Don’t slouch. To avoid back and shoulder strain, keep your shoulders down and back when walking or standing, and focus on keeping your spine elongated.
- Don’t walk in the wrong shoes. If you’re going to be walking for more than a few minutes at a time, be sure to wear shoes that fit comfortably, have good arch and heel support, and are well cushioned to absorb the shock of your feet hitting the ground.
Paying a little more attention to all of this has many benefits — including reducing stress and pain on your muscles and joints, giving you more energy, allowing you to breathe more deeply, improving your circulation and digestion, increasing your core strength, reducing tension, and inculcating better balance.
At the end of the day, paying a little more attention to how you walk can bring great dividends. So next time you head out on an EverWalk, review these guidelines first and then experiment to see if you can bring some of them into play and make your walks more efficient and enjoyable!