Walking is one of the things that we learn at a very early age. It becomes so natural and engrained that we stop thinking about it. It is almost like breathing. It just happens. Despite this, most people walk wrong.
Most of the problems with the way we walk have been created because of (you guessed it) shoes. The thicker and stiffer the shoes become, the less you can feel the ground and the less natural your gait becomes. I’m not going to dwell on this aspect too much because most people reading this already know all of this. However, I think it is important to look at the gait changes that have happened because of shoes so that you can spot them in our own gait habits and become more aware of how you walk so that you can begin to change if needed.
- Duck Walk
This is a very common issue and one that I still struggle with although I’ve made a lot of headway. People tend to walk with their toes pointed outward. There are various reasons for this but mostly it is because of tight and immobile muscles in the hips and legs. Excessive sitting (in the standard chair position) is probably the main reason this is so common. This has been compared to having the front wheels of a car out of alignment. If both tires are pointed outward they are going to wear out very quickly! The same is true for your body. Walking duck footed is going to put excessive pressure on your knees, ankles, etc. Also, it is simply inefficient. Next time you go shopping or are out where there are many people walking just look down and watch people walk. I’ll bet 4 out of 5 people walk with their toes pointed outward.
- The Foot Scuff
This is an issue that older generations apparently don’t have because when I was a kid, I remember always hearing my dad get after my siblings and I for dragging our feet when we walked. I think it drove him nuts because of the sound and the fact that it wore through our shoes faster. The latter was probably the biggest factor! I didn’t do that very much but my brother did it quite a bit. If your shoes are too stiff, it is difficult to really bend your foot as you touch down on the ground with the back of your foot and roll through your steps. This makes it more likely to either slide your feet along the ground or lift and clomp down which we will talk about later.
The truth is, most of the people that scuff their feet are simply lazy. They just put the minimal amount of effort into walking.The interesting thing about this, is it is actually fairly natural to lift the foot only a little bit when we walk. If you take your shoes off and walk barefoot outside, you may notice that while you definitely don’t drag your feet, you don’t lift them more than necessary. This leads us to the next walking problem.
- The Clomp
If you are barefoot, it makes sense that you are not gong to lift your foot way up and smash it down to the ground as you walk. If you can’t feel anything because of thick, padded shoes then it doesn’t matter so it’s easier to make this mistake. Also, stiff shoes contribute to this. How can you walk smoothly and efficiently if your foot can’t bend?! It isn’t possible. People tend to lift their feet up, put their feet forward and simply fall onto their foot. You’ve likely heard about barefoot running studies that talk about the problems with heel strike. Walking this way is just like the heel strike in running. It sends shocks up the leg and your joints take the damage. If you find your knees and hips useful, don’t fall onto your foot like this!
- The Tiptoe
Speaking of barefoot running. I have mixed feelings about the barefoot running studies. On the one hand, they have helped a lot of people to become aware of how traditional shoes change our gait. They have paved the way for minimalist shoes to come to the market. On the other hand, they can be misleading. One of the big mistakes I see people make is to assume that because barefoot running form is to land on the forefoot, then walking should be the same way. That is just an assumption based on running studies. Running is not walking. The mechanics are very different. It sounds obvious, but many people don’t really see the difference. When you walk, you should gently come down on the back of your foot. I say “back of your foot” rather than heel because it is a subtle difference. You don’t want to come down on the back of your heel, but the pad of your heel is the first part to touch the ground. Immediately, the rest of your foot touches down and at this point, your glute muscles activate and as your leg pulls back, it propels your body forward. At the end of the gait cycle, you push off with your toes just before your other foot goes through the same motion.
- The Bounce
Any of the motions of walking can be taken to excess. One of the things I’ve seen go too far is the last push off of the toes. This makes sense if you need to walk quickly but not quite run. Using your calf muscles to push off the ground with your toes can create more spring to propel you forward more quickly but in general walking, it should be a smooth motion. If you’re bouncing up and down, you’re trying too hard.
The most important lesson about your walking gait is to be mindful but not worried. Go walk and just observe how your body works. Don’t get yourself down if you have bad habits that linger. Just keep paying attention and you’ll find that things will eventually work themselves out. If you are interested in getting more information about walking gait from a biomechanics point of view, we highly suggest checking out Katy Bowman’s work. She gets more specific and has much more knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics. Check out her post about walking here.