How does walking ideally happen?

While the action of walking can be difficult to explain in words and challenging at first when attending to walking as it is happening, attention to walking can be a truly joyful experience.

When we consider walking we have two aspects we need to be aware of, the first aspect is the weight-bearing step and the second aspect is how we recover to take the next step.

So lets explore the weight-bearing aspect first.  Lets say we’re going to take a step through the left foot.  The left centre of the heel is on the ground and we’re travelling through the left foot, from a same-side perspective, the left shoulder is travelling forward and the left hip is travelling back, this is happening from a transverse plane or rotational perspective.

The term used for this action, is out of phase rotation and what this means is the way that the shoulder and pelvic girdles communicate in walking is that we have an out of phase rotation through the girdles.  This out of phase rotation occurs as I travel through the length of the foot.  When the left shoulder goes forward, the left hip goes back.  This is happening as the left hand is going forward with the right foot.  We view this as the contralateral recovery phase of the swinging leg and hand, but we rarely consider checking in with what is happening on the weight-bearing leg.

The way we recover for the next step to happen is really important.  As I travel through the weight-bearing foot I come to the ball of the foot and finally the big toe knuckle, its at this time that the knee is travelling forward and away, ie. The knee joint is hinging forward, which is a way of using all the articulations of the foot, ankle and knee to liberate degrees of freedom and skilfulness in recovering the leg.

The lower extremity pendulums forward with assistance from the quadriceps group, to land in the next step.  This is happening while we’ve travelled through the stepping leg.  We’re on one leg approximately 85% of the time in normal walking.  This means the double support phase is approximately 15%

From a central perspective it’s very important that the movement occurs around mid-line axis, with minimal lateral lean.  To understand this it is best to consider a birds-eye view of walking looking down at the crown of the head and the out of phase rotation of the shoulder and pelvic girdles.

It is also important that we are aware of an overall lengthening when walking so that we maintain a constant horizontal height within the space underneath the ears.

If you have ever seen someone limping or with a movement compensation you probably observed a lateral lean strategy that allowed them to lock the trunk on the pelvis in order to take a step on the side with the difficulty.  This movement pattern will create other problems if it becomes the default setting for walking after an acute episode like a sprained ankle, knee injury, or hip tightness.

Checking in with attention in the body is an important aspect of our organismic functioning.  Feeling your spine and attending to breathing ensures that your attention is contextualised with the current task.

It is also important to remember that the body provides the brain with the information required for best possible movement patterns.  In order to upgrade the software that we use to move, the brain and nervous system need information.  The information we give to the brain comes from the body, and its informational basis is movement performance in daily living.

To summarise walking;

From a same-side perspective, when I travel through the length of the left foot, the left shoulder travels forward, while the left hip travels back energetically in a rotational plane.  The contralateral side is recovering via the right knee travelling forward and away to pendulum  into the next step.  It is important to maintain a vertical orientation so that movement is organised around mid-line axis of rotation.

If you enjoy walking or running consider booking in for bodywork, or exercises to enhance the feeling and ease of these wonderfully intelligent patterns of movement.

In the clip accompanying this blog, I am walking on the spot, follow the instructions below to try this out.

walking out of phase

Out of phase rotation from feet together stance

Stand with the inside borders of the feet touching, lengthen in the field of gravity, feel the length and width of the feet, outward spiral of the deep hips, front ribs down, and tail down to heels.  Begin by moving the shoulders in a rotational pattern, look straight ahead.  Feel the effect this has at the feet.  When the left shoulder rotates forward, feel that the left foot feels like it is travelling backwards, and pay attention to sensation at the left hip spiral.  Do the same for right rotation.  When the motion is clear, close your eyes, and feel.  Alternate between eyes closed and open for 5 minutes.

Progression

As the right heel comes off and the right knee travels forward and away, the left shoulder is matching the movement of the knee by travelling forward in a transverse plane.  As the right foot and knee return to act in weight-bearing, the right shoulder is travelling forward.  The hip is travelling back in concert with the travel through the length of the foot.  The timing and coordination of this is essential if it is to become your new gait pattern.  It is also essential that you check in with length in the field of gravity, this includes front ribs down, symphysis forward and tail down to heels.

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