Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Walking is a great exercise. It’s low impact, nearly everyone can do it, and you don’t need any specialized equipment. Walking is one of the most important, and beneficial exercises that you can do.
Now, what would you say if I told you that I would lay down 100 to 1 odds in a bet that you were doing it wrong? What would you say if I told you that in all likelihood the way you walk, either for leisure or exercise goes fundamentally against the way that your body was designed to work?
Consider a moment what you look like when you’re walking. Let’s say you’re exercising, and the doctor has told you to walk a mile, three times a week. How do you walk? Chances are you want to get that mile covered as efficiently as possible so you lengthen your stride. You’re probably also wearing shoes of some type, so your feet, when they do meet the ground hit it with enough force to send a small slapping sound to your ears. Finally, if you move your arms at all, they either swing back and forth in a forced manner, or they remain hanging at your sides, your hands warming themselves in the pockets of your coat. Finally, let’s talk about your head- where are you looking? If you’re like most people, you’re listening to music, watching your feet, and occasionally looking up to see the random car or person going past.
Sound familiar? If it does, than your “walking” may be doing more harm than good. For nearly two decades, I have been either studying or practicing martial arts- and if there is one thing that I’ve learned is that the body is designed to function best in a certain, natural way. Every part of your being, from your mind to the little toe is an integral part of who you are and using it naturally will do wonders for making your time here more enjoyable and fulfilling.
Natural walking is walking how your body was designed to move. It is different from the way that thousands of people around the world walk, but once you learn how to do it, you’ll notice the difference right away. Trust me- allowing your body to move naturally will help you in so many different aspects of your life. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Tip # 1: Keep it Short
Believe it or not, every single time you take those long strides, you throw your lower body and hip out of alignment. This is a problem that can lead to serious injury of your foot, ankle, knee or hip if your foot would land badly. Instead, keep your steps closer together, with your feet landing at most a shoulder width length in front of you. That way, your joints won’t be over extended, and your body can easily adjust and shift your weight in times of emergency.
Tip # 2: Roll with It
If you’re sitting down, take a moment to lift up your foot and point your toes. Now flex them, and rotate them around. Ever stop to think why your ankle has such a wide range of motion? The reason is because it is designed to help you absorb the shock of impact as you’re moving. The foot and ankle are designed to absorb shock by having the foot roll from the outer heel edge up to the big toe with each step, or vice versa. By making the conscious effort to roll your steps instead of merely slapping your feet to the ground, you’ll lessen a great deal of the stress on your lower legs and knees. Just remember to move the way your body wants to, and things such as shin splints might just be a thing of the past.
Tip # 3: Get the Rest of the Body Involved
It is important to remember that the body is a natural machine that is composed of integral parts that work together. Unless you’re being restrained in some fashion, there is no reason why your arms and torso shouldn’t be moving naturally as you walk. As your hips rotate slightly with each step, your lower torso should move as well, which is connected to your shoulders and arms through the spine. Once the shoulders move, your arms will naturally swing in sync with your body. Don’t force it, just let the natural movement of your body develop.
Tip # 4: Go Barefoot
Personally, I detest shoes. I find them to be too confining, a breeding ground for infection, fungus, mold, and a wonderful way to lessen the ability of my body to move naturally. And I’m not alone. There are a number of people in the medical and physical fitness world that are beginning to see the benefits of walking around without shoes. Is there the potential to get cut and scraped as you walk around? Of course, and avoiding that is part of being aware in your environment. Are there situations where wearing some sort of foot protection is warranted? Yes- extreme hot or cold weather, or a grassy field filled with unknown plants or animals are a few that come to mind. However, around your house, your yard, even the local natural trail, going barefoot is a viable option. Between your own attentiveness to the world around you, and your feet’s natural ability to ward off infections through the use of calluses and copious amounts of sweat glands, you should be just fine.
Natural walking is walking the way that nature and your body intended. Allowing your body to move in such a way is a great first step in staying fit and healthy, the natural way.
Laura Seeber is a geologist, environmental professional, writer, and outdoor and nature enthusiast. Born just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Laura has spent the majority of her life hiking through the forest, descending into caves, climbing over boulders and up cliffs, navigating river rapids, and writing and blogging about her adventures. She currently resides in Illinois and travels country in search of the next great outdoor activity or adventure.