A gait too far

During 2016 I managed to destroy the art of people watching for one of my friends.

It was a similar scenario to one I read in a sports psychology book that suggested the best way to win a game of golf was to ask your opponent whether they breathed in or out during their back swing.  The over analysis would ruin their game.  So it was with people watching.

It was a conversation about gait analysis and high heeled shoes.

I pointed out that you simply had to watch people trying to walk in high heels to realize that very few people can do it. The plantar flexion needed to accommodate the heel of the shoes is beyond most people’s flexibility and so the knee has to move forward to accommodate it.  If the knee moves forward then the hip must flex to avoid falling forwards and so you end up with people walking with permenantly bent knees, permenantly flexed hips and wondering why their back aches.

She spent a morning watching people on their way to work and was convinced.

Walking is a very complicated process.  After decades of development no robot can yet do it.  It requires hip abduction and adduction to balance and hold the pelvis in place to create enough room for the leg to swing through,  internal and external rotation of the femurs to accommodate the legs moving one at a time, the coordination of all of the muscles in the lower limb to place the foot and then the muscles of the core to ensure everything stays balanced on this moving base.

I’ve often thought about running a workshop on walking. I face it with the same apprehension about running a workshop on breathing.  Everyone can clearly do it so why would they need a workshop on it?

The first breathing workshop I did everyone present managed to drop their breathing rate from 12-14 breaths a minute down to about 4.  I didn’t offer any instruction, I simply explained the mechanics of breathing, how it is designed to work, things they could be looking for to see if their breathing was working as designed or whether something else was going on.  Maybe it would be the same with walking?

I did try a little experiment at the start of one of my exercise classes.  It was a simple question.  From standing, which is the first muscle you use when taking a step? The class spent sometime walking around trying to work it out and then everyone one of them got it wrong, or had they?  The answer is meant to be your hamstrings, or any of the muscles up the back of your leg.  You release these muscles and you start to fall forward, you then bring your leg through underneath you and place it on the ground to stop the fall.  The hip extension of the second leg is passive, the glutes do not work when walking on the flat. But actually in that class we had some people where the first muscles they used were their hip flexors.  They did start walking by lifting up their leg and then putting it in front of them and that initiated the fall forwards.  They all had back issues.  They tried the other way and went away happy.

Which do you do? Do you fall first? Think about it the next time you are out walking.  Then try spotting it in others.  It brings a whole new dimension to people watching.

Author: Anatomy Fundamentals

Janet Philp has spent a lifetime exploring fitness and wellbeing. Starting in group exercise, travelling through rugby to representing the UK at martial arts before including Yoga, meditation, Budokon and personal instruction. Her passion is anatomical function and educating people to use their bodies to their full potential.

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