Walk THAT Way

Writing a book has forced me into more stillness than I’d like, so I’m taking a temporary break from blogging (as you can see, HAHA). I’ve also been walking more. More walking and more writing mean, you guessed it, I’m doing less laundry. My house is a total disaster. But the good news is, I feel great, despite my work load.

I’m working on a section of the book about walking. It’s a tough one, because terms that we all take for granted — the word walking, for example — aren’t defined as specifically as they need to be when discussing the actual physical act of walking. Say, for example, a person goes out and walks along a paved road to the store. Or, that same person walks along a dirt path to the store. Or say they cut through giant fields of grass, where there is no path, and continue up a hill…to the store. Say in each of these cases, the mileage covered is exactly the same. Does this mean that the walking in each scenario impacted their body in the same way? No, it doesn’t. Walking can be executed an infinite number of ways, each creating a particular pattern of use and adaptation. And what about being shod or unshod? 

A hiking boot vs. a Vibram?

Each variable I’ve listed here (hillage, terrain, footwear) impacts the loads created by walking, which means the joints and muscles used are different in each of these cases. The result-body is different in each of these cases. The energy utilized is different in each of these cases. To say “I walked,” “I walked 3 miles,” or “I walked 3 miles in 42 minutes” gives little data about how the body was actually used to accomplish the task of walking.

Anyways. That’s what I’m working on, and trying to explain all the variables that affect how walking impacts the body takes a lot of energy. Much like walking — a particular way of walking — can.

I swiped a paragraph from my writings and posted it on Facebook yesterday afternoon:

“There are two general ways terrain can vary: grade (uphill, downhill and how much of either) and surface (rough, slippery, bumpy, rocky, hole-y, etc.). Every unique combination of grade and surface results in a particular physical stimulation. When comparing the endless number of joint contortions and muscle-contraction counterparts that come with wildly varying terrain to the single, repetitive pattern of joint ranges of motion and muscle contractions we actually use, it is clear, quantitatively, that the physical outcomes born of our walking habits should be thought of as repetitive use injuries.”

(Don’t judge my spelling and grammar. I have an editor, thank goodness. Hopefully you get the idea.)

Then this comment-conversation ensued:

FBC: Great, just when I thought I had it made living in a city where I walk everywhere! Darn sidewalks…

KAB: There’s the rub! It’s not just a quantity problem. It’s also question of quality. A lot of the same thing can lead to the same problems as a little of something!

FBC: My wheels are still turning about this one. What are urbanites to do?

What to do: We humans tend to take the path of least resistance. My official suggestion is, Stop That. Instead of going farther or faster on flat and smooth, challenge more of your body by going off the beaten path. Go sideways. Go up. And over.

Change your walk squiggles

Too severe? How about veering off the road a couple of inches and just walk on the grass next to the path.

Change your walk move over

You don’t need to to leap out of your comfort zone right away. Just recognizing that you are a comfort-zone lovin’ fool is enough for now.

If you’re stuck in a side-walk city, or if you’ve logged most of your walking hours on flat, you can do some indoor work to mobilize your ankles, knees, feet, and hips. Read this post for suggestions (click).

There is, of course, more to do, but I’ve got to get it all out in an organized, robust way (read: the book). Until then, see if you can break the “convenient walking” habit. Walking on modern surfaces is easy on the body and lets a whole lot of you atrophy. Think outside the exercise box. It’s not about making EASY more intense (going harder or longer doing exactly the same thing). Let EASY go and welcome in SIMPLY COMPLEX.

P.S. All you parents out there struggling with walking at a snail’s-I-mean-kid’s pace, keep this in mind: You can make it harder without speed or distance. Think outside the trail.

change your walk off trail

Start carrying stuff. And I don’t mean the jackets, the snacks, the backpack, and the kids themselves. I mean, you have to carry those things too, but consider carrying some other stuff as well.

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Plan on getting dirty. The less your walk looks like “a walk” the more your kids will move forward at an interested pace. <—- Click on this link for a great article from my pal at Live Aligned.

Are you still interested in learning more on this?

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20 thoughts on “Walk THAT Way

  1. When I walked my 2 yo to and from the bus everyday, he frequently preferred to walk on the grassy easement rather than the sidewalk.

  2. Awesome. I’ve at least been doing the grass-next-to-the-pavement forever, which is why I need waterproof shoes (or really warm wool socks!) this time of year. As I’ve mentioned before, the uphill/downhill grades are my real challenge here… Is SuperFinn wearing a cape? And Roan rockin’ the Swants! Let’s go for a WALK!!

  3. I live in NYC and there aren’t really any ways to go off the beaten path. Unless I don’t mind getting hit by a moving vehicle. The most variation I can get in my walking lifestyle is by switching my shoes often. I don’t feel defeated though! There is always a way.

  4. Reminds me of the Family Circus newspaper cartoon. Billy would go somewhere and it would never be in a straight line, ever!

  5. So this is interesting because I’ve thought about how this applies to dogs, but never to people. When I walk my dog, I always take him off the trail, wandering through the woods, over logs, creeks, what have you. One week I was dog sitting this sweet yellow lab who had never been off road in his life–his person isn’t a walker. When I did my usual walk in the woods with both dogs, I was struck by the contrast between my dog, scrambling along happily with me, and this goofy yellow lab, who was uncomfortable, moved haltingly along, was less agile, and would get STUCK when he had to hop over barriers. Poor fella. I never realized the effect of taking my dog off road until I saw how well he did next to his sidewalk-bound buddy!

  6. Request recommendations for walking in wet grass while keeping feet dry. Live in Pacific Northwest so it’s usually wet!

  7. I have been thinking about the NYC dilemma, with this as well as other posts. My NYC solution, looking out the window of my office, is this: walk the curb! The curb is often broken or has gaps or small grades that need to be negotiated, and depending on which direction one is walking in, one foot could be on the curb and one on the sidewalk, which is punctuated in many neighborhoods by trees in little open squares of earth. In SOHO, most of the trees don’t have little iron fences around them so one foot would be on the varying curb, the other on the varying sidewalk punctuated by trees/earth/grass. Perhaps less (or more?) than ideal to challenge each foot with different varying terrains, but switching directions would hopefully even things out and maybe we can become even more clever through the challenge of it. I am already bracing myself for something I haven’t thought of that Katy no doubt has in regards to this idea for adding some variation into the NYC concrete flatness. And there are still some cobblestone streets that can be explored, parks.

  8. I do the grass beside the sidewalk consistently. Was shocked when we were in Sequim how much the rocky beach wore my feet out. I thought they were pretty conditioned after 2 years in minimal shoes & foot work, haha! Always room for improvement 🙂

  9. Thanks Katy…YOU ROCK! Every time I read your post, you inspire me to get back at it. Thanks for making time for us while raising your family.

  10. During my walks along a dirt canal path, sometimes I will do just as you suggest and walk along the grass on either side, but I sense a slight camber in the surface, which then aggravates my hips and low back. Given the choice, it IS more biomechanically sensible to walk the more traditional path than along one-sided sloped terrain, right? Otherwise I feel like Peg-Leg Pete, one leg higher than the other.

  11. Ha, ha, your comment to “carry stuff” made me remember my “log lady” routine from a couple years ago. My husband and I frequently walk in a lightly-developed park just outside of town, and we often leave the path to walk across an open field/hill, for just the reasons that you mention. The field is full of grass hummocks, gopher holes, brambles, etc., so it keeps you on your toes.

    One day I came across a small log that was light enough to carry but large and awkward enough to be a great additional challenge while crossing the field. I’d carry it across the field and then stash it in the bushes; the next time we’d do the walk in the opposite direction, so that I could retrieve the log and carry it back to the other side. My husband started calling me the “Log Lady”, a (not very flattering) reference to a character in the old TV show “Twin Peaks.”

    After months of this, my log finally disappeared, and I didn’t find a good replacement. But you’ve inspired me to look around again.

  12. Thanks to you Katy – in a good way – for the past few weeks I’ve been the ‘freak’ walking on the grass verge next to the footpath in the funny flipper shoes. My obstacles are the doggy-do. It’s an interesting mental exercise in daring to be different and takes some strength of character when you know passers by are wondering what you’re up to. I keep thanking my father who never minded being different. I was embarrassed by his thrift store clothing and cobwebbed old truck, but now I am so pleased he showed me that we don’t have to walk the same path as the rest of society.
    I’m giving my children the same ‘gift’. The kids at school think I’m a bit crazy hanging on their monkey bars!

  13. I’ve been doing this in my urban walks today and I feel so much more playful, alert, and alive! My guess about walking with one leg higher than the other is that it’s a good way to build lateral hip strength (now I can pelvic list while I walk!) but that it would be good to do it in both directions so that both legs get a chance to have a leg up, and add this action to your routine gradually alongside restorative exercise and regular, mindful pelvic listing. Does that sound right? Thanks Katy for linking back to your older post about ankles where you explain the relationship between aligent practice and lifestyle changes, it was good to reread that one!

  14. I’m living in brazil for a few months and it’s great for what you’re talking about. Uneven sidewalks, disappearing sidewalks, blocked sidewalks, steps and mud in the midst of them. Always an obstacle and a challenge. Always different. Perfect!

  15. This is so true. It reminds me that I should make an effort to go bush-walking (hiking) regularly to give my body several hours of challenge, where every footfall is unique, calling on a different body response each time. Its the true test of our body’s incredible intelligence to walk on very uneven tracks in shoes that are not overly rigid. I have such a strong desire to feel the ground beneath my feet, not through several centimetres of moulded rubber. The foot and entire leg and body, spine – everything – has to re-think every single step that is taken. I am lucky having strong feet and ankles from dancing in my early years.
    The saddest thing is to see those stressed bunnies in their Lululemon pants striding vigorously, shoulders up around their ears, barely breathing, mindlessly through the suburbs, either on the phone or listening to “motivating music”. Often there is a baby and miserable dog tethered to the overachieving, time-poor, multi-skiller. Its a complete re-inforcement of everything that is wrong in how people separate “exercise” from their daily lives.

  16. Aw, this was a very nice post. Spending some time andd actual effort to make a very
    good article… but what can I say… I put things
    off a lot and don’t manage to geet anything done.

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