We received so many questions during “Gait Week” on our social media channels, Katy decided to answer a bunch of them in one show. This program covers a lot—heel strike and hip strength, footwear to anatomy. A great listen for laypersons and professionals alike!
00:03:52 - All About Socks – Jump to section
00:05:46 - Pelvic Movement and Walking - Jump to section
00:08:02 - Are You a Clomper? - Jump to section
00:11:44 - Assessing Gait – Jump to section
00:14:00 - Going Downhill – Jump to section
00:19:55 - Overpronation– Jump to section
00:23:35 - The Knee Pits - Jump to section
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW
This is Episode #124 of the Move Your DNA podcast: Your Questions About Walking. I am Katy Bowman, biomechanist, and the author of Move Your DNA as well as other books on movement. On this show, we talk about how movement works on the cellular level, how to move more, and how to move more of your parts, as well as how movement works between bodies and in the world, also known as movement ecology. All bodies are welcome here; let's get moving!
Friends, today I am going to be talking about walking. To know me is to know that I love walking. And in addition to actual walking, I like talking about walking and thinking about walking and breaking down the act of walking into smaller movements.
Last Month Jill Miller, who is co-founder of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide. She's the creator of The Roll Model Method. She and I released Walking Well which is a 6-hour online video course walking mechanics. Specifically, it's the corrective exercises and self-massage rollouts to get key body parts moving so folks can feel more able to walk, and walk farther, and feel secure on more complex terrain.
With so much social media promotion that we did for this program, I got a lot of questions about walking and gait so I decided to dedicate a full episode to answering those questions.
Now, I, maybe like you, I have found moving as much as I have in the past really difficult these days. And I have spent so much time putting movement into my activities of daily living, that when many of the activities of daily living closed, the opportunity for movement went with it. My work time has also gone up in the sense of needing to create new learning, work, community, and movement systems. And I have been feeling so under moved, which is really a long way of saying that, right now, I'm having to choose between allotting my time to either record this podcast or take a walk or spend a little time with my significant other. So instead of picking one, I am choosing to pick them all. Which means right now, I am heading out to answer your questions…on the move.
(WALKING OUTSIDE SOUNDS OF FEET CRUNCHING ON NATURE)
KATY: Ok friends, I have in hand a page (4 pages actually) of your questions. I have a recording device, and I also have one of my favorite humans, and definitely one of my favorite husbands ever, Michael Curran with whom I’m going to discuss some of your questions while walking.
Michael, thank you for coming on the show.
MICHAEL: You're welcome.
KATY: Thanks for allowing all the listeners to come on our day hike with us.
MICHAEL: Wish we were not walking uphill.
MICHAEL: So we have questions from your readers, so I'll just jump in.
KATY: Well can I just say one thing?
KATY: I've sorted them, sort of, cuz sometimes they go into multiple categories, into biomechanics and form, human movement/natural human movement, questions on pain, the practice of walking, kids feet questions. I'm not sure how many we're gonna get to so if we need more walking, we'll get that. Let's start with biomechanics and form.
MICHAEL: I swear this isn't me.
KATY: Are you sure it's not you.
MICHAEL: Do I have some kind of twisting action (did you write this? To be me? Do I have some kind of twisting action to my walk? Some of your readers would like to know.
KATY: Asking for a friend.
KATY: Maybe. Maybe there is some twisting. I would also for calf tension. So it would be a lot of plantar flection tension which means that the ball of your foot is not, not so much that it's landing - because everyone's feet are going to do that, almost everyone, but it's pressing against - the pressure on the forefoot is high. So, “Calf Stretch” is the homework. But also hip extension. Because that twisting action - can you hear it? you can see it? When your hips are tight and your leg doesn't want to go behind you it still gets behind you but the way it gets behind you is by twisting the entire pelvis. So your feet, even if they're pointing straight ahead to begin with (I'm gonna slow down right now because I have to model what I'm saying) when you push off that foot it rotates because your hips go forward over your foot, the calf won't dorsiflex anymore (which is the motion that you get in a calf stretch) and so it is pivoted, the tight hips, hips that don't extend, pivot the front of your foot. So it could be either of those. Likely both. Wanna go downhill?
KATY: Do you think the dog wants to go downhill?
KATY: I like that. So pelvic list action is happening. And if it's happening then you can't really have a still or static lower back, that piston action - another way of saying that is lateral flexion for the anatomy heads listening - and so if we just stop for a second. I'm just gonna make us stop a lot. If you just stood and bent your torso to the right and then bent your torso to the left, that's lateral flexion. But now keep your torso upright. Pick your left foot up. And pelvic list on your right leg. That same motion is happening even though your torso isn't moving. It's like your pelvis is bending relative to the torso. So that does happen when you are walking and where you're walking - uphill, downhill, over terrain is going to determine the degree to which that's happening. The issue is when you have a lot of, how do I say it, when you have a lot of lumbar lateral flexion without a lot of control. So I have a wider pelvis. I have worked with many people who have wide or as wide as or wider than my pelvis. And when there's a lot of hip motion, you get a lot of lower back toggling or that piston action is really high. When it's uncontrolled, when it's just falling, versus your lateral hip strength controlling it, that's when we end up developing a lot of issues in the lower back. So homework for that is pelvic list, not just the motion, but the control of it. All the way up and all the way down. Final answer.
KATY: Wait, is this Michael?
MICHAEL: Asking for a friend. Is a heavy footfall due to poor alignment or is it just something I’m stuck with? Or to rephrase it, is that just my graceful way of walking forever thank you to my parents, or is it a sign of imminent doom down the road?
KATY: Did you just rif that whole second half or it actually said that?
MICHAEL: No it doesn't say that.
KATY: Ok. This is why you're so good at Balderdash. Are we playing Balderdash right now? So, again we're gonna stop. I'm going to let you listen to me walk here.
KATY: So it's a heavy footfall. But the reason I have a heavy footfall is because I'm not carrying my weight - so when you're walking you have a stance leg and a swing leg. So if you just pause in a step, you're on one foot, the other leg is swinging through. Your swing leg comes through and eventually it becomes the stance leg, right? Because you land on it. You're hearing the land. You're hearing the transfer from your stance leg to your swing leg. You're hearing your swing leg become the stance leg. So I feel like a broken record, but I'm gonna say pelvic list again. Because a pelvic list is the move that allows you to hold all of your body weight as you're standing on your stance leg and your swing leg is not on the ground, it swings through, it's got to get down to the ground. And your pelvic list, the downward action of the pelvic list is when you set it down gently. So I'm gonna walk. I'm going to put the microphone down by my feet, and I'm going to really be working my lateral hip muscles. Let's see how loud it is.
(quiet walking sounds)
KATY: Now I'm going to work my lateral hips less.
KATY: Now I'm going to work it more.
KATY: Did you hear me switch them to working less? So it's really just the impact. It's called heel strike. But strike just means that it makes contact. It's not permission to slam it to the ground. So it's your lateral hips. It's those hips again. They are very much part of what's happening in your ankles, feet, knees, hips, lower back.
KATY: Laughs. Now, are you conscious of how that... it's like, "My gosh it's like walking next to" what's in a china shop?
MICHAEL: Laughs. A bull in a China Shop.
KATY: Which is a misnomer.
MICHAEL: Yeah. Bulls have been proved to not knock anything over when they're in tight quarters with shelves of China.
KATY: Like on Mythbusters.
MICHAEL: It was on Mythbusters.
KATY: I'm gonna say that I bet you something gets knocked over.
MICHAEL: Well I'm sure, given an amount of time. We all have accidents. Even bulls.
KATY: Even bulls in a china shop.
KATY: Something in a china shop?
MICHAEL: Something that a novice can focus on without getting caught up in the little tiny details.
KATY: Thank you. Uh, yes. There are lots of those, but quick answer on a podcast is not the place to learn professional gait analysis. But I will recommend checking out the Walking Well program which I mentioned at the beginning of the show because that's really one of the reasons we created it. It's to give visual space, movement practice space to learn how to see some of those big rocks as you said. And I did another podcast interview, recently, where the gentlemen interviewing said something like something eyes. We need to get good gait eyes, or, I'm not sure what it is. Gait is subtle. It's not only how it looks. Also, it's really about what is working as it looks a certain way. That's almost more important, right? So if you're learning, if you want to learn fast gait analysis, it's tricky. Because heel strike - you're looking for the heel strike. But as we just mentioned, there is heel strike, and there is heel crashing. And there's not always that breakdown of how to minimize the sound of the impact. So... Go check out that course. That was the shortest answer I could come up with. This is a very steep hill.
MICHAEL: Didn't you have a two-year course on this before?
KATY: I did.
KATY: Turn round and see, let me check it out.
MICHAEL: There's more: what are the other mechanics of going downhill? Now you're away.
KATY: I'm going to keep going uphill...
MICHAEL: While you answer?
KATY: So, yes. You pelvic list while going downhill. Pelvic list is one of the key moves to going downhill. Now, remember the pelvic list has a full range of motion that is elevating and lowering the floating side of the pelvis. That's a complete pelvic list. So when we're going downhill, you are primarily using the lowering strengths and ranges of motion, not the lifting portion of the pelvic list. In order to do that, I feel like the pelvic list should sponsor this podcast!
MICHAEL: I was thinking about that. Full Disclosure.
KATY: We are name dropping the pelvic list a lot. The pelvic list, if you're like, why can't my hips get stronger? It's often because the waist is not mobile. The spine does not flex laterally which is why we have torso exercises, a lot of them, in Walking Well. Because gait is not only feet, ankles, knees, and hips. It's really the entire body. So other motions that affect your downhill mechanics are tight calves. So I'm gonna turn around, face downhill for a second. You can try this with your foot on a book or block. Put your right foot on something or just step up on a stair. And then lift your left foot out in front of you. Try to drop your foot to the floor and you're gonna see that you have to lower your floating side of the pelvis, that's the pelvic list. And then you have to bend the knee, which is another motion. Which means you have to also dorsiflex the ankle. Which means your ankle is gonna get, your ankle joint is gonna get smaller, just like it does in the calf stretch. Only it's a different orientation. The foot is flat and the shin is moving forward. So one of the reasons we walk on the calf stretch (let's go up that hill). One of the reasons we work on the calf stretch is not only for flat overground, it's because going downstairs in a way that gives you a lot of control, where you're not falling or crashing to the next step depends on that ankle dorsiflexion. So four motions of downhill are pelvic list, lowering phase, lateral flexion to accommodate the pelvic list because they go together, ankle dorsiflexion, and knee flexion. Yeah.
MICHAEL: Might it be a mildly accurate generalization to say that if you're lacking in the ability to do any one of those motions that the other ones are going to have to compensate and maybe to the detriment of your joint health?
KATY: Yeah. And I think it's... I think that would be simple. A simple way of going g, hey, these parts aren't there to do their portion of the work. And you still get down the stairs. Something else stepped in. It's not always more to those joints that I just mentioned. It could be something like, in the question before, we added twisting. Twisting is not even on the list of flat overground. There wouldn't be a ton of twisting in a flat, overground step. But if your hips can't extend, it becomes - it shows up. So sometimes the compensations are created. Sometimes a compensations include entirely new motions that weren't even on the original list. Sometimes, like in the case of the knees, maybe you have great ankle dorsiflexion, no pelvic list, then you have a great degree of knee flexion. So you've got one joint moving more. But it was already on the original list. Sometimes it is a loss of - how do I want to say it? It's a loss of form in the sense that, when we were just doing that step-down exercise if you're ankle doesn't want to dorsiflex you just have to fall down to the next step. So you see a crash. So you would see an increase in landing impact. But all the joint ranges of motion, they all still did their small part but it wasn't enough to get you down the stairs so you kind of have to fall forward so that fall shows up. So - yes. And. That was good. Thank you.
MICHAEL: You're welcome. Thank you. I feel like at this point we have to recognize that at least three of the people listening don't know what a pelvic list is all about. Should we cover that or where can they find out?
KATY: The pelvic list, video, and instruction are on my website for free. If you go to the blog and you type in pelvic list, there's an article called: Why and How to Pelvic List. And so everything is there. It is a very small, meaning the actual degrees of motion, the actual way it looks to the eye is small, but it is tremendously important to over ground movement for a walking human being. So I encourage everyone to go check it out and learn it. It's really a great way to take the load off your knees and ankles.
MICHAEL: Thank you.
KATY: Mm-hmm. There's a big puddle.
KATY: Laughs. I didn't know...
MICHAEL: Well you know that they're lying down on their face too often.
KATY: On the floor face down?
KATY: I've overpronated and I can't lift my head.
MICHAEL: How do I wear some better shoes? There you go.
KATY: Ok, thank you. Overpronation of the ankle. So I would say that what you do when walking in those shoes, I would answer it more like, what would you be doing when you're not walking so that you walk better? And that is to learn about knee pit position. Thigh femur position. It's challenging to see where your thigh bones - the thigh bones rotate so even though, you know, if you put ... stop for a sec. I'm just using this as a break.
KATY: Breaths. Just kidding. So if you put your hands on the front of your thighs, the question you have to ask is, "Is this really the front of my thighs?" And the answer is, "no it's probably not." Your thigh turns in a way that moves the front of the thigh towards the back in either direction. Similarly, if you're like, "Oh ok well then I'll use the back of my thigh." Same thing. You go your back of your thigh. The question is, "Is this the back of my thigh?" And the answer is, probably not. Not in the way that you think. Because that part rotates. So we use the knee pits. You can go, again, to the website to get a visual of what knee pits are. It's also in the walking program and in I think almost all of my books. Move Your DNA, Whole Body Barefoot for sure. Even Dynamic Aging, I think, has this way of going - it's like a map to your thigh. So we use those pits as our way of figuring out where the thigh is in space. Because beneath what we call the front or the back of the thigh, are the lever systems. So we need to know the levers and muscle systems that pull your thigh around. So we need some sort of compass. The knee pits are the compass to the thigh. It gives us a sense of where things are in space. And so when you're overpronated, you would find this in Whole Body Barefoot, pronation and overpronation has very much to do with, again, your lateral hips.
MICHAEL: Uh oh.
KATY: I know. I know. Your lateral hips in conjunction with the muscles in your feet really create the resting position and active positions and the strength of the ankles. So, you know when you're overpronated, before you walk in minimal shoes, it's like get less over pronated. Get those strengths. Find those strengths. That's my advice to you - homework: Pelvic list, intrinsic range of motion-find your knee pits, shank rotation, these seem like words I'm just saying but they are related to each other and you can find them organized in... go check out our best walking resources. You can work through the free content online that way.
KATY: Front of the knee
MICHAEL: As an alignment marker.
KATY: Yeah, so that would be the patella or the part when you look at your knee in the mirror and say, "There's my knee." For sure 100%. And yes, your knee, the knee also rotates. When the thigh rotates, the knee rotates. And so the bone that we use to look at our knee, I'm gonna stop. No surprise here. And straighten my leg. And you can do that too. And wiggle the knee cap on the front of the knee. Hopefully, it gives a little bit. If it doesn't, you're gonna want to do some patella release - which is an exercise, not a surgery - to get that to dropdown. That bone that you're feeling right there in the front of the knee, is at the whim of the four muscles above it: your quadriceps that connect to it. And so I say that the patella is like a puppet and the quadriceps are the strings. And the patella is very malleable. So malleable that it's not a very reliable way at all to align your knee. Or to know, more specifically, the bones, the other bones that make up the knee - your femur and your two lower leg bones, where they are in space. So using the patella only tells you where the patella is. And we do have sort of an epidemic of the patella not sitting in the patella groove, but rather to the side most often above the knee joint. Which is what gives a lot of folks problems. This seems really mucky. Time-wise.
MICHAEL: We're gonna head back?
KATY: Yeah. This is the second half of the downhill podcast. It'll take only 5 minutes.
MICHAEL: We can answer these quick!
KATY: Woah. Woah. Bear tracks. Yeah.
MICHAEL: Oh no way. Well, that's...clear as day isn't it.
KATY: I know. One, two. ...whispers. Would you mind moving forward? Thanks. So where did it step from here? I was looking at it and going, "Why was someone barefoot in the mud up through here?" Here's another one. Here's another one.
MICHAEL: Is it on top of the tire tracks.
KATY: No it looks like ... well yeah, that one's on top.
MICHAEL: Just meandering down the...
KATY: Down the path of least resistance just like everyone else. We should bring the kids up here to check it out.
Ok. Not to confuse things but I am back home now. And while we did not find that bear we did manage to have our phone die on us. So I only got to answer a portion of the questions so I will do a couple more episodes because there were a ton of questions about walking. Anyhow, thank you for joining us and also for accepting audio that includes the sound of nature, rather than insisting on information coming in a particular package that requires the folks that create it be sedentary. This is part of how a sedentary culture changes to a more dynamic one.
So, that is it for this show. If you are interested in improving your walking skills there are a ton of resources for you on my website.
Head over to NutritiousMovement.com and select the blog tab. Type "walking" into the search box and it will bring up a heap of material to read and/or watch. And I’ll also link to a page with our Best Feet, Leg, and Walking Resources, as well as both of my foot books in the show notes!
Just a reminder that my new Walking Well program includes over six hours of gait-improving programming to help you gain distance, avoid injury, and make every step count for whole-body health and longevity. The course includes six about 25-minute self-massage rollout sessions with Jill and six about 25-minute gait-based exercise sessions with me, plus two 15-minute whole-body flow-style routine segments, and six gait tests and mini “homework assignments” to integrate what’s been learned.
You can find out more about the Walking Well video course by going to our shop under In-Depth video courses—that will take you to a page where you can see sample footage and read more about the Walking Well program. And I’ll put all of that in the show notes too.
I am wishing you all a very happy walk and/or roll, my friends. K.B. out.
This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully, you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful but it does not contain medical advice and should not be used as such.