Walk Tall

Donald NorfolkVery few people walk well. Sit on a park bench and watch the world and his wife walk buy and you’ll note how very badly they do it. In a short while you’ll see a succession of hobblers, bouncers and rollers, but very few people who walk with elegance and ease. The hobblers are in pain. The bouncers waste energy bobbing up and down, and the rollers make life difficult for themselves by swaying their bodies from side to side like sailors on a rolling ship. None of these gaits is ideal.

Walking is a difficult skill to acquire. Every forward step we take involves the acceleration and deceleration of thirty different muscles, combined with the balance of an ungainly torso of five foot or more on a constantly shifting base which is sometimes no bigger than an identity disc. Four-footed animals can walk from the moment they’re born, but it takes several months for a human infant to learn to take its first few, hesitant steps. It’s an art which some people never master properly. Today we know far more about the mechanics of walking, knowledge which has been acquired largely as a result of scientific research into the development of artificial limbs for amputees. Whatever your age, it’s never too late to learn from this research and adopt a gait which involves less effort, generates less strain and looks more youthful. The five key points to observe are these:-

First: When your foot strikes the ground the weight of the body should be taken first by the heel and then transferred in one smooth movement along the outside border of the foot, across the forefoot to the big toe, which gives a final gentle lift as the foot leaves the ground. In this way the foot acts like a rocking chair, with no one part of its structure being forced to take the entire weight of the body for more than a passing moment. This avoids the jarring and strain which occurs w

ith a stiff, flat-footed gate.

Second: During walking the kneecaps should face directly forward, which ensures the correct alignment, and easy movement, of the ankles and knees. Since the ankle joints are set at a slightly oblique angle to the leg, the feet must turn outwards when we walk. The angle of this deviation is roughly 15 degrees when the feet are bare, and somewhat less when heeled shoes are worn. The higher the heels, the less the outturn.

Third: As we walk, the pelvis shifts from side to side to bring the mass of the body over the support provided by the weight-bearing foot. This movement is more marked in women than in men because of their greater pelvic width. In both sexes, the wider apart the feet are placed, the further the pelvis has to be shifted from side to side. This wastes effort, and produces an ugly rolling gait, which can only be excused in people who are grossly overweight or have serious locomotor problems. Every one else should aim to maintain a narrow gauge walk, with the thighs kept close together and the feet placed only a few centimetres apart.

Fourth: During walking, the major weight masses of the body – the head, trunk and pelvis – should be held directly one above the other. There’s no call for forward thrusting of the head, or unsightly, ‘duck’s arse’ protrusion of the rear. The aim should be to walk tall, like a puppet being lifted upward by its central string.

Fifth: The ideal gait is easy and relaxed. Research reveals that walking is little more that a controlled stumble. To move forward we need merely to incline the trunk slightly forward so that the bodyweight falls in front of the feet. In this unstable position we’d fall flat on our faces were it not for the fact that we swing first one leg and then the next to provide temporary supports for our advancing torsos. That’s all it takes. There’s no need to expend energy pounding the ground or pumping the body up and down. Just a slight forward tilt of the body, followed by a succession of easy swinging movements of the legs.

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