We all grew up with our our parents telling us to “sit up straight” or “stand up straight” and “stop slouching” to name but a few. Well over time we hopefully adjusted our posture correctly to prevent physical stress from accumulating in the body, whilst doing activities, such as sitting, standing and walking. Our natural inclination is to start exercising in order to take the tightness out of the body or to try and stretch aching muscles. It all depends on whether we start slowly enough to not strain the body further and ensuring that we are doing the exercises the correct way. You might do more harm training incorrectly than doing no exercise at all. As Body Stress Release practitioners we encourage exercise and always advise expert advise from the exercise specialists.
Many doctors, physiotherapists and biokineticists recommend walking as a low impact exercise and I agree fully with this, it not a specialist skill to walk – or is it? Walking gives you a full body workout and hopefully gets you outdoors in nature to enjoy the sun and fresh air – but good walking posture is key. All these components are really great stress busters. In a country like South Africa with so much sunshine it is sad that we are stuck indoors most of the day, as we have all been on the recent lockdown or home confinement for COVID-19.
Most of my clients enjoy walking but almost none of them realised that walking actually has a technique to it; you need to have a good walking posture. Like many exercises, if you do them incorrectly or to excess – it can cause lock-in or stored tension. From a novice’s point of view I would like to explain how to walk using the correct posture and technique as I have taught myself over time.
Shall we start from the bottom up?
Pay attention to how you put your foot down when you walk. It is supposed to be heel first then the toes. Do not slap the whole foot down at once, or walk on the balls of your feet, as this can be quite jarring to the body. Ladies wearing high heel shoes daily have a tendency to do this and cause postural damage to their bodies. Make sure you have a good walking shoe or trainer to promote good walking technique. Also ensure your toes are pointing forward not at funny angles (pigeon toes or duck feet). It takes a bit of concentration, as it is not something we ever look at. We assume we can just do it
Keep the knees soft so you use them as shock absorbers instead of taking the strain in the back and use those quad muscles in the thigh to drive you forward. They are strong and designed for the job. Locking the knees is also quite common. We are not dancing the tango here – just walking! Locking the knees puts strain on them and changes your posture making you lean slightly forward activating the back muscles too much. If they are tight you will feel it pretty soon too. Keep the ears, shoulders and hips in line, which will help minimize the gravity pull on the body.
Strides or steps:
Not all of us are blessed with long legs; so shorty’s keep those strides short, and same for tall people with tight backs, do not over step. When you step forward your step should be small enough so that there is no rotation on the hips, leave that for the Olympic walkers please! The pointy tips on the hip-bones (ASIS’s for those using medical terms) should stay pointing forward not swing from side to side or rotate as you step. The easiest way to check is to keep your hands over the hips. Keeping your hips steady prevents rotation on the back and irritating the back vertebrae and sacrum joints. Shuffle if you must but keep those hips still.
Keep the arms bent at 90° and elbows tucked at the ribs. You look like a runaway chicken with those elbows flying in all directions – just saying. Swinging those arms may cause rotation on the upper body and you get this tired/burn sensation just below the shoulder blades. The big secret to swinging the arms correctly is to turn the wrists so the thumbs are pointing to the sky. Keeping this posture allows your arms to swing past your body with the minimum strain on the shoulder joints and no rotation on the torso. It will also use the correct muscle groups to drive you forward for a bit of momentum.
When swinging the arms – elbows stay tucked; fists do not go beyond the ribs at the back and the elbows to not go beyond the ribs in front. Try to create a steady pendulum swing with the arms. Pay attention to not pull the shoulders to the ears. This happens quite easily as our neck muscles are so tight due to emotional stress and poor posture behind the computer and steering wheel. Try doing the arm swing in front of the mirror and correct your posture where need be.
Last but not least – tilt of the head:
Keep your head upright and chin level/parallel to the floor – you are not going into a scrum so no need for tucking that chin down. Many people tilt their head sideways when they walk especially when they come around a turn or corner – not sure why? Keep the head upright – that little string pulling your head to the sky. Chin parallel to the floor looking at the ground 3 to 5 meters ahead. You will see in time if you are going to trip over something no need to stare at your feet. Tilting the neck forward changes not only your posture but also increase the pull of gravity on the body and the muscles need to work extra hard to keep you upright.
Lining up the ear, shoulder and hip also opens up the torso giving your lungs room to expand. The rib cage has room to expand as need be and the diaphragm (the muscle pushing the lungs to inhale and exhale) has room to move. Just remember to use the whole of your lung capacity when you breath as we tend to only use the upper half these days will all the sitting we do and slouching forward while we tap away on our phones. Thus having the correct posture while walking also improves your breathing.
Dust of those walking shoes, stand in front of the mirror, swing those arms, inhale to the bottom tips of your lungs and when ready take on the road shuffling happily as you enjoy the sunshine. Now you have the best possible walking posture.
If the weather is a bit grey and cold pull up the small rebounder (baby trampoline) put on your favourite series and step away. For those in tiny places or just a room take an old pillow throw it on the floor and off you go.
Remember start slow and build up your fitness over time -the tortoise won the race in the end.
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