I’ll cut to the chase: most of us suck at walking.

In her book Move Your DNA Katy Bowman describes walking as “controlled falling”, in that most of us simply fall from one foot to the next, rather than focusing on using our butt muscles to drive us forwards.

I’ve written about the benefits of walking, and more importantly how much we should be aiming to do, but now it’s time to make sure you get maximum ‘bang for your buck’ from your walks.

Here are some simple stretches, exercises and changes you can make to your walking technique to ensure you’re actually using your glutes when you’re out and about!

Release Tight Hips

Too much time sitting means tight hips. When we sit our legs are lifted in front of us, and these muscles at the front of the hips can get tight. This means when we walk and we want our legs pushing off behind us, the tightness at the front can restrict that.

Here’s a simple test to see if you have enough mobility for your bum to effectively pull your leg back.

Lie face down on the floor. When your pelvis is neutral (which is where it should be) then your pubic bone and the two most prominent, forward boney points on the side of each pelvis should all be level. So when you lie down you should feel an equal pressure on all 3 points.

You should feel your pubic bone pressing into the floor, and if you look down from where it's labelled 'iliac crest' to where it ends, you should feel the 2 bony points on either side there too.

You should feel your pubic bone pressing into the floor, and if you look down from where it’s labelled ‘iliac crest’ to where it ends, you should feel the 2 bony points on either side there too.

Keep your head down, and lift one leg off the floor, using your glute muscles. How high can you lift your leg? Does the pressure on these 3 boney points remain the same or does your pubic bone lift up? Do you have to work your stomach muscles to keep it down?

Ideally you want to be able to lift your leg behind your body without having to work to keep your pelvis level. If you do, then when you walk you’re likely to compensate for this tightness by arching the lower back instead.

Stretch your hip as in the video below. Make sure you keep a neutral pelvis- squeeze your glute to almost tuck your bum under, and make sure you stay upright, rather than leaning forward. Raising your arm to bend slightly takes the stretch a little deeper. Hold for 30 seconds, or until the stretch eases off.

Strengthen Your Glutes

Follow this with some exercises to strengthen your glutes. This blog includes some simple exercises to help build strength for running, and they are equally useful for walking.

Do You Wiggle or Waddle?

 

So you’ve stretched your hips and strengthened your glutes, and you’re using them to drive yourself forwards. But what other bad habits might you have?

Have you ever noticed how some people are ‘bouncy’ walkers? They waste energy going up and down using their lower leg and toes. Or how about a sexy hip wiggle? Some yes, but if you look like you’re on the catwalk, not so great for your joints. Those side steps and 1 leg squats in the link above will help keep you strong around the pelvis.

Or maybe you’re a twister? Holes in your socks under the balls of your feet? Again, limited hip flexibility can lead to twisting your pelvis backwards and forwards, and therefore twisting your foot too.

If you don’t believe me, have a play with this brilliantly hilarious walking analysis lab. I’m not convinced of it’s accuracy, but it does nicely demonstrate the wiggle I described above. I think my favourite is the light, sad female.

Go Minimal!

Your choice of footwear has a huge impact on how you walk. As this picture shows even a small heel can alter your whole body’s alignment. This means joints getting more wear and tear and muscles not working at their best.

heels walking alignment

So a flat shoe is advisable, with a flexible sole because reduced foot movement will also affect how your muscles are loaded. If you wear orthotics then this blog has loads of useful information (even if you don’t, the tips on footcare and shoes are still worth a read). Ideally barefoot style shoes like Merrell Vapor Glove, VivoBarefoot or Vibrams are best, but if you’re used to something more supportive then the book Whole Body Barefoot is all about transitioning to minimal footwear.

Vary Your Terrain

So much of our walking is on flat artificial surfaces. Including a variety of gradients in your walk challenges your muscles in different ways. For example walking uphill requires more flexibility in your calf muscles, and works your glutes more, and the variety means less repetitive strain on your body.

Uneven terrain is good too, especially if you’re in minimal shoes. Walking over lumps and bumps is good for the feet and more challenging to the body than a flat surface, meaning a better workout!

barefoot walking

Uneven terrain and barefoot- mega workout for her legs here!

Get off the treadmill

When you’re on a treadmill the belt carries your foot back for you, reducing the work for your butt muscles and increasing the work for the muscles at the front of your hip, which have to pull your leg forwards. This is the opposite of what we want, especially if you’ve spent too much time sitting at a desk or in a car!

If you do have to use a treadmill, make sure it is on an incline of at least 1%, to force you to push off a little and challenge the glutes.

And regardless of where you are, try to walk through the whole foot with a smooth rolling movement. Keep your head over your shoulders, rather than projecting it forwards (or looking down at a phone), and your arms should have a smooth swing, pushing back more than forwards.

For more specific exercises to help improve your flexibility, strength and posture, find out more about personal training.

Probably not. Most of us don’t. Cars, the convenience of online shopping, the weather, it all means we don’t get as much time walking as we should.

Yes, walking. What did you think I was talking about? Ok I’m sorry, but it’s not easy making a blog on walking sound exciting.

walking benefits for the pelvic floor and postnatal

Because most people don’t think of walking as exciting.

It’s not a sexy form of exercise. You don’t see people boasting about their walking personal best like a runner does, or the killer spin/ Insanity/ whatever class is on trend and torturing you right now. (Sorry, I shouldn’t say that, I used to teach indoor cycling and don’t really consider it torture. Not once you’ve got used to the seats at least.)

But walking is the most underrated form of exercise.

And we really don’t get enough. One study found 80% of adults didn’t even manage to take moderate exercise 3 times a week, and just 25 minutes of brisk walking a day can add up to seven years to your life.  (ok, this is getting a bit boring now; no more health stats).

Walking is a fundamental movement of the human body.

As well as not doing enough of it, a lot of what we do is poor quality walking (I’ll talk more about this in my next blog), and it has so many benefits. I cannot emphasise enough how awesome walking is.

Walking works your pelvic floor

The pelvic floor loves movement; a sedentary lifestyle is one of the worst things for it. Watch this to see how regular walking engages your pelvic floor:

It gets those glutes working!

Too much sitting results in weak, ineffective butt muscles. Walking is a great way to strengthen them. Walk, and walk often, making sure they’re engaging properly. Make sure you’re pushing back with them, not just flopping forward from one leg to another. Have a feel- place your hands on your buttocks and see if you can feel them tense up as you land on each leg (don’t worry, this won’t look weird at all), then try and drive your eg back and use them to push yourself forwards.

Walk your way to more vitamin D

Not all walking is created equal, and walking on a treadmill is NOT the same as getting outdoors (more on this in the next blog). And when you’re outside, you get your daily dose of vitamin D. A LOT of adults are deficient in this, and interestingly it’s been linked to pelvic floor dysfunction, so yet another benefit to your pelvic floor!

Walking is fantastic postnatal exercise

It has none of the risks that some exercises (such as running) carry for vulnerable joints and pelvic floor muscles, when done properly uses a huge number of muscles, and it is one of the few exercises that is easily done with baby. In fact it’s great for babies to get outside, and increased sunlight has been linked to better night time sleep for them!

Add to that reduced stress, especially in natural settings, the chance to think (or not think if you need a bit of mindfulness), the benefits to the glutes and pelvic floor- this is why daily walking is part of the homework for mums on Restore My Core.

It’s easy to fit in

It’s so easy to spend your day rushing around and busy, but never really moving. A lot of people struggle to find the time to go to the gym or follow a more structured exercise routine, but it’s so easy to fit in some walks. Because walking serves a purpose: getting from A to B. Even if it’s just parking a bit further from your destination, start to build a bit more ambulation into your day.

How much do you need?

This depends on a bit on how much you’re getting now (I feel like I should be able to slip some puns in here). As with any exercise, build up slowly. But looking at how much our ancestors walked is a good guide to what we should be capable of.

In her book Move Your DNA, Katy Bowman says anthropolgists estimate hunter-gatherers walked about 1,000 miles a year. That’s 2.75 miles a day. BUT, this mileage wouldn’t have been broken down that neatly. There would be short walks spread throughout the day, along with days of very little walking and days with much longer walks.

The odd longer (10 mile) walk means you develop the strength and endurance in your muscles. The regular short walks mean you benefit from regular boosted circulation (‘feeding’ your cells and removing waste products) and regular breaks from too much sitting and all the negative adaptations that can bring.

10 miles might seem intimidating.

But how about signing up to an event like our local Starlight Walk? It’s 13 miles, but you’re raising money for a good cause, and there’s plenty of motivation and entertainment on the night. Something fun to aim for is the perfect excue to get started!

Next time I’m going to tell you how to pimp your walk (yep, still trying to make it sexy) and get the most from your daily amble. Because a lot of people are doing it wrong.

Not all walking is created equal, but with a few tweaks to your route, and the right stretches and exercises, you can make sure you maximise the benefits next time you head out for a stroll. Sign up for updates here to make sure you don’t miss it (and grab a couple of freebies while you’re at it).