Once my clients feel happy with their running it sometimes dawns on them that they don’t know how to walk. Trying to apply what they’ve learned about running to walking just confuses them as what felt so right in running ends up feeling strange and wrong for walking.
That’s because there are some significant differences between running and walking. They stem from the fundamental difference that running involves going from one foot on the ground to being entirely in the air, then back to having just one foot on the ground. By contrast, in walking you go from one foot to two feet, then back to one foot. This figure from Bramble and Lieberman’s paper Endurance Running and the Evolution of Homo is worth a look to understand this better.
So when you toe off in running you go up into the air and when you toe off in walking you fall downwards. When your foot hits the ground in running it’s cushioning your landing and when it hits the ground in walking it’s levering you up into the air. In short, in running your leg is a spring and in walking it’s a pole vaulter’s pole. So you need to organize the rest of your body accordingly for each function.
To help you do this, here are the Balanced Runner Keys (in blue), which are the fundamental elements of good running technique, and the variants for walking:
In walking stand tall, as if you were carrying a basket on your head
In walking the leg should also be somewhat supple though after briefly yielding to your weight it will become straighter until you’re atop a straight leg at midstance (as opposed to midstance in running, in which the hip, knee, and ankle joints are all bent).
This is exactly the same, except that as noted above, the leg will be straight instead of bent.
This is also the same! However the timing is a little different: according to this study by Hodges et. al. the pelvis achieves its maximal rotation in flight when you run and at footstrike when you walk. Don’t obsess about that, your nervous system will take care of it. I guarantee you’re already getting this one right as long as you are indeed allowing your pelvis and upper body to move.
This is quite different in walking: the arms are relatively straight but flexible, and whether you bend them depends on your speed. At normal walking speeds your legs aren’t moving so fast that there’s any problem with relatively straight swinging arms slowing down your stride rate. If you’re racewalking then you will want to bend your elbows to make the pendulums of your arms shorter so you can swing them faster and thus move your legs faster with less effort.
6. Move your face forward.
Just as you don’t lean forward when you walk, you also don’t move your face forward. This is the correct situation for the oft-heard injunction not to stick your chin out. As I said above, organize yourself as if to carry something on your head. That’s one of those old ideas about posture that was actually right on the money. Here’s a striking version:
(I confess I can’t recall who this is — I thought it was Robert Schleip but it doesn’t look like him. If you recognize him please let me know so I can write a proper caption.)
If you’d like to see what these differences look like and how to switch between running and walking, take a look at my free lesson on How to Do a Run/Walk Program on www.curious.com.
Now as you know, I spend a lot time scrounging around in YouTube to find videos which, intentionally or accidentally, illustrate the things I’m writing about. Sometimes the things I find are real gems, sometimes they’re somewhat odd, and sometimes on rare and special occasions they’re both. This is one of those occasions.
Below is a YouTube video with a demonstration of good walking vs. bad walking that rivals John Cleese in the Ministry of Silly Walks. The jumping-off point for the demo is a study describing the types of walking that project vulnerability and raise the risk of the walker getting mugged. The demos are of, ahem, questionable usefulness but the descriptions very accurately reflect a healthy, reasonably fit person vs. one whose strength, alertness, and/or nervous system function is indeed compromised. The central issue in nearly all the examples is that in “vulnerable” walking the core is not moving properly and in the “safe” walking it is.
If you have nothing pressing to do with the next 10 minutes of your life, enjoy the video. If you have just a couple of minutes to squander, skip to the walking section at 2:20. If you really didn’t even have time to read this blog post but just wanted the info as efficiently as possible, you can skim the abstract of the study I think they’re talking about or this article about it instead. And if you have a whole lot of time on your hands, make me your own video demonstrating the two types of walking they describe, informed by my descriptions above.
Please share your videos, walking experiments, questions, and your opinions on whether the guy in the video really is better or worse than John Cleese by leaving a reply.
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.