Master your gait with tips from a chiropractor that will help improve posture, nix pain, and boost your confidence
[Walking posture] After a 60-minute yoga class, you roll out of savasana, say your Namaste, and step out of the studio. You might think you're properly poised to face the day, but the moment you hit the street, however, you begin undoing all of the strengthening and lengthening you accomplished over the past hour. The reason? "Most people don't walk with proper alignment," says Karen Erickson, a New York City-based chiropractor. "From all of the sitting that we do during the day, our hips flexors are tight so we walk with our hips flexed, our back arched, and our bum behind us.
At the same time, we're always looking down at our cell phone, which causes the body to hunch forward. It's a prescription for aging." In fact, bending over to browse your Facebook feed causes your head to exert about six times its normal force on your neck, which can lead to early wear and tear, reports the journal Neuro and Spine Surgery.
So how do you ace the walk to make sure your body isn't doing more work than it needs to—or worse, undoing all of the work you just did?
1. Walking with proper posture starts with your sternum."When you lift your sternum up, it automatically puts your shoulders and neck into correct alignment so you don't even have to think about them. Unless you're walking on ice and have to look down, gaze 20 feet ahead of you and see where you're going," says Erickson.
2. The bag that you carry matters. "Bags that are too heavy, too short, or too long interfere with your ability to swing your arms naturally," Erickson says. Normally, your arms and legs move in opposition so that your right arm swings forward when your left leg steps out. When a bag is in the way, however, your arms don't flow as freely and this can affect your alignment from head to toe. " It throws off your balance, keeps you from using your muscles and joints appropriately, and can create tightness, stress, and injury because you're not able to move your arms or legs through their full range of motion," Erickson adds. Either lighten your load or consider wearing your bag messenger style, which disperses the weight more evenly and allows your arms to move unimpeded. "A lot of new handbags have both long and short straps so if you're going to walk a short distance from your car to your office you can grab it by the short handles, but if you're going out for a longer walk, then use the cross-body option," Erickson says.
3. When it comes to your footwear, sporting the wrong shoes can impact your gait. "Ideally, you want to strike with your heel and roll through your foot as you walk," she says. While heels are an obvious strut-killer since they're difficult to walk in, flip-flops, mules, ballet flats, and clogs can be just as bad, Erickson says. "They force you to grab with your toes in order to keep them on your feet and as a result interfere with your heel-toe stride. They also make your gait shorter so you're not getting the full range of motion in your hips, ankles, and feet when you walk." Over time, walking in these kicks can contribute to painful foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and bunions, which will surely keep you off of your feet. Sneakers are ideal, but not always stylish. Your best bet is to give shoes the shake test before you buy them, Erickson explains. Shake your foot around and if the shoe stays on your foot without gripping with your toes then you're probably good to go.
4. Allow the leg that's behind you to linger there for a nanosecond longer before stepping it forward. "Tight hip flexors means we tend to shorten our gait more than we need it to, so lengthening your stride gives you a nice stretch along the fronts of your hips and your quadriceps," Erickson says. "Proper walking can be like yoga in action." And when you do it fresh out of the studio, you'll keep the good vibes flowing all day long.