How to walk properly: Posture, form, foot strike & more

Walking with proper posture and stepping correctly can help you walk longer and more comfortably, while helping to prevent injuries and soreness. Most people have simply always walked naturally, and don’t think about how to walk correctly unless they’ve suffered an injury or pain that makes it hard to get their steps. Perfecting your walking posture can help you prevent overuse injuries, as well as reduce pain from existing ones. You’ll also be able to walk for longer distances and do more intense, fast-paced walking by engaging the correct muscles in proper alignment. This article will cover why walking posture is so important as well as tips for improving both your upper body posture and your foot strike. You’ll get more steps with less pain.

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Why is Walking Form and Posture So Important?

Sporty woman walking fast for fitness
Artem Varnitsin / Shutterstock

Your walking form and posture is integral to the health and mobility of your joints and ligaments. It also helps you walk more naturally and maintain good muscle tone, explains the American Chiropractic Association. When bones are in proper alignment, the correct muscles are able to share in the weight-bearing load and minimize stress and strain on your joints and ligaments. This translates to less muscle fatigue, decreased chance of arthritis, joint degeneration, muscle strain, and pain. The overall benefits to your body from simple, easy to implement adjustments to your walking posture will ensure many miles ahead for the long run.

According to the Mayo Clinic, poor posture can lead to neck and back pain, as well as lower body issues like hip pain, knee pain, and foot problems. When your body is out of alignment, smaller and weaker muscles, plus supporting ligaments and joints need to activate to keep you moving correctly. If you’ve ever had a temporary limp, from a sprained ankle for instance, you may have noticed that your hip, knee, or even your other leg might start to hurt from walking after a while. This is because one joint out of alignment can put additional strain on other joints, until you start to suffer from overuse injuries (like IT band pain) or suffer a sudden injury.

What Does Good Posture While Walking Look Like?

Woman power walking for fitness near the ocean
Syda Productions / Shutterstock

Harvard Health gives these tips for good walking posture;

  • Stand straight and tall as if you were being lifted straight up from the crown of your head. We get into the habit of staying in a hunched position from working on computers and constant use of our handheld devices so that we forget what it feels like to stretch our spine.
  • Keep your eyes looking straight ahead. This will keep your torso elongated and standing tall. Resist the urge to look down at your feet, though do keep aware of any obstacles (especially during winter walking or when it might be wet and slippery).
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed but pulled back, not hunched in towards your chest. Also, keep your arms swinging free and naturally at your sides. Resist the urge to keep your elbows bent in close across your body or higher than your chest. Even if you’re focusing on your arms, as in power walking, you should still be using a natural arm motion.

Everyone has a unique stride that may be longer or shorter than most people. If you attempt to take longer or shorter steps than what comes naturally to you, you could overextend your hips and cause an injury. If you’re walking with a friend, try not to copy their stride and be aware that you might be compensating for their stride without realizing it. If they naturally and easily walk faster than you, have a nice laugh about it when you meet up with them at the end of the path. A brisk walking pace differs between people, so don’t try to keep up with them if it feels unnatural for you. Instead, work on increasing your walking speed or ask your friend if they can walk a little more slowly.

How to Keep Your Feet Properly Striking the Ground

Walker's feet hitting the ground
Kampan / Shutterstock

Podiatrist Dr. Carl Ingrassia explains that most people probably have a good foot strike while walking barefoot (unless they’re flat-footed). Your shoes can disguise your actual foot strike, so testing out your foot strike at home can give you a good idea of how exactly your foot is striking the ground.

When walking, your heel should touch down first on the ground. As your heel lands, you should roll through your foot towards the ball of your feet. Your toes splay outward in preparation for the next step as your heel lifts off the ground. Then, your toes will start to push off the ground with your pinky toe first, until your foot is off the ground and moving towards the next step. Make sure not to roll outward or inward to the sides as this can cause strain to the tissues along the sides of the foot.

This is notably different from a running foot strike, where you generally land either in the middle of your foot (midfoot) or the ball of your foot (forefoot). Running also involves a different gait where both of your feet are off the ground at the same time in between steps. When walking, by contrast, one foot is always contacting the ground at all times. Many running shoes are designed with a running foot strike in mind. While you can walk in running shoes, you may find that dedicated running shoes are better designed for your specific walking stride.

While testing your gait barefoot can be helpful, you will want to make sure you are doing most of your walking in comfortable, well-fitting walking shoes that give you good arch support and are designed for the sport you are engaging in.

Tips to Keep Your Body Healthy While Walking

Couple doing brisk walking in park
Syda Productions / Shutterstock

Adjust your steps to the terrain – Be mindful of the kind of terrain you are walking on and adjust your stride accordingly. If you’re walking on uneven ground (dirt or a hiking path), you’ll want to walk slower and be careful not to roll an ankle. Very hard surfaces that do not have any give can put undue stress on your heel and tendons leading to plantar fasciitis. You will need shoes that act as a shock absorber lessening the force exerted on your heel and arch. Walking stairs or walking on an incline can put more strain on your joints and cause you to land harder on your heels.

Don’t Roll Foot to Either Side – Try to keep your foot stride centered and not turning inward or outward. This can cause excessive flattening of the arch and could lead to heel pain and plantar fasciitis. Landing incorrectly can also increase your chances of rolling your ankle.

Lighten the Load – While walking with a heavy load may burn a few extra calories, it also adds strain on your joints and muscles and can increase your chance of injury. Getting your steps when getting your chores done is an excellent idea, but be careful about carrying heavy loads for extended periods of time. Walking with heavy bags or weights on your hands is bad for you long term as it will impact your posture. Backpacks or other bags can cause your shoulders to slump and add extra strain on your back as well. For fitness walks, try to stay lightweight so you can walk as naturally as possible.

Dress the Part – If you are getting your steps in on the commute to and from work, watch the kind of shoes you are wearing. While you may have to wear certain shoes at work, try leaving your work shoes at the office or bringing them with you in a bag. You can then wear your comfortable walking shoes when you’re putting the most strain on your joints. If you need to wearing tight and restrictive clothing for work, this could impede you from standing up straight and having proper stride. If you have a very long walking or public transportation commute, you may want to try bringing your work clothes in a bag as well. You’ll have a more comfortable walk dressing for the summer heat or winter cold.

With these simple adjustments in your posture, you will experience less fatigue and may find yourself able to increase your steps beyond what you once imagined possible.

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