Has your walk been corrupted?!

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Read to the end for my top tip!

Have you ever arranged to meet a friend in a public place and recognised them from afar? Did it occur to you it was because of their gait rather than physical appearance?

It’s much harder to spot a child in the distance because they haven’t yet picked up the traits and habits that make them easy to identify. It’s the same with animals. Unless they’re old or injured, cats walk like cats. (And as they don’t wear clothes, they can be very tricky to recognise.)

Governments could use gait recognition

I heard that gait recognition is being used by governments to identify individuals, and into my head sprang this bizarre vision of being asked to walk up and down in front of the passport gates at an airport. It turns out, though, the study of gait patterns could be used to pick out individuals who are displaying signs of tension, e.g. the potential terrorist at an airport.

Individual walking habits

So what’s wrong with walking habits? Isn’t it good to be individual? After all, we don’t want to look the same as everyone else.

Well, the thing is, walking is a basic human activity learned by just about everyone. It’s like speaking or holding things. There’s an efficient way of doing it, and that’s how most of us walk as children. You can specialise in a particular skill: walking on stilts, being a ventriloquist, or learning to juggle. But this type of activity, albeit impressive, is not necessary for human survival.

Humans are great imitators, and that’s how we learn to do all the clever things we do. But we also pick up undesirable habits. For example, I’ve noticed that if I spend too much time with a person who over-uses a phrase, I start doing it myself, and it’s really annoying.

Like father, like son

I remember sitting on a train at Leeds station watching a middle-aged man walk over the concourse in a very unusual way. A moment later a teenager appeared with the same strange walk and joined him. I’m very sure the son didn’t walk like that as a toddler but learned it from his father because he wanted to be like his Dad.

So if you’re a parent with a young child, not only do you need to watch what you say, you also need to pay attention to how you move!

Don't make it harder than you need to

Some people try to walk without bending their ankles; lots of young people do this! Others transfer all their weight from leg to leg. You see people flinging a leg out in front, which is kind of what you need to do on a treadmill. Old people without any particular physical problem often try to keep their feet under their torso and end up shuffling.

Walking is a great activity for your well-being. Not only is it healthy, but it’s useful and money-saving! However, if you walk in a less than optimal way, you could be doing yourself harm. For example, if your feet point outwards as you’re walking forwards, your legs can’t operate in the way they are meant to and will gradually change to accommodate the habit.

Chewing gum under your heel ...

My top tip is to notice what your back foot is doing. Don’t be in a hurry for it to leave the ground. Imagine a great wad of chewing gum under your heel stretching out as the heel comes up and your leg lengthens behind you. If you swim or skate you know you have to push back to propel yourself forwards. Walking is just the same. As your rear foot pushes back and down, your head is sent forward and up and the rest of the body follows. If you want to increase your speed, pushing more firmly will lengthen your stride.

There is, of course, a little bit more than this to achieving a smooth and efficient gait, so think about some Alexander lessons if you want to know more.


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo at Lewis Cubitt Square, London