Gait Fiddling 1
Sure I could have called this "Fix your gait in 3 easy steps!", but that would be silly and dishonest, and here at Mosugy, we don't go in for that sort of thing.
This is an activity post, so kick off those shoes and get ready to fiddle with your gait. Find a nice surface to walk on, somewhere you can walk in a straight line for a bit. A track would be perfect, or a lawn, just make sure it doesn't deform noticeably underfoot or hurt to walk on.
Now walk some. Don't look at your feet. Try to walk normally. Since I'm telling you to do it, it will probably take a few moments for you to stop walking like you're on camera and go back to your habitual pattern. Once you get to walking in a way you recognize as normal for you, start paying attention. Now stop and just take a mental note of what that felt like.
Place your hands on your hips and start walking again. Just notice what you notice. I'll point out particular things to pay attention to in the next step. Just walk around for a bit until you feel like your walking fairly naturally. Take note of what ways your gait has changed. Obviously you cannot swing your arms with your hands on your hips, but what has this done to the way your hips move, or your back, or your shoulders in relation to your hips.
Now start paying attention to where your hands move in relation to one another. As you step, does one hand move forward in relation? Does it move up? Do your hands stay level? Do they stay basically beneath your shoulders? Keep pondering as you rest a moment.
Common gait faults include twisting, shashaying and swaying. In any of these motions, our lumbar spine will be moving. Stiffness gets a bad rap, but in any locomotive activity, you really want your torso to have an appropriate amount of stiffness. The torso is supposed to be supple but stable. We should walk with our legs, not our spines. The way your hands were moving will tell you something about how you walk. I'll leave this as an exercise up to the reader; try to figure out what your lumbar spine (the lower curve, just above your pelvis) is doing to allow your hips to move as they do.
Now we are going to practice stiffening our torso using a side plank. The particular side plank variant is one of Dr. Stuart McGill's "Big 3" back exercises. I am presenting it here alone, but it's a good exercise that should help the majority of people.
Lie on your side, propped on your elbow, with your knees bent and slightly in front of you, as shown.
Some finer points. The shoulders should be down--"anti-shrugged". The spine should be in a straight line with the pelvis.
Now, push your hips forward so that your body is in a straight line from head to knees. Hold this for about ten seconds, and then go back to the rest position. Note that in the rest position, your spine must still remain straight. Do your best not to allow it to bend as you return to rest.
Notice that the shoulders are still anti-shrugged, and that there is no apparent twist between the hips and shoulders.The hips and shoulders should be square in the same plane, perpendicular to the ground. The hips should also be fully forward; there should be no hinge at the hips.
If you have pain in your support shoulder or difficulty holding it down, use your opposite hand to hold the shoulder down and in its socket. If you cannot find a way out of pain, you need to stop and go so a physician or chiropractor to address your pain. NEVER WORK THROUGH JOINT PAIN! It will mess you up.
You may not be able to feel your position. This is okay and expected. After all, if you had perfect body awareness, your gait would be perfect. To better find yourself in space, intentionally introduce faults in your working position. From the top of the plank, intentionally let your spine sag a little (just a little), and then return to what you perceive as the right position. Do the same with twisting; allow the shoulders and hips to unsquare, and then return them to a better position. Likewise, try having the hips too high or too low, then return. You will hopefully feel the muscles of your torso working and stabilizing, but resist the urge to intentionally flex the muscles. Let them work while staying relaxed.
Make sure not to try and do everything at once. And once you feel you've found the "correct" position, you don't need to keep bending and twisting; simply hold that position for the prescribed time. Don't go for more than 10 seconds at a time or allow yourself to get tired doing this. Stay fresh. If you are straining or wincing, you're doing too much.
Do the side plank 4-6 times on each side with only a few seconds pause between repetitions; and make sure you're breathing. Once you have done this, stand up, shake it out, and start walking again.
Has anything changed? Pay special attention to the movement in your low back. Is it staying more stable than it was before? Or if it is moving, twisting, flexing, etc. are you more aware of it than you were before.
Feel free to do the side plank again, but do fewer repetitions than you did the first time. If you did 6 before, only do 4 now.
Now we shall do our final exercise, and you will mostly think your way through it. As you walk, imagine you are in shallow water. Imagine the water is just below the knees. How do you walk? Does it change if you imagine it up to about your mid-thigh? Go back and forth between these two depths and anywhere in between. If you have a (safe) body of water convenient, feel free to actually wade in and try this.
Pay attention to your hips. How are they moving? Place your hands on them again if you like. Try very hard to really imagine walking through that water. It is likely very different from walking on dry land.
What you will hopefully notice is that your leg will swing out in front of you, and your forward motion will come from the glute of the rear leg, from the action of that rear leg extending behind you. Attempt this now. Intentionally drive the swing leg forward; as it does so, the rear leg will naturally tense to provide propulsion.
In our modern gait, largely thanks to soft shoes and uniform surfaces, it is common for us to walk by falling forward, rather than by propelling ourselves forward. There is a reason human butts are a large muscle group; they're built for propulsion and balance. Yes, your bad posture is likely caused in part by your low back having to do the work of that big old meaty tush you're supposed to have.
That is our practice for the day. I hope you enjoyed it. I will have more lessons on gait and other topics in the future. Feel free to drop a comment on how this exercise treated you or other things you may like to explore. Keep exploring; stay curious.