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Balance for Walking

Balance is sometimes defined as “standing still” – i.e., can you balance on one foot? But can you balance walking? How can you tell if you can balance while walking? You are currently walking without falling over I presume. So how do you know if your balanced is compromised?

Walking is a one-legged activity; the heel of the front leg lands, and then the leg in the back is lifted and the centre of mass is transferred forward over the leg on the ground until it becomes the back leg and the cycle continues, but at some point, you are standing on one leg for the time it takes to swing the other leg through and land.

There are ways to mask inability to balance in this moment, they are what we call compensations. Some of those compensations include momentum, pelvic lateral shift, leaning forward, bending knees, shortening the gait or shuffling.

I recently walked to the beach in my neighbourhood (yes, Toronto has a huge beach!) and when I got to the sand I removed my shoes. There are several choices to make when walking on the beach:

  • the asphalt trail that follows the lake; perfectly flat and level, firm, easiest
  • the boardwalk; splinters, springy and uneven boards, but mostly flat and level
  • the sand far from the water; deep, hot, less traction
  • the sand closer to the water; stony, less deep and still hot with less traction
  • the sand at the water’s edge; firmer (better traction), cooler but slanted
  • in the water close to the edge; firm sand, some stones, cool water, flatter
  • deeper in the water; more drag, less visible ground and unexpected footing (some rocks)

So guess where I chose to walk?

Yes, all of them! I also walked on the sidewalk barefoot until I got enough sand off my feet to put shoes back on. Even my Lems minimal shoes aren’t as minimal as no shoes.

Most people stick to the asphalt trail along the water’s edge, which is very convenient, but you are only able to add one variable when you stick to the same surface: speed. You can walk faster, or bike, roller blade, or run. However, step off the path onto the boardwalk or the sand, and you add all the variety listed above; traction (or loss of it), deeper, less firm footing (also a traction variable but you need different joint usage to walk in softer, deeper footing), angle of surface, bumpy surface, more drag; all of these variables bring more to your ability to navigate.

Here’s a challenge for you: Close your eyes and picture a person walking. Stay with that image for a minute. There are no rules. Do it right now and after about 30 seconds, open your eyes and read on.

 

 

 

(DON’T PEEK)

 

 

 

Finished? Okay, so tell me, did you picture a man, a woman or a child? What was the person wearing? A suit? Athletic wear? What shoes were they wearing?

Where were they walking? Did you picture a business man walking down the sidewalk, or an aboriginal walking across the plain? Was the person walking straight, or zigzagging? Walking fast or slow? Where they walking across a flat and level surface or on a narrow, slanted or rocky surface? Swinging their arms? On the flat or up (or down) a mountain? Did they walk erect, or did they have to dodge under and around things (tree branches for instance)? Did they have to bend over or squat down and navigate narrow paths, like through a rock cavern? Were they carrying something? If so, how; in the arms, on their back, on their head? Was it something large (a bundle of firewood) or precious (a baby)? Were they wearing a backpack? Were they dragging something behind them?

How many variables did you imagine your imaginary person navigating? The picture you had in your head probably tells you a lot about how you experience walking right now. But humans in the natural world would not walk like that. It is for this reason that walking is a CATEGORY. It involves many variables, and in order to reap the benefit of those variables we need to introduce as many as we can, either naturally, or in a more controlled way in the studio using balls, rock boxes and 2x4s for some examples.

 

Here is a video of me walking along a curb. There is no danger here, the curb is between a grass verge and a walking pathway (no cars or bikes). At first, I walk along looking down at the curb. Pretty easy. My gait is barely affected.

Then, I look straight ahead and not down at the ground – my balance is not quite as sure, and I slow considerably.

Thirdly, I close my eyes, leading to eventual failure and I fall 100s of feet to my death. Kidding, I step down. But this is a controlled example of how I compensate for a lack of balance. Interestingly, I bend my knees (lowering my center of mass) and shuffle, taking smaller steps and not spending much time on one foot. How you respond to a test like this is directly influenced by the risk involved. If I really was walking on a ledge of a cliff holding a baby, you better believe I would not be closing my eyes. This is a more advanced version of last blog post’s (click here) walking on the street and looking to the side, so start there if you need to.

 

 

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