Have you ever noticed those signs telling you to “Watch Your Step,” or “Caution: Slippery When Wet”? These signs communicate to be careful so you don’t fall. But what if there are caution signals coming from inside your body? Are there signs to warn you if you are about to slip, or to indicate that you need to step with more care?
The answer is yes.
One way to check your body for these signs is to perform a walk test. The first type of walk test is two minutes on the treadmill at a steady pace between 1.5-3.0 miles per hour. Alternatively, a steady walk for two minutes outside or in the mall will also work. When I conduct a walk test for a client, I pay attention to hip movement, arm swing, and foot strike. These big three contribute to most of the problems encountered with walking, such as imbalance, fatigue, or discomfort.
Hip movement is the largest movement in the body. The legs swing along the hip, on both sides and in both directions, with each step. The right hip lifts along with the right foot when stepping forward. Meanwhile, the left side rotates in the opposite direction to control the forward step of the right leg. Many different muscular responses happen at the same time. An example of a problem is when the hip doesn’t lift up as you step forward. This presents itself as either a “toddling” movement or a limp, with the upper body swaying side to side. This is due to some form of muscle dysfunction in the muscles that cross the hip, either from injury, muscle weakness, or overuse.
Arm swing is another aspect of walking to monitor. While arm swing isn’t necessary for motion, it does contribute to the stability and energy efficiency of the body’s forward movement. Each arm stores the energy of the opposite leg as you step, meaning that when walking distances, it is less taxing on the lower body to not have to drag the upper body along for the ride. Reduced arm swing can contribute to poor posture and upper body fatigue, so it’s best to keep hands out of the pockets when strolling.
One final consideration in observing a walk test is the foot strike. A normal strike is heel-to-toe, and it is considered normal to strike at either the front or back of the heel. Heel-to-toe allows the calf muscles to push with the front of your foot, and then engage the quads above your knee to continue propelling you forward. Landing in the middle of your foot or pushing off only from the heel can be a sign of a couple of potential muscle or nerve issues that should be addressed, either due to a foot injury or other same-side leg injury.
Identifying walking issues by using a walk test will prevent future injuries that could inhibit you or a loved one from fully participating in desired activities. Walking regularly has demonstrated reduced cases of back and neck pain, less stress, and an increased chance of getting what you want from the kitchen.
So watch how you walk, because you’ll want to do it safely and injury-free. Contact me for an assessment using the latest techniques and technology!
By Justin Walls
Justin Walls is a certified personal trainer (American College of Sports Medicine), specializing in youth fitness, senior fitness, myofascial release techniques, joint pain/arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, aqua fitness, running, and walking. He also has expertise in lifestyle/health management and meal planning, and a background in psychology. Learn more at justinwallsfitness.com.