Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
8 Jun

The Definitive Guide to Walking

walkingAt first glance, this title probably threw you off. I mean, a guide to walking? Are we moderns really that dysfunctional that we can’t even walk correctly? C’mon, Sisson – you must be out of ideas.

Bear with me, here.

It may seem silly to need a definitive guide to walking, but I think we do. First off, walking is no longer necessary for basic everyday survival. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the average person reading this blog can get by just fine without walking more than a couple hundred yards each day. Whether via buses, trains, cars, bikes, or delivery services, you’re not going to starve or die of thirst just because you don’t or can’t walk. I’ll argue that walking is an essential human activity that we ignore to our ultimate detriment, but millions of people do exactly that and think nothing of it. Progress? In a wider societal sense, sure. But on an individual level, people still need to walk.

Second, because walking is no longer “necessary,” we – the general, inclusive “we,” not necessarily the Vibram-clad elite – have forgotten how, when, where, and why to walk. Our technique is shot, we lack proper scope (a mile sounds daunting), we don’t even think to make time for regular walking for walking’s sake, and walking is seen as the last resort to be employed only when the tire’s busted, the train isn’t running, or the bus is late. Kids don’t walk home from school anymore (what, with all the lurking pedophiles?), people hop in the car to run down to the corner market.

I don’t always like to pull the “Grok logic” card, because it doesn’t always apply to our current situation. Here, though? Yeah. It makes sense, so pull it I shall. Walking is our birthright. The weird way we humans do it – obligatorily upright, hands free to wield tools and weapons, harsh sunlight coming at us from an angle instead of head on, relatively generous glutes making the whole production go – gives us a survival advantage. Well, it gave us enough of one to help us blanket the globe with funny shaped footprints. And our feet aren’t exclusive to homo sapiens: a 1.5 million-years old homo ergaster footprint preserved in Kenyan mud reveals that hominids have been using essentially the same feet and the same stride for hundreds of thousands of years. That means that before our big complex brains hit the scene, the same feet you enjoy today were stomping mud and carrying our distant ancestors around. These feet are millions of years in the making. I’d say that’s a pretty good track record, and I think it’d be a shame if you didn’t utilize them.

Grok walked a lot. Heck, he walked everywhere. Riding animals didn’t appear until after the agricultural revolution, so unless you buy into the ancient aliens theory, you accept that our paleolithic ancestors relied on self-ambulation to get around. It seems pretty plausible to suggest that we’re probably well-adapted to walking on a regular basis. I’d even go so far as to posit that walking might even be highly beneficial to our health and well-being. Given our extensive history with the activity, you might even say our genes “expect” us to walk.

What does the evidence show? Surprise, surprise: walking is good for you and enacts multiple beneficial changes in our bodies. To name a few:

I could go on but I won’t. Suffice it to say, walking is overall a healthy activity. I don’t think there’s any disputing that. Besides, droning on about the physiological benefits of walking detracts from the real reason I want you to walk so much: it’s an enjoyable way to get out, move, be active, and experience the world.

Despite it being our birthright and really healthy and all that jazz, many of us would be well served with some walking technique tips. Note that I don’t condone the usage of bulky, heel-centric shoes, so all technique tips given assume that you are barefoot or in minimalist shoes with minimal to zero heel drop. Sorry, but that’s just how I roll.

The Leisurely Stroll

This is the everyday walk you use when walking to the farmers’ market, through the mall, or down to the watering hole across relatively flat ground. Lead with the heel, a straight but not locked leg, touch down briefly and lightly before transferring the weight onto the balls of your feet. What you get is a smooth rolling sensation. Check to make sure your glutes are firing by walking with hands on cheeks. You should feel your glutes tense up with each step. In public, this looks suspect, so do the self-assessment from the comfort of your own home. This is not heel-striking, which is a running style characterized by repeatedly slamming one’s heel into the ground to the ultimate detriment of one’s lower extremities. This is heel-touching, and it’s far less abrasive.

The Stalk

When you’re hunting something or making your way across an uneven landscape dotted with rocks, sticks, and (like, maybe, you’re hiking off trail) other bits, use the stalk. Keeping your knees slightly bent at all times, walk by focusing on the balls of your feet. Your heels will touch, but your midfoot lands first. Take shorter steps than you would when heel-touching.

Walking Uphill

Land fore/midfoot first. Touch down with the heel and engage your glutes to propel you upward. Repeat with other foot.

Walking Downhill

I like landing with my entire foot. Maybe the heel hits first, but I try to land with my whole foot. Walking downhill is an exercise in stopping yourself from hurtling downward, so this can get tough. Absorb the impact with your hips by keeping the weight on your heels, rather than your toes.

Whichever method of walking you use, always keep your torso on top of your hips. Stay upright (you’re a biped, so act like it!). A floppy torso that bends and sways throws off your balance and wastes valuable energy. Stay tall.

In my experience, it’s the easy, seemingly inconsequential stuff that’s the hardest sell. The crazier, more unconventional stuff gets all the attention. Tons of people get out there and do heavy squats, order grass-fed cows, buy the latest Vibram model, learn to love liver, and proudly stride barefoot into the grocery store – but they drove to get there. It’s the easy things, like walking regularly and often, that are somehow the hardest to do. They’re the easiest to ignore. Walking? Yeah, it’s nice, it’s relaxing, but it won’t put on the mass and elicit the hormonal response of a set of heavy deadlifts. It isn’t sexy.

Walking matters, folks. Big time. If we stop moving, even if we’re standing at our desks and hitting the gym every other day, we’re dying. We’re telling our bodies that we’ve given up, that it’s okay to shut down, that all those millions of years of daily, constant walking were an aberration, a mistake, a fluke. That’s folly. I think you know it, but I don’t know if you know it.

So get moving – starting tomorrow. Wake up ten minutes early tomorrow and use that extra time to walk around the block. Practice the different walking techniques. Go barefoot. Feel the ground beneath you. Enjoy the still dewy blades of grass slipping between your toes. Feel the serrated edges stimulate those long-dormant nerves. Ignore the mythical broken glass, infected syringes, and rusty nails littering the ground and welcome the occasional uncomfortable rock digging into your sole. It happens, but that’s life, and it’s okay. Just keep it moving and leave it all behind.

Do you take time out of your schedule to walk? Should you? Do you have better things to do? Let us know how you incorporate walking into a world where walking is a leisure activity!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. God, I love this, this resonates with me on a deep level. It’s moments like this that really make you feel ineffably alive.

    “On the nights when I got to stay out late, I relished
    wandering into the thick of the darkened woods. My heart
    would beat faster. My palms would sweat. I felt like an alert
    animal, excitedly crossing a mysterious threshold. Yet,
    within a few yards I was one with the shadows.”

    Ape wrote on August 27th, 2011
  2. I regularly walk to everywhere. Mainly 5km to university happens quite a few times a week. This summer I has been using five fingers and I’ve come to knowledge more of my walking style. I’m working on different styles to strengthen my legs and help with shin splints.

    Flame wrote on September 24th, 2011
  3. What do you do in winter when Vibram’s are out of the question and you can’t avoid a bulky heavy-soled boot? Where I live there is snow 6 months out of the year but I would still like to walk outside as much as possible!

    Rita wrote on October 26th, 2011
  4. I write a blog on Vancouver and its history. I walk for hours some days, walking around the city taking photos of heritage buildings and whatever else I find interesting.

    Karen wrote on January 11th, 2012
    • Hi Karen, whats the primal community like up there in Vancouver. I might be relocated there for work and was curious as to how primal my life might be up there. Easy to find other primal folks and easy to get good quality foods especially grass fed meats? Don’t want to gain any of the weight I lost going primal : )

      Frank wrote on January 11th, 2012
  5. I don’t know how the primal community is up here. I am just investigating this site here myself. Sorry Frank.

    Karen wrote on January 12th, 2012
  6. Is that Vancouver, B.C. or Vancouver, WA, U.S.A.? Vancouver, WA across the river from Portland, OR has good access to quality primal foods, but a bit (well, ok, quite a lot) spendy. I haven’t found an affordable grass fed meat supplier yet. We did buy half a bison for slightly under $4/pound. But most grassfed that I’ve found can be anywhere from $7/pound to $16/pound and up. We do the best we can, but like I said, it’s spendy.

    Mary Anne wrote on January 12th, 2012
  7. Vancouver BC

    Karen wrote on January 12th, 2012
  8. Walking is great, but here in Texas when it’s 100 degrees all your food will be ruined on that long walk back. :P

    Moocow wrote on January 20th, 2012
  9. What do you think about walking barefoot on a treadmill? In MN when it’s -30 it’s kinda hard to imagine barefooting…

    Martha wrote on March 3rd, 2012
  10. Sometime in HS, not sure why, I started walking different. I kinda step down, lightly roll along the outside part of my foot, and to the balls of my feet. But then I got too busy….. and started clomping on my heels. So now I alternate between them, depending on what I’m doing/how big of a hurry I’m in. And I love the “How we’re wrecking our feet” article somebody linked to.

    Shawna wrote on April 8th, 2012
  11. Interestingly enough, I also sometimes do that “fox walking” or whatever the link called it.

    I actually spent most of my life walking or riding a bike. Mom didn’t drive, so we’d walk 4 miles or more to go shopping, then carry everything back (sometimes 8+ miles). I didn’t start driving until I was 21. Sadly though, I’ve done little else since, but I’m making changes.

    Have to say I love this site!

    Shawna wrote on April 9th, 2012
  12. In my job (and because I do not own a car) I walk 15 – 20 km every day and do lots of heavy, functional living. Leading this lifestylefor the last 2 years, I don’t work out at a gym anymore, and I have never felt better or been stronger. My whole body is toned and I rarely get sick. Walking is where it’s at for overall health and well-being. It’s not the only thing you need to do to stay healthy, but it is a prerequisite.

    Lindsey wrote on April 12th, 2012
  13. I walk my dogs every morning for 30 mins or more — about an hour on the weekends at the park. I also walk 30 mins at my lunchtime during the work week. I work in downtown St. Louis, and my walking buddies and I walk to the Arch grounds.

    Elaine wrote on October 10th, 2012
  14. Do you NEED to walk outside? I realize “fresh air” is good for you, but in the Pacific Northwest at this time of year it’s raining (I might melt) and getting colder (I might freeze) by the day. It’s also DARK by the time I get home. Would using that under utilized treadmill that’s been in the back room for years be okay? I mean, it would be better than just coming home and sitting on the couch right? It’s funny, because I grew up in a no car house and we walked everywhere, but as soon as I moved out and got a car, I haven’t looked back, driving even just two or three blocks. Now, almost 40 years later, I regret that decision. If I get used to walking (even in-doors) during these winter months, then maybe it will be easier to transfer it to outdoors when it gets warmer.

    Carolt wrote on November 24th, 2012
    • Though walking on a treadmill is better than parking yourself on the couch, I really do think exposing yourself to various types of inclement weather (dressed appropriately) helps build up your immune system and keeps you healthier, given reasonably strong general health to begin with.

      I understand bad weather. I’m in the desert, and it can be in the 110F for a couple of months straight, and my job has me walking around outside all day long. I honestly feel like it has made me healthier and the changes in weather affect me much less.

      RitaRose wrote on November 25th, 2012
  15. Mark,

    I’ve stiff big toes, sore arches ,knees, hips (above hips & at hip flexors) & back. I also overpronate, which I think has a lot to do with my ankles being lax but stiff in dorsiflexion.

    I have been in Merrell trail gloves for about 5 months & going to a chiropractor, which did help a lot. But I stupidly wore orthotics for a couple of days to rest my arches & now I’m worse. My chiropractor moved & was replaced by another who isn’t as effective for me too – I did one of his exercies wrong which started the downward spiral in the first place.

    Please advise!
    Tom

    Tom Rodgers wrote on June 30th, 2013
  16. I do best with the cheap flip flops from Wal Mart. Less than $5 and they are what I do best in. Anything more is cumbersome. I find boots in the winter are ‘OK’, but it’s the in between I don’t like.

    I’ve gone spelunking in flip flops and did not slip while the three others wearing some sort of hiking shoe or regular running shoe all lost balance.

    I don’t know if its as close to barefoot (while still protecting foot from a hot or cold or sharp) ground that does the trick, but I can move easily and freely with simple flip flops. Yay.

    Zorica Vuletic wrote on July 15th, 2013
  17. Loved the article on walking. I usually take a brisk walk a few times a week during my lunch hour to help clear my head and gain some steps. I use a pedometer each day and try to get over 10,000 steps, and my half hour walk usually helps get at least half of that.

    Josh wrote on August 10th, 2013
  18. I love walking. Really good info.

    Great post!

    Carolina wrote on November 3rd, 2013
  19. unless you have a huge backyard, that allowes you to just let them out there to play. Your dogs would need to walk too… Walking is a great way to bond with your dog, and also to bond with the ones your walking with.

    Karl Reinert Rasmussen wrote on December 28th, 2013

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