The human body is an example of engineering at its finest. Think of your body as a machine. It will only function properly when all parts are working together as they should. The body is only as strong as its weakest link. Every individual should always be aware of the way in which they carry out activities of daily living. Having great awareness of one’s body can help prevent bio-mechanical imbalances and injuries. Walking properly is the number one activity where individuals should stay aware constantly. When it comes to walking, there is one simple position that everyone can do which will save them from creating imbalances/problems within the knees, hips, and lower back. The position is walking with your foot facing straight forward. As a vertical species, foot position is very important in order to keep the lower body bio-mechanically in check. If an individual constantly walks with their toes pointed outwards, they are setting themselves up for problems in the future. A gait (walking pattern) like this throws off the body’s bio-mechanics all the way up to the hips.
As a CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist), I see improper gait with roughly sixty percent of my clients. It is the first aspect of the body I teach my clients. Toes being pointed outwards activates the outer fibers of the legs (hamstrings and quadriceps) more than the middle and inner fibers. Over time, the over activation of the outer legs will cause those fibers to become stronger and tighter. Since the leg isn’t positioned properly on a daily basis, the strengthening/tightening of those outer fibers will throw off the biomechanics of the hip joint. The pelvis is a location where many muscles/tendons/ligaments attach to. If muscles are tightening too much due to bad leg alignment, it will cause problems elsewhere. Think of your hips as an uppercase letter H that is centered in a frame, connected to the frame by rubber bands (8 bands, 2 connected at each point of the vertical lines of the H). If you were to take the lower/outer bands and twist them (making them tighter), the H would not stay in the exact position. If you tightened one outer band more than the other, then the H would be shifted down on that side since it has a greater force being pulled on it. This is where improper gait may cause a lower back problem. The downward shifting of the pelvis due to the tightness in the outer legs may throw off the alignment of the lumbar vertebrae. Lumbar vertebrae are a stability section of the spine (NOT a mobility section!), so they should always be stacked properly onto each other. When the pelvis is shifted downward, the lower lateral lumbar vertebrae angle increase on the same side and decreases on the opposite side. This means that the intervertebral disk between those vertebrae does not have even pressure, which will eventually ruin the disk and lead to problems/injuries if not taken care of. This is just one example of how improper walking can lead to biomechanical imbalances.
Yes, one can argue and say that you could stretch daily and help correct the imbalance. The problem with that is the stretching will help alleviate the tightness, but since you are activating the outer fibers more than the rest they become stronger. Since those fibers are stronger and have more activation, they will always want to take over before the others. One must be constantly aware of their body for at least sixty six days and continue that awareness for eighteen months. At sixty six days the brain begins to be rewired for the habit you are teaching it. After eighteen months, the brain has been fully rewired and turned said activity into a habit. Once the eighteen month mark has been reached, the brain will automatically perform the activity without the individual even thinking about it. The mind and body need to be engaged at all times! Keeping body awareness high will contribute to a far less chance of developing problems in the future.
Cam Bergeron (CSCS), BS, Exercise Physiology, is a National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and University of Massachusetts-Lowell Exercise Physiology graduate.