What is Deliberate Walking?

Change your walk, change your life

Most people don’t think about how they walk. They put one foot in front of the other and go on their way. Walking is one of the most natural things that humans do each day. Or is it?

Variation in walking and running

There is great variation in the way we all walk and run. We vary the way we move to accommodate the ground surface, the terrain, our level of fitness, injuries, and how we are feeling emotionally. The greatest variation in how we move, however, is observed between barefoot walkers and shod walkers, people who wear shoes to walk.

What’s in your closet? Think of all the different shoes you wear. Do you walk the same way or differently in your slippers, running shoes, flats, high heels, dress shoes and boots? The reality is you adjust the way you walk to the shoes you are wearing.

“Normal” shod heel-toe walking

Most people walking with shoes/footwear are heel-toe walkers. They put one foot in front, put the heel down on the ground, and follow with the toe. This is what we see every day in most people in modern societies. It may be “the norm,” but it is not the best way to walk.

Heel-toe walking uses a damaging, unhealthy stride that humans adopted when we started wearing shoes — especially the modern day supportive and highly cushioned shoes.

People in non-industrialized societies, who walk and run without shoes, do not — and cannot — use a heel strike walk. Within seconds, they would be in pain and would have to stop. The Bushmen of the Kalahari, walk long distances barefoot each day. They take shorter strides and make ground contact with their mid-foot.

Evolution provides us with an energy efficient and injury resistant way to move

Our human ancestors depended upon walking and running for survival. Gathering food, escaping enemies, and practically every basic human need required some amount of walking. The human body was created to walk efficiently and without pain for miles each day.

Why, then, do many people today experience pain in their feet, ankles, hips knees, and back when they’ve been walking, even for short distances? Why do hundreds of thousands of people need surgery on their joints or special shoes to walk comfortably? Our ancestors could not have survived this way.

The answer is simple. It turns out that our bodies evolved for barefoot walking and running. Our bodies do not function as well when we walk and run in shoes. In fact, our gait changes so much that injuries occur. This leads to many types of bone, joint, and muscle diseases. Shod walking and running causes stress on the joints, back problems, foot pain, and more. Shoes/footwear protect our feet which is beneficial, but there is a trade-off and a high price that many people pay over their life-time. Safety, energy efficiency, performance, and normal adaptation are compromised in both the short and long term by wearing shoes.

How shoes have defeated nature

With stiff, padded, “supportive” and cushioned shoes on our feet our human brain, which controls how we walk, alters how we move to adjust to the shoes. We walk in ways that are contrary to what evolution intended. We slam our heels down on the ground and take longer strides. Shoes protect our feet from the pain we would experience if we tried to do this barefoot. And in the process, the feet, ankles, knees, hips, back, and practically every joint in the body experiences wear and tear that they simply are not designed to tolerate. This leads to surgeries, procedures, and for some people, a lifetime of pain that no medical treatment can fix.

The “right/best” way to walk

There is a right way to walk. It’s the way our bodies evolved to move. People who have walked and run barefoot their entire lives are living the answer to the question, “what is the right or best way to walk?” Does this mean you need to throw out your shoes to learn how to walk correctly? And, let’s face it, most of us would be embarrassed to go to work barefoot! No, shoes have their place in protecting feet from injuries, germs, and weather. Most of us either will not or cannot stop wearing shoes to feel better. Those of us who live in Michigan, as I do, understand that there are practical arguments for wearing shoes!

Deliberate Walking is about re-learning what nature intended

We need to re-learn how to walk the way nature intended. We can learn to walk differently in whatever shoes we choose to wear. It is possible to walk and run in the same way that habitual barefoot walkers and runners move. The health benefits are well worth the effort. We call this way of walking “deliberate walking.”

Deliberate Walking is a method of walking with shoes that simulates habitual barefoot walking. Walking and running the way habitual barefoot walkers and runners move might just change your life. Consider changing the way you walk and run to improve your musculoskeletal health, fitness and well-being. All it requires is a desire to walk and run differently, practice and a daily dose of mindfulness.

Join the conversation and let’s begin to “talk the walk!”