Friday, February 12, 2010

Efficient walking

With all the recent interest in barefoot running I though this study was of interest. Barefoot running encourages you to land on the forefoot - it is the most efficient gait. Interestingly walking is most efficient when you land on the heel.

The cost of being on your toes

Walking heels-first is less work than walking on your toes or balls of the feet

"....Lots of elite athletes, whether sprinters or distance runners, don't land on their heel. Many of them run on the balls of their feet," as do people who run barefoot. That appears to be the natural ancestral condition for early human runners, he adds.

"The important thing is we are remarkable economical walkers," Carrier says. "We are not efficient runners. In fact, we consume more energy to run than the typical mammal our size. But we are exceptionally economical walkers."

"This study suggests that one of the things that may explain such economy is the unusual structure of our foot," he adds. "The whole foot contacts the ground when we walk. We have a big heel. Our big toe is as long as our other toes and is much more robust. Our big toe also is parallel to and right next to the second toe."

"These features are distinct among apes, and provide the mechanical basis for economical walking. No other primate or mammal could fit into human shoes."
....and it is all about fighting?

Carrier speculates that a heel-first foot posture "may be advantageous during fighting by increasing stability and applying more torque to the ground to twist, push and shove. And it increases agility in rapid turning maneuvers during aggressive encounters."


Natural Athlete said...

I'll buy the efficiency of heel first walking though it depends on terrain mid foot or forefoot become common for me on more difficult terrain. It also accords well with my believe our capacity as long distance runners is an bonus of our adaption as long distance walkers, not a primary adaption.

However the fighting thing seem very strange you can hit harder sinking down on to your heels but speed of movement and agility is seriously compromised, virtually all martial arts in my experience favor a ball of the foot ready stance, and only advocate dropping down on your punches rarely if at all.

Methuselah said...

Again, a very timely post Chris.

I've been training myself to walk on the balls of my feet in my Vibrams on the basis that

1) That's how we should run barefoot, so the same applies to walking

2) It means I don't run the risk of pain when I hit a stone.

After reading this I am unsure. I must admit that it does not feel as easy to walk on the balls, but I had chalked that up to unfamiliarity.

I may now try easing back into a less ball-focused gait, perhaps while still not being quite as heel heavy as I would be in normal shoes.

If you find anything else on this, please do post!


Hans Hageman said...

A rolling heel-toe gait while walking feels more comfortable. I am also paying more attention to how the rest of my body stacks up when walking - not leaning too far back or slumped.

Using a foot roller also hels keep me more in touch with my foot.

Chris said...

Methuselah, check out the work of Esther Gokhale. I've posted stuff from her before

Her book has a good chapter on walking. She is heel first, knee bent in walking.

olddude said...

Pay attention to the transitions you go through when moving over variable terrain.Just watch the heel strike vs forefoot vs midfoot and the change in the pelvis and thorax and extensor muscles of the lower back when you go from walk to run,uphill to downhill etc.They all have a place and a function.Just go for a ride and be fasinated.

Chris said...

Indeed. I was hillwalking yesterday and going up hill it is all forefoot strikes

Methuselah said...

Thanks Chris - will check it out.

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I was wondering what is more efficient? barefoot running engaging your feet into a risk of damage or running wearing the proper shoes?

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Walking is a good exercise especially for pregnant women and adults. Mild exercises like these should always be considered. Thanks for sharing.

mc said...

when walking research is based on a population that has not been shod since birth, then an assertion that we're naturally heel-first walkers may be sustainable.

Try heelstriking barefoot on terrain and how well does tha tgo?

midfoot first then heel down uses the achilles and foot musculature for a gentle efficient landing and stride.