Walking may be the most important exercise in this whole program considering that each step is a chance to strengthen muscles and develop new movement habits.
Maintaining an arch while walking involves controlling pronation or the inward roll of the foot when it makes contact with the ground.
It’s important to understand the fundamentals of good foot posture, like the neutral heel position and the foot tripod, because these serve as a basis for improving walking mechanics.
Point Feet Straight
I used to stand and walk with my feet angled out. This is generally a bad position because it makes the foot want to collapse inward.
Keeping the feet pointed straight ahead (or at least close to straight) is a relatively easy adjustment to make. A mirror can be helpful here as sometimes it’s difficult to tell if the feet are staying straight through the entire walking cycle.
Paying attention to aiming the knee caps straight ahead also helps to keep the feet traveling in a straight line.
One way I practiced this was to line the outside of one foot up with a line on the floor. Then walk while trying to make sure the outside of the foot stays on the line with each step.
Keep weight on outside edges of feet
The most important change I made was learning to walk with the weight more toward the outside edges of the feet. I wanted to keep my feet pointed more-or-less straight with a neutral heel position and weight on the outside edge of the foot.
One of the drills I used to train myself to do this was walking forward and backward 50 steps with the weight shifted to the outside of the foot.
When I first started practicing this it felt really unnatural, like there was a lot of pressure on the bone at the base of my little toe. But when I watched myself walking this way in videos it looked normal. Eventually, the outside edge of the foot became used to the new position.
An important note here is that, even though weight is kept towards the outside edge of the foot, the base of the big toe still needs to make firm contact with the ground to establish that point of the tripod and stabilize the arch.
One of the main goals of working on all the components of this program was to reduce the amount the foot pronates with walking. I found the two key concepts helpful for that purpose:
- thinking about keeping a neutral heel position while the foot is in contact with the ground, and
- pushing off through the ball of the foot (front 2 tripod points) as the heel lifts up.
It took me a while to gain enough awareness and control to keep my heels from everting or turning out while walking. It helped to focus on striking the heel at initial contact just towards the outside of the heel.
When the front of the foot came down, I would make sure all five toes were pressing down, but in a straight position (not curled). The toes should be like suction cups, not claws.
Then, I would focus on actively pushing off through the ball of the foot with pressure evenly distributed under the base of the big toe and the base of the little toe.
Having the toes spread out is another important part of stabilizing the arch. To work on this, I would spread my toes out while the foot was off the ground just before the heel makes contact.
The idea here is that the arch needs to be in a stable position before the foot touches down.
Ankle and Knee
Both of the images below are still frames from videos I took of myself walking. The before picture is from the start of the project and the after image is fairly recent.
I put these images side-by-side to show how turned-out my leg was during the swing phase. This is also known as out-toeing or “duck feet”.
You can see that both the foot and the knee are pointed outward in the before picture. The likely reason for this was because I wasn’t getting enough ankle dorsiflexion so my leg had to rotate out so that my foot could clear the ground.
To improve this I worked on pulling my toes up and bringing the top of my foot towards my shin as the leg was swinging forward.
And like I mentioned earlier, I also thought about the knee pointing straight ahead.
One cue I like is to think of a pencil sticking out from the center of the kneecap, and trying to aim the pencil straight ahead.
Step Width and Step Length
In the before picture above you can also see that my right foot (that I’m standing on) is turned outward. And although my heels in that picture are close together, there is a lot of space between the front of the feet, and also between the knees.
So when I pointed my feet straight I also had to think about keeping my legs closer together and decreasing the space between my feet.
It felt like I was taking shorter steps once I began focusing on pushing off through the ball of the foot. The actual step length may not have changed much, but the big difference was that instead of reaching the foot out in front of me to create distance I was more focused on pushing off with the foot behind me.
Hips and Pelvis
There were a couple of elements I keyed in on at the hips which improved my ability to keep the knees forward and feet from excessively pronating.
- Thinking about reducing the anterior tilt while walking (e.g. “tucking the tail”) and holding a neutral pelvis position.
- Driving the front of the hip on the stance leg forward as the other leg was swinging forward.
I demonstrate these changes in the walking videos. Keeping the pelvis from rotating too much also resulted in taking shorter but quicker steps.
Standing with good overall posture made it a lot easier to make the changes mentioned in this guide. I found that when I tried to stand as tall as possible some of the things mentioned above happened naturally without much effort.
Our bodies naturally try to find the most efficient way to walk. Changing walking mechanics often requires more energy initially and can feel unnatural until the body adapts.
As an example, collapsing arches is one way to compensate for restricted ankle range of motion.
Because I started off with limited ankle flexibility when I tried to implement these changes my heel would lift off the ground earlier than usual when taking a step.
The result of this is that I felt (and looked) like I was bouncing up and down when walking. This, of course, is a very inefficient way to walk.
But as my strength and flexibility improved things began to smooth out until the gait changes became automatic and natural again.
Retraining my walk was a gradual process and for the first couple of months I only spent a few minutes at a time working on it. Later on, I was able to work on the changes more frequently and for longer periods.
- Keep feet pointed straight ahead or close to it.
- Contact the ground first toward the outside of the heel.
- Keep weight towards the outside edge of the foot.
- Make sure the big toe, especially the base of the big toe, is pushing down into the floor.
- As the heel lifts up, push off through the ball of the foot.
- Walk with a springy step
- When the foot is swinging forward, pull the toes up towards the shin and point the knee straight ahead.
- Spread the toes out just before the foot contacts the floor.
- Maintain a neutral pelvis position.