Run – Don’t Walk
Last month’s column covered the problems that can develop when runners attempt to alter their natural stride pattern. The lesson (hopefully) learned is that each individual has his or her own particular stride length that optimizes energy expenditures and minimizes the risk of injury.
I must admit to a somewhat significant omission, however, in that I related this problem to running only. The fact is, I have seen many individuals over the years with overuse injuries as a result of improper stride while … walking!
As you are no doubt aware, many people believe running is “bad for you,” “causes arthritis in the joints,” “leads to back problems,” etc. Some percentage of those people also believe that they should do some form of exercise for health and fitness, so they take up what they believe to be a safer alternative: walking. And they would be right — walking can apply less body weight/ground reaction forces to the muscles and joints — if they walked at a normal pace and with a normal stride.
The injured people I have seen who are hurt by walking all have one thing in common: they overstride and/or walk too fast. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched someone “power walk.” It is obvious that this is not a natural movement, from the shoulders down. The arm carriage is way high, the trunk rotates too much, the knees are snapped straight at the end of the swing and the hips sway side-to-side about twice as far as they should. And this is nothing compared to the problems with race-walking! (I do have to admit to some bias here; I tried race-walking once, made it one trip around a quarter-mile track, and couldn’t run for five days afterwards due to hip bursitis.)
I actually think overstriding while walking is more likely to cause injury than to do so while running, and it’s certainly more risky than normal running. Likewise, increasing walking cadence past the point that one would normally start to run, but forcing oneself to maintain a walk, can cause bigtime problems. Films of animals going through the stages of increasing speed show this quite clearly. A horse, for example, will instinctively transition from a walk to a canter, to a trot, to a gallop, at precisely the same speed every time, because for each range of velocity a particular gait pattern is the most efficient. The fact that trotters and pacers have to be trained long hours to maintain a specific pattern despite increasing speed demonstrates this point.
The lesson here, then, is not just that overstriding should be avoided in walking as well as running. Perhaps more important is to realize that if easy, casual walking is not cutting it for you as a workout, you should let your body do what it wants when the pace increases past the point where walking is comfortable. In other words, sometimes it makes more sense to run — don’t walk!