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Backpacker Magazine – August 2011

How to Walk

Yes, there's a better way to put one foot in front of the other. Improve your stride, trek farther, and end leg and back pain with our guide to the new science of healthy hiking.


TRAINING
Add fitness to your form with our guide to stretching, strength, and balance.
Alone, a healthy foot strike and proper stride do not guarantee pain-free hiking. Weakness, instability, and tightness in the legs and hips can lead to problems as well. “Everybody is built differently, and gait will vary,” says Reed Ferber, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary and director of the university’s Running Injury Clinic. Fitness, however, is universal. All hikers should strive to improve strength, balance, and flexibility to enjoy more comfortable miles.

What follows is a backpacking-specific training program designed to give hikers the physical tools they need to put good walking technique into practice. The program was compiled in consultation with physical therapists specializing in sports medicine, including Ferber and Brian Schmitz, a doctor of physical therapy and certified strength and conditioning specialist at DeRosa Physical Therapy in Flagstaff, Arizona.

STRETCHING
Think of your body like an engine. Muscles provide the power, but you need oil (flexibility) to
keep everything running smoothly when you’re walking long miles. Maintain essential limberness year-round with these key moves.

Hips/Groin
Lunge on one leg, with front foot flat on the ground and with back leg straight and toes tucked under. Place your hands on the ground, on either side of foot, and press down with your arms (A). Hold for 10 seconds. Staying in lunge position, balance upper body on straightened arm opposite bent leg; twist torso toward bent leg and raise other arm toward the sky. Look up at hand (B). Hold for 10 seconds. Switch legs. Repeat three times.

Lower Back
Lie on the floor with legs extended straight and arms out to the sides, making a T shape. Bring knees toward chest. Keeping legs bent and together, lower them to one side, and let them rest on the floor while you turn your head in the opposite direction. Shoulders should remain flush against the floor at all times. Hold 10 seconds. Switch sides. Repeat three times.

Calves
Stand six inches away from a wall. Step one leg back three feet. Place hands flat against the wall and push in with your torso straight, front leg bent and back leg straight, shifting weight onto back foot and keeping heels on the ground. Hold for 10 seconds. (Bend back leg as well for a deeper stretch.) Switch legs. Repeat three times.

Quads
Standing with both feet flat on the ground, shift weight to right leg, and use left hand to pull your left leg behind you, against your butt. Stretch the right arm toward the sky and look up. Hold for 10 seconds. Switch sides and repeat three times.

IT Band
Sitting in a chair with your feet on the ground, place one foot on top of the opposite leg at the knee, making a triangle shape. Keep your back straight, lean forward from the hip, and press chest toward legs as far as possible. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch sides. Do this stretch lying on your back (pictured) to deepen it. Repeat three times on each side. 

Feet/Legs
Sit on floor with your legs straight out in front and knees pointed toward the ceiling. Hinge forward from the hips with your back straight. Grab toes and pull toward your head, keeping feet flexed but legs straight, stretching foot, arches, and calves. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat three times. (Tip: Can’t reach your toes with legs straight? Don’t bend your knees. Use a towel to pull on your feet while maintaining good form.)


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GREAT article. I leave basically untrained - for the Camino de Santiago next week - this will at least give me things to think about whilst walking:)

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GREAT article. I leave basically untrained - for the Camino de Santiago next week - this will at least give me things to think about whilst walking:)

MandalaRunning@gmail.com
Mar 25, 2012

Confirmed: Check Barefoot Running for the Complete Idiot. When Foot strikes, first thing that happens is an outside heal strike. Further as this article demonstrates foot then rolls to the inside heal while almost at same time engaging little toe-mound, then back momentarily to the inside heal while progressing to big toe mound to a big toe lift-off. Each of the four corners of the foot engage a complete kinetic chain from foot to top of head. Hands follow same sequence as foot while running. A complete fluid flow of the body in motion occurs. This is very important stuff to review in both walking and running to identify compensations culturally induced, or through injury or stress.

pjcamp
Mar 19, 2012

Why am I hearing bagpipes when I look at your "take the test" guy?

John Parry
Mar 19, 2012

The description of how to walk reminds me of racewalking. It is not that the stride on level ground is short, but that there is less of the stride is in front of the body and more of the stride is behind the body. Also when you are using your hips as described the effect is your overall stride length is longer.

Darren
Mar 17, 2012

Why no mention of shin-splints and stress fractures and how to prevent them? It's a very common long distance hiking injury.

Also, enough with the barefoot fad already.

Bear
Mar 17, 2012

I have been hiking barefoot consistently for a couple years, and can generally do it every season but winter (and as long as the ground isn't very wet, a pair or two of wool socks help). I have always hated shoes and wear then as little as possible. I guess it isn't for everyone, but I find the sensation of feeling the trail is just as exciting as the sights and sounds. I also feel like I am making less of a negative impact. I have to be conscious of where I step rather than clumsily tromping through the bush.

Eric
Mar 16, 2012

Short strides can lead to blisters due to overheating. So it's best in my opinion to find a good balance, not just start taking baby steps as recommended here.

Jay
Mar 16, 2012

You're kidding...??? Maybe backpacker will teach me how to dress myself as well...

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