Walking may just be the simplest exercise there is. But if you’ve ever suffered foot, shoulder or back pain after completing your regular route, you may need to retune your technique. “Most people walk with a ‘lazy’ posture: slumped shoulders, chin jutting forward, legs and hips leading,” says Danny Dreyer, creator with wife Katherine Dreyer of Chi Walking (Chiwalking.com). “This requires enormous muscle usage just to keep your body upright.” Plus, swinging your legs forward and landing heel-first, like most walkers do, inhibits forward motion, often over-stressing lower-leg muscles. “It’s a little bit like driving with the brakes on,” he says.
Chi Walking uses the principles of Tai Chi to make walking easier on your body. Try these tips to start walking with ease.
Aim arms, legs and feet forward. Don’t waste energy swinging your arms side to side, or invite pain or injury by walking with your feet turned slightly in or out. “You want as many body parts as possible headed in the same direction you’re headed,” Dreyer says.
Align your upper body. Lift the crown of your head, which aligns your neck, opens your chest and drops your chin slightly. This distributes your weight more evenly so your bones support your body weight, rather than your muscles.
Level your pelvis. Engage your lower abdominal muscles (the ones that tense when you cough) to lift your pelvis and help ease the strain on your lower back.
“Fall” into your walk. Imagine your upper body from the juncture of your legs and pelvis as a single unit, and tilt ¼ inch forward. Walk with a “controlled forward fall,” leading with your upper body and allowing gravity to pull your lower body along.
Check in. Choose one “form focus”—“lifting through my crown,” for instance—and check in every 2-5 minutes.(Set an alarm on your watch to prompt you.) You can also use cues to check your posture throughout the day. If you work at a desk, for instance, sit in your best posture and place a photo on the wall behind your computer, Dreyer suggests. Can’t see the picture? You’re slumping. “These mindful steps can improve your focus, balance and strength in everything you do,” he says.
Check out the video introduction to Chi Walking: