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How to walk Barefoot

Apples are not oranges, monkeys are not apes, hands are not feet, and walking is NOT running! I see so many people that read studies or articles about barefoot running and they apply it to walking. There have been studies showing that a running gait that uses a heel strike is less efficient, and more prone to injury than one that uses a forefoot strike. It makes sense if you think about it. I also teach parkour and this is one of the biggest struggles kids have. They run with big long strides thinking they are going to go faster but they put their foot way out in front of them and each time they land like that, it stops their momentum. Also, the shock of that hard step goes right up into the knee and hip. It's pretty well established that running is better done with shorter steps and landing on the forefoot.

So people sometimes just assume this is the same for walking. They go around telling people that they ought to be landing on their forefoot and that is the proper way to walk. Well, I'm here to tell you that is based on faulty logic. 

The mechanics of walking are drastically different than running. Especially sprinting, which most of these studies are using. Running is basically a controlled fall. You lean forward and push off hard with the toes which give you power. If you didn't lean forward then you would just jump straight up in the air. Before your body falls to the ground, your other leg comes forward and then pushes down again at the same angle. So running is a series of hard pushes against the ground while your body is angled forward. 

Walking, on the other hand is more like reaching out and pulling yourself forward. Your leg stretches out and while your back foot pushes off slightly with the toes, you simultaneously touch down gently (not strike!) with the heel of your front foot. Then as you shift your weight onto that foot and pull it back to propel your body forward, you want to smoothly roll from heel to toes as you repeat the process. The key to walking efficiently is trying to do it smoothly. Keep your body upright, look straight ahead, and just like your car, your wheels need to be aligned or they are going to wear out really fast! Your feet also need to be pointed forward or your knees are going to wear out! 

Now, you might find that you have poor walking habits left over from your years of wearing shoes that are padded, and don't allow you to feel the ground. When you can't feel the ground, there is a tendency to stick your leg out, and then clumsily fall onto your foot with your leg stretched out too far. This is like a crash and repeat gait and is super inefficient and will cause joint pain. Another common gait issue is what I call the flip flop slop. If you are used to wearing flip flops that aren't secure, then you can't walk properly and keep the shoes on your feet. So people tend to point their feet out and sort of scoot forward and outward and sway back and forth as they scuff their feet on the ground to keep their shoes on their feet. If you don't believe me, go to any Walmart or other common supermarket in the summer and watch people walk. (Yes, I'm the weirdo that watches people walk everywhere I go! But, it is a good learning tool.) This is a terrible habit and you might as well be dragging along dead weight below your knees. 

If you're struggling to get it right, my advice is to throw out all the technical "requirements" and just try to walk smoothly and quietly. We do the same thing in parkour when we teach students how to land softly out of a jump. We teach them all the mechanics, but then have them jump off something and try to land quietly. It works. Also, it might help to have someone get down on ground level with a camera and record you walking. Sometimes we think we are doing one thing when we are actually doing something entirely different!