When you are standing or walking, do you ever think about where you are placing your feet? Of course not! We are not designed to have to think about these things. Posture and movement are subconscious, and they are supposed to take care of themselves. Right?
Well… not exactly. Over time, any aspect of the body can (and does) go off track. When it comes to standing or walking, your feet may gradually move closer together until your heels touch or, worse, your feet begin to cross. The dangerous effect of this phenomenon is that you stop using your skeleton to support you and instead begin to depend almost exclusively on muscle.
The result: The muscles responsible for supporting the body when you stand or walk take on a much bigger load than they were designed for, becoming overused and strained. This will lead to the sense that you have weights around your ankles, making standing or walking very hard. You may begin to feel that even the smallest walk, let’s say from one side of a room to another, feels like you’ve walked miles. When you are out, you may begin to feel that you need to sit down to rest every block or two because you are so tired—yes, even from this little level of activity.
My great concern here is that you will seek medical attention regarding this “fatigue” factor. Once the medical system gets involved, you will have batteries of tests for your heart, lungs, your metabolic status (such as checking for diabetes). You may even be checked for depression—all because you feel very tired doing what is seemingly very little activity.
Let’s breakdown the actual mechanics of what’s going on here so you don’t end up being misdiagnosed and sent down a path of medication and erroneous treatment.
Think about the force of gravity that is always pushing down on you. Gravity pushes down in a vertical line directly perpendicular to the ground. If the skeleton is properly aligned to be perpendicular to the ground, then your skeleton can support this load. The bones require no energy to achieve this support. They are simply building blocks placed in alignment with the force (gravity) so they absorb that force.
The proper alignment of the leg bones from the pelvis to the foot is when the foot is directly under the hip joint. This means that you should about five to six inches between your feet whenever you stand or walk.
Let’s try this simple experiment…
- Stand in front of a full-length mirror with your feet directly under your hips. Notice that in this stance, your legs are perpendicular to the ground.
- Place your feet next to one another, aligned with the midline of the body. Try to hold this stance for one minute. See how hard you are working to support yourself?
- Next, place your feet directly under your hips and stand for one minute. Notice how you are exerting dramatically less energy this time? That is because your skeleton is now taking a large portion of the force of gravity rather than your muscles.
Now that you understand that the most efficient and proper positioning of your feet is directly under your hips, how do maintain it? You need to do two things…
Correct your faulty movement pattern. It takes 21 days for a new movement pattern to be ingrained in the brain and considered to be the correct pattern. So for 21 days you need to keep consciously correcting yourself whenever your feet are not being maintained at hip-width distance while standing or walking. After 21 days of conscious effort and strengthening your gluteus medius (see below), your feet will remain under your hips subconsciously.
Strengthen the muscles that sit at the side of the pelvis—the gluteus medius muscles. They are responsible for keeping your feet hip width apart. The exercise to be performed is hip abduction. This exercise is surely sounding familiar to you by now. I’ve also advised it for helping to resolve low-back pain, knee pain, plantar fasciitis and preventing recurring sprained ankles. The stronger your gluteus medius muscles, the easier it will be to keep the feet hip-width apart.
This exercise can be performed either lying on your side or standing. To do it correctly, make sure you do not go too far when moving your leg outward. People falsely believe that more range of motion is better, but in this case too much range of motion means you are using the lower back muscle to create the motion, not the gluteus medius (hip muscle). The gluteus medius muscle can only move the leg out to the point where it is parallel with the hip joint. Any outward motion beyond that is created by the lower back muscle.
To do the exercise lying down, lie on your side with the knee of the bottom leg bent and the top leg straight. The top leg should run in a continuous line from the torso—if the leg is angled in front of the torso, you would use the wrong muscle. Start to raise the top leg off the supporting leg until your top leg is parallel with the floor. As you lift, try to turn the leg in slightly so the heel is the first part of the foot that is moving. This puts the gluteus medius in the optimal position to raise the leg. Once your leg reaches parallel to the floor, begin to lower it back onto the supporting leg.
If you prefer to stand, the outward movement is similar to when lying down—lead with the heel, and don’t move your leg too far to keep the exercise focused on the gluteus medius. Holding on to a sturdy table or chair while you perform the exercise will make it easier to use proper form.
Perform this exercise three times a week. At each session, performed three sets of 10 repetitions with a one-minute break between sets. Gradually increase the resistance used until the muscles involved are strong enough to perform your functional activities without straining and emitting symptoms.
Will it be a tough three weeks? Sure. But it’s worth the effort! You will find it easier to perform all weight-bearing activities, and you will be able to do them for longer periods of time. You will also decrease the chances of straining other muscles that work in conjunction with these muscles. So you can prevent back pain, hip-region pain, groin pain, knee pain and even ankle pain by strengthening the gluteus medius muscles and relearning to place your feet under your hips. For the ladies out there, this may seem a bit manly, but I assure you—your quality of life will increase so substantially that a little change in how you move will be well worth it.
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