Recently, the Franchise Mark Fisher, shared a couple quick observations on why walking is so awesome. You can find that short but awesome article here if you haven’t already read it…
In this article, Mark alludes to the wonderful benefits of walking as it relates to health. I could not agree more with him. In fact, He and I have routinely (and often recently) talked of starting a Mark Fisher Fitness walking team. Whoa. That’s weird, right? Who’d have thunk that two former semi-brash guys that originally got into fitness to look good and to pick up hot chicks would be all about starting an organized team of nomadic Ninjas? And to further better our biomarkers of health?! This makes me “LOL” in retrospect. How far we have come since our epic beginnings, Mark…
|I mean, look at these guys…Total douche-cakes. And now they want to start a walking team?! Lol…No, but seriously…anyone interested in a walking team?? I’m kind of serious…|
Health. Walking matters because movement matters. (TWEET THAT SHIT!) And it matters a lot. Personally, I don’t think that people walk enough and I certainly don’t think people move enough. Granted, as New Yorkers, we probably do more in comparison to most of the United States population that tends to “sit their lives away” and then use big hulking electric-gas machines to conveniently get themselves from point A to point B. Bravo NYC’ers. Bravo. However, the reality is that even the best of us New Yorkers are probably still not walking anywhere close to a fraction of the amount of distances that our former primitive ancestors might have used to. We’ve become a liiiiiiitle bit lazy. We’ve become a liiiiiiiitle bit stuck between the imprisoning confines of our cozy chairs. We’ve somewhat-sorta-kinda-maybe…ok, who the fuck am I kidding…we have absolutely stopped moving…
Is this a BIG mistake? Hellz to the Yez. We are built to move. The human physiology and anatomy dictates such. We literally have a brain, a nervous system, so that we can get from one place to another. When we dismiss this fact, we are basically dismissing Mother Nature. This deserves a resounding “Uh oh!”—say it with me people, loud and proud. This is church! When we go against Mother Nature, she will shut us down and not even think twice about it…
Simply, we have to remember the very foundational things that make us uniquely human, the things that make us animals, the things that make us life forms of the earth, the things that hold the most potential value in keeping us supple, adaptable and thriving creatures. A huge part of this is movement. And how do humans move? You guessed it— they walk! In fact, the walking reflex is hardwired into our biology, deep into our DNA. As babies, if we possessed the requisite strength to hold our huge infant heads up shortly after being born and had a bit more muscle mass and could control our newly inherited motor abilities, we’d probably be little walking machines right out of the gate!
Research shows that routine walking is one of the more healthy things that we can do for ourselves. Even walking a mere 20-30 minutes per day can do some really great things for our hearts, muscles, bones, connective tissues, hormones—all the things. One of the more recent findings was that walking consistently might help us age better.
Back in the old days before agriculture was invented, humans walked up to at least 10 miles a day on the regular. Nowadays, I’d be happy for most humans to get 2-3 miles in. As Mark said in his last article, walking can be a great entry “drug” into a healthier lifestyle of fitness. It can act as a stand-alone modality for folks that just want to get out and explore the world (one of the bigger reasons I do it since I live in NYC, the most grandiose and diverse city in the world), or it can act as a great recovery strategy to go along with other forms of fitness as well. It can also be an awesome opportunity for active meditation or to read audio books, if either of those are your thing. In addition to the standard format books and reading that I do, I often read 2-4 audio books a month. Walking, a stressor, albeit a mild stressor, helps me consolidate information and memories better so that I am able to learn more efficiently. I also simply feel better when I’m able to shake things up a bit and visit new parts of the city that I haven’t been to before or tend to do so less frequently. My brain feels more balanced and not so caught up in the redundancies of the everyday habitual activities that I engage in on a daily basis.
This all said though, most people don’t know HOW to actually walk more along the lines of what is biomechanically sound or more ‘correct’. With the advent and more frequented use of high heeled shoes and chairs that continue to fuck us up (and they fuck us big time), we now walk most commonly using areas of our bodies that were not designed to really optimize our most optimal walking strategy. An example of this would be like when using our lower backs and hip flexors to walk forward instead of using our abs and glutes to propel us during our gait pattern. In addition to this, because we’re asymmetrical by design (both brain and body) and because this asymmetry has been exploited and not very well regulated (due to lack of awareness of this fact), we tend to walk with a bias towards one hip or the other…almost always, the right hip as the more powerful or dominant propelling hip.
Sitting in a chair = lack of movement= your lifelong enemy. Hint, hint—Standing desks aren’t going to do you much better. It’s not chairs that are the enemy; it’s the act of NOT MOVING that’s actually messing us all up…(TWEET THAT SHIT!)
So, what would supposed better walking be like, you might ask? This is a loaded question in of itself and it’s not as simple as one might think. I’ll give here some general recommendations with the understanding that as always, people are highly individual and different. Having a coach like myself (or any of the awesome trainers at Mark Fisher Fitness) to help you with your gait pattern would be most ideal, but the following tidbits of counsel will at least get you started and out on your eager feet…
1) Exhale. We have to first start with an exhale. Before you begin walking, you need to exhale a couple of times. We’ve gotta get your mind and brain right by anchoring your nervous system more towards the parasympathetic side of things. This will also in turn activate your oh-so-important transverse abdominals (the deeper abs you can’t see outright), cum gutters (obliques) and diaphragm a little bit more. As a result, your ribcage will pull down and thus you’ll be able to breathe a little better, a little easier, a little fuller (and a little less with your accessory neck muscles and lower back extensors).
2) Use your eyes. Once your mind and brain state is a bit more balanced, you’ll wanna set your eyes towards the horizon and out into the world. The world is begging for you to interact with it and there’s no better way to experience its beauty than through your most powerful sensory system—your visual system. Your eyes are mainly built of a certain type of photoreceptor that allows you to look peripherally OUT into the world, so try and explore it a bit. Look long and far. This can actually help some folks that have developed more myopic or nearsighted eyes to rewire and balance their brains away from this focal or close vision tendency that has come to dominate our technology driven world these days. Try keeping your eyes out of your favorite phone/technological device and allow your righting reflex to cast your eyes towards the horizon. Our eyes were not made to look at the ground, so cast them up and wide. Let your visual system take you to places you’ve never been before…you’ll be amazed at how easy and freeing you might feel when you just allow yourself to get out of your own 2 foot radius and into the magical world that’s right before your literal eyes. Look around. Express yourself by turning your neck, your body, and reorient your visual fields often. Aim to find different perspectives and angles of perception as to what and how you’re seeing the world as you walk. It can be like meditation if you allow your mind to anchor itself in the act of moving through space while taking in all of the vivid imagery.
3) Work on the basic mechanics. Next, you’ll probably want to take bigger steps as you begin to walk forward. While taking bigger strides, feel the entirety of both feet rocking against the earth, from toe off to heel down. Most importantly though, try and emphasize the feeling of your heels gently surfacing towards the ground with each step. Then notice any discrepancies in the length of your strides from one side to the other. Do you tend to push off of your right foot/big toe more than your left? How about your arms? Do your arms swing reciprocally out in front of the middle of your body? Does your upper/thoracic spine rotate better on one side than the other? Do your arms swing at all? If they do, is your ribcage still relatively down and are you feeling your abs? How about your head and neck? Are your head and neck walking you or are you walking with your entire body stacked vertically in one solid piece? How about your feet? Are you walking with the feet of a duck or a penguin? Or are your feet pointed straight forward so you can forcefully push off into the world with them?
All of these things are kind of important. Don’t stress yourself out if some of these things aren’t happening right now or if things seem to be a bit off kilter now that you have this information to your advantage. In this day and age, I would argue that walking could almost be considered a lost skill of sorts, something that is very much taken advantage of, believe it or not. It is going to take practice and time for you to layer in of some of these suggestions moving forward, especially if you plan to walk for longer distances in your near future. For now, exhale and get that ribcage down a bit. Feel your abs as you walk. This will take care of a good percentage of the rest of these mechanical discrepancies.
4) Walk like you’re drunk. Walking in not-so-straight of lines is awesome and one of my favorite suggestions here. As a species, we’re so good at moving forward when we walk, that we very much neglect the movements of going side-to-side or turning while walking. As a Manhattanite, I love to walk in circles like I’m slightly tipsy drunk. I can only imagine sometimes what the poor people down in Chelsea think of me when they see me come strutting down in diagonals down 8th or 9th avenues. Walking with more variability allows our brains to become accustom to the many different variations and patterns that we might encounter in different high-threshold stressful situations during our walking lifetimes—aka the times when you’re walking to dodge the onslaught of tourist animals that either come flying at you like a herd of buffalo or get stuck in their standing ways with their gazes fixed toward the New York Skyline. These non-conventional walking patterns will become even more important as we continue to get older, as our balance system and the proper musculature we use to help us find balance will need more consistent maintenance. If you really wanna get sexy, try walking on curbs or on rocks or anything that you can find is a different input for your brain. Make it fun and try new things. Just make sure you’re not crashing into too many people, not stopping traffic too often or falling off of anything you shouldn’t be.
This week, try and explore the many different aspects of walking and see how you feel during and after. In addition to the sexy endorphin boost it may give you, I think you’ll find that the freedom walking affords really resonates to the very core of what it is to be alive and to flourish as a human being. It just feels so damn good once you’re in the groove.
Remember to make your walk your own—it’s an investment towards your physical health and mental balance & clarity. Get out there and explore the world. Travel it like the awesome animal you are. Be silly and have some fun! Furthermore, you can make your walks either meditative or productive if you want. Or just walk to walk. Go it alone or with friends. There are no rules, my fellow walkers!
Finally out into the world we go. Make sure to look for me. I’ll be the overgrown drunkard skillfully stumbling my way along the many different magical pathways and streets of New York City. I hope to see you all out there, wanderin’ and moving around this beautiful town!