A physical therapist once told me that he could almost always predict which runner would win a race just from observing his or her hip motion. "The more control you have over your hips," he said, "the better you perform."
Aside from looking less than graceful, a sloppy gait is a waste of energy and a sure way to injure yourself. By delegating some of the load to your abdominal and hip muscles, you can walk faster and more efficiently, reduce your risk of injury, and eliminate much of walking's joint-jarring impact. With fewer pains and strains, you might even walk farther. And that means you'll burn more calories.
If you think about how you walk and you know the correct way, you'll simply do it better. This walking-awareness checklist will get you started.
Pull your navel toward your spine. Your abdominal muscles will form a girdle of stability, and your movements will be more controlled (you'll have great abs, besides). As you walk, let your arms swing, but try not to swivel your torso—its job is to support movement.
Consciously engage your butt and thigh muscles. As you prepare to take a step, focus on your trailing leg, creating a crease where your butt and thigh meet by lifting your cheek and tightening your hamstring. Continue to use those muscles as you bring that leg forward. Notice how your inner thigh muscles keep your knee pointed forward and stabilize your leg.
Walk with your toes pointing forward. "Turning your toes out can stress the knees," Tripp says. When you walk, allow your heel to strike first, then push off from the big toe, flexing at the ankle.
Relax your shoulders. Hold them back and down, and resist the tendency to hunch or shrug.
Hold your head high. Loping forward headfirst stresses your neck and throws your gait off balance. To distribute the force of gravity over your body along the natural curves of your spine, walk as if you're suspended by a string attached to the top of your head. Or just recall that old charm-school drill of walking while balancing a book on your head.
Sure, it takes work to imagine, and place, your body into a perfect walking posture. But in the two months since I attended the workshop, I've been surprised at how aware I am of the way I move and stand. I haven't revolutionized my walk, but for now, it's nice to know I'm moving in a healthier way.