We see someone walking and we just know — that’s Mary!
How do we know? Maybe it’s the fluidity and gracefulness of her movement. Or the particular way her head moves, how the arms swing, or the fact that the arms barely move at all! Like walking itself, recognizing another person’s walk is not usually a conscious process.
But we can use conscious attention to improve our own walking comfort and enjoyment. An easy place to start is with the shoulders. Perhaps you’ve experienced the difference in walking while holding your shoulders and arms very still compared with allowing your shoulders and arms to move. Most of us notice we take smaller steps when our shoulders and arms aren’t involved much. Take a look at the long strides of the couple in this photo. And how far behind their pelvis and spine the back foot is! It shows good ankle and hip joint flexibility but their moving shoulders, arms and ribs make a major contribution too!
Effects of arm swing
University of Michigan researchers found that holding the arms still increased the effort of walking by 12%. That would be like walking with a very heavy backpack. In addition, shoulder movement, which is what supports the arm swing, usually increases stride length and contributes to a smoother and more graceful walk. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that arm-swingers walked 20% faster too. Read More When we’re walking on uneven terrain, arm swing helps us regain our balance, according to Dutch researcher, Dr Sjoerd Bruijn.
And yet, many people don’t have much upper body movement when walking!
Certainly, neurological difficulties (Parkinson’s comes to mind) may limit some people. But what about the rest of the “sleepy shoulders” group? I suspect the habit of non-movement — encouraged by a lot of sitting, a forward rounded posture, shallow breathing — has taken over a more dynamic activity, namely walking. Inability to sense what they are _not_ doing keeps the habit of too-quiet shoulders in place. In addition, when balance feels precarious, they hold their upper bodies even more still—which just adds to the problem. In what feels counter-intuitive, moving the shoulders actually helps our balance!
Want to invite your shoulders to move more when you walk?
CLICK HERE and scroll to the bottom of the page. While you’re there, check out other movement practices related to your neck and shoulders.
Neck and shoulders feeling stiff and achy, get more short movement practices HERE.