Stop Counting Steps

More Isn't Better.  Better Is Better.

As a societal rule, when we talk about movement, we talk about numbers.  FitBits measure our every step.  Trainers record our pounds, reps, & sets.  We set up hour-long exercise chunks thrice weekly to keep the doc happy.  Here's the thing: numbers lie.  The quantitative approach is clean, crisp, and...incomplete.  Unwavering focus on numeric measures of progress leaves glaring gaps in our practice.  I've written before about a more intuitive approach to the gym, but today's focus is much simpler.  We need to talk about how we get from Point A to Point B: walking.

Really, Walking?

Yes walking.  It's an underrated miracle.  We're the only species to locomote primarily on two limbs, an action that requires tremendous balance (most of which occurs on a subconscious level).  Think: walking is essentially a single leg balance switching back and forth.  This seemingly simple movement requires huge amounts of coordination between bone, muscle, and nerve.  And it bears repeating: the bulk of the movement happens reflexively.  Few of us have the need to focus on each step as it occurs.  We put our bodies on autopilot and measure our progress in steps taken.  But the thing is...

A Step Is Not A Step

Movement is always a two-way road.

Movement is always a two-way road.

When we simply count steps we assume that each step is the same as the last.  The truth is a bit more messy.  See, movement is an ongoing feedback loop.  Some nerves carry the movement message from the brain to the muscle, and others carry feedback from the muscles back to the brain for rapid on-the-go adjustments.  Each step is a slightly new movement, in a slightly different environment.

What we call gait, the way we walk, is essentially a moving average of all of these events.  It's a generalized pattern.

Problematic Patterns

Trouble pops up when we add more and more steps to a generalized pattern of dysfunction.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Before adding volume or intensity to a movement, we need to dial in the quality of that movement.  You can't build on a crappy foundation.  If the way you walk excessively loads one particular joint, you're setting yourself up for injury.  

Think: how many former runners do you know who have knee trouble?  

The same thing can occur in walking.  When we focus on the number of steps we take, we better be sure of the quality first.  If we don't, we're asking for pain.   So what makes for quality walking?  The short answer is: a lot.  But you can use the following (general) guidelines to find a bit more ease.

Walk This Way

  • Avoid the curse of collapse.  Imagine length in the spine as you walk.  My favorite image is a string pulling upward from the top of the breastbone and weight downward from the sit bones.
  • Find support.  Tune into the standing leg that holds you on each step.  Is it stable?  Can it truly carry your weight?
  • Use the ground.  Think of pressing into each step you take.  Imagine each step can push the world behind you.  Power!

Long Story Short?

Be mindful.  You aren't a robot.  Why move like one?  When we focus on the quality of our movement, quantity comes along naturally.  But for Whole Human health, quality must come first.