What does it feel like to walk with a relaxed leg and ankle and why would you want to?
This blog explores your hip, leg ankle and foot alignment, and how this affects your ability to walk naturally and comfortably, and then show you how you can walk with a relaxed ankle.
To understand the problem, I urge you to sit for a while and people watch. You will be presented with endless variations of walking, but you will vary rarely see a naturally comfortable walk. It’s very common is to see people drop heavily on one side, to hold and carry their swinging leg with their foot stuck in one position, or walk with knees turned inwards, or feet spread outwards. In a natural walk, your thigh should hang down with gravity from your pelvis, your knee should act as a pin joint with your lower leg swinging through much like a pendulum, your weight should smoothly transfer from one leg to another, your hips chest and arms slightly rotate as you move, and your body should be in alignment with gravity.
Allowing your leg to hang and swing as you walk, moving with a slight rotation to your hips and chest, and having a soft relaxed ankle with a firm rolling connection to the ground, is a very comfortable feeling. It is the natural way your body is designed to move. In most people this natural walk has been replaced with their own variation which is less efficient and over time causes twists, compaction and long-term leg, ankle knee and hip pain.
Each and every time you take a natural step, you sinuously move forward, going slightly from one side to the other and very slightly up and down in your gait. The upper leg wants to hang down from your hip with your knee joint pointing forward, your lower leg wants to swing directly below. By “wants to” I mean is that this is how your leg will naturally move when you walk, unless you have twists or other damage in your muscles or joints, causing misalignment.
How well are your legs aligned?
To see how naturally your legs move when you walk, try this exploratory exercise:
Sit forward on a chair or table high enough for both your legs to be off the ground. First check to see if your thighs are parallel, or if either one, or both thighs roll or twists your knee caps inwards, or outwards. Then let your lower legs swing and see if they swing through freely and directly under your knee joint, or whether they swing inwards or outwards. Then check your feet, if they are completely relaxed at the ankle then they will point down and slightly inwards.
Remember the upper leg wants to hang down from you hip, which means your knee joints should be pointing forward, with your lower leg swinging directly below, and your feet, if relaxed at the ankle will hang slightly in towards each other. When you load your feet with your weight, the ankle will engage, and your feet should be parallel with each other. For clarity, since everyone’s feet are different, parallel feet means that a line drawn from the centre of each heel to the second toe (the one next to the big toe) are parallel.
Next, video yourself walking about 10 paces in a straight line towards your camera. See if as you walk heavy on one foot or another, see if your foot and knees swing directly below your knees in a correct “plumb bob” line below your hip, or if your legs, knees and feet stray off that line as you walk. Many people have twists in their upper legs, lower legs, knee joints and collapsed ankle joints resulting in turned out feet and knees, or feet which strike the ground in unnatural ways. These twists and misalignments cause balance problems, and also knee and hips problems because your body weight then pressures your knee and hip. It often causes chronic pain in the upper body as you begins to adopt an opposite twist to keep yourself stable. Many people can’t hold their own body weight on one leg as they walk, and so “fall” onto their forward leg as they step.
Your body and gravity.
To be relaxed and upright, your body needs to be in a natural alignment with gravity. Like a large tent which holds the main pole upright with guy ropes, your body naturally tightens your core muscle groups to keep your body upright and aligned with gravity. However, when because of leg misalignment, gravity falls outside of your natural upright posture, those “guy ropes” of muscles have to work harder and so remain chronically tight to keep you from falling.
The more your body is in alignment, the more gravity will naturally drop through your body without you having to make tight “guy rope” adjustments to keep yourself upright. The more you are in a natural alignment with gravity the more your body will release its additional layers of tension. It will begin to relax, and the more pleasurable life will become.
Exercises for a relaxed ankle as you walk.
When your foot is under load from your body, the foot, ankle and lower leg stiffen and integrate to transfer that weight to the floor. To do so the ankle sets itself to transmit the load across the sole of your foot. For explanation purposes the sole of your foot can be considered as 3 main areas. The centre of the heel, the pad behind the big toe and the pad behind the little toe. In a separate blog entitled “How to walk naturally and comfortably with an ease of movement and an efficient rolling step” I explain this in more detail.
To understand a relaxed ankle, it is useful to use a wrist as an example. (1) press your hands flat onto a table fingers pointed away thumbs pointed towards each other. Then relax your arms and wrist and allow the heel of your hand to slightly pop up. Do this about 10 times to get used to the feeling. Next add to this by gently lifting your wrist up leaving only your fingertips relaxed and dangling. A little like water would drop off the ends, or hand and fingers hanging like puppy paws. Do this about 10 times until you can feel wat a relaxed wrist feels like.
Next try this exercise. Hold your arm out with your hand and fingers in line projecting forward, then relax your wrist allow your hand and fingers to drop. Repeat this a few times until you can feel that this is achieved by your relaxing not only your wrist, hand and fingers, but also by relaxing your lower arm muscles, if you are not sure, then old the soft underpart of your lower arm with your other hands You relax your ankle in exactly the same way, by softening the muscles in your lower leg, allowing your ankle and your feet to drop.
So, now try this. Stand with your weight on one leg, the other knee lifted off the ground just in front of you, toes pointed upwards and in line with your knee. Then relax your hanging leg ankle and allow your foot to drop. Transpose the relaxed feeling you had in your wrist to your ankle. It’s the same feeling, just with and ankle rather than a wrist. Your now relaxed foot should drop and point slightly inwards. Practice this a few times until you can feel the muscle changes in your lower leg, ankle and foot that precipitate the drop.
Next. With your weight still on one leg, place the hanging foot flat on the ground but don’t transfer any weight into it. Practice lifting your knee to lift your foot and toes a few inches off the ground. Test two different methods. The first is to keep your foot tight with the toes pointing upwards. Feel how this feels. The second is to allow your lower leg to relax, you’re your ankle and foot to drop. As you lift your knee to pick up your foot, so your foot drops and points down. Feel how this feels different to lifting holding your foot tight. If your ankle feels as if it drops off your foot slightly, a bit like picking up a string of beads and feeling each bead drop down slightly, then that’s it.
Next. Still standing on one leg, place your other leg comfortably behind as it would be in walking. Pick that foot up with a tight foot, the toes pointing upwards and place the foot forward as if in a walking step. (don’t place any weight into it) Then repeat, this time relaxing your lower leg, and allowing your ankle and foot to drop. Again, feel how different this feels,
Putting it all together.
Now, if you can feel what a relaxed ankle is like, it is simply a matter of walking using that skill and relaxing your lower leg as your thigh and knee step forward, allowing your ankle and foot to drop. Walk a few hundred metres and then re-film yourself and see what changes you notice.
And if you have followed these guidance notes and taught yourself thus far, then you will realise yourself that you can also choose to relax your upper leg and let it “hang” from your hip joint.
Having your feet firmly on the ground, your ankle fully open, your knee over the centre of your foot and in line with your hip, will set your upper body free to naturally alignment itself with gravity, and save you from having to make chronic muscle tightening adaptions in your hip, lower back and torso. To help you we have developed a programme of 4 packages to supplement these practices and to show you how to release, relax, soften and connect up your body www.exercisesforlife.co.uk. By the way don’t confuse relax with collapse! A relaxed body is one which has a natural muscle tone that keeps itself effortlessly upright without adding a layer of tightness and tension.
As those movements begins to unwind the tightness in your body you will develop the more natural walking pattern, we are exploring here
Moving it forward.
Walking naturally using the body’s natural spiral and a relaxed leg and ankle is a truly beautiful and comfortable way of moving, I encourage everyone to discover, re-discover and experience this utter joy of efficient natural walking.
In a separate blog called “How to walk naturally and comfortably with an ease of movement and an efficient rolling step” I explain the learning process of walking naturally by finding the body’s natural spiral, and this relaxed leg and ankle is the final part of that process. There is also a blog showing you how to release chronic muscle pain called “Releasing chronic tension in your muscles”, which you might also like to explore.