We humans were made to stand on our feet and walk around for a large part of our day, every day. Because walking is one of the most fundamental movements, it has turned into a mindless task. Unfortunately, in many cases, our walking mechanics may be related to athletic injuries.
Being mindful about your walking may sound like a painfully dull task, however, if you are someone who aspires to be an athlete who can perform efficiently for many years to come, you definitely should consider becoming more mindful about your walking.
In this article, we will briefly talk about how some gait characteristics may actually influence the effectiveness of your movement in sports, and consequently, the risk of injury. These characteristics include: 1) Ankle posture at heel contact, 2) Load distribution at heel contact, and 3) Plantar flexion during take off.
Ankle Posture at Heel Contact
We all need some level of dorsiflexion when stepping forward, otherwise we’d be tripping everywhere. However, we should consider that hitting the ground with the most posterior part of our heel brings a higher likelihood of greater impact at contact, whereas landing with the foot which has a bit less of dorsiflexion may allow for better shock absorption (right picture). The advantage of landing with a slighter dorsiflexion is that it allows the muscles of the feet/ankle to be more active at absorbing and dissipating the ground reaction forces that enter through the foot, thus minimizing the force transfer upwards to the rest of the body.
Load distribution at heel contact
In walking, some people are pullers (left image) and some are pushers (right image). Pullers are those who give the step forward while leaving most of the body weight on the back leg, and then pulling themselves forward. Whereas pushers are those who push their weight forward with the back leg, and land with the hip closer to the front leg. As a result, pushers end up with a more even distribution of the body weight between both legs during heel contact. This strategy has the advantage that the “near-alignment” of the ankle, knee, and hip of the front leg allows for some elastic energy storage, which can be utilized to spring forward to the next step. This strategy makes walking more energy efficient. As an athlete, you could benefit by making running or other more dynamic sports activities less tiring, however you must start with your fundamental movements (walking) before venturing into more dynamic activities.
Plantar flexion during take off
In biomechanics, when we talk about take-off we refer to the moment the one leg leaves the ground to swing forward. Plantarflexion refers to the movement of the ankle downwards as the leg comes off the ground (as the right leg shows in both images below). Plantar flexion is important to consider during take-off because it is the movement responsible for the generation of power that we need to proper ourselves forward.
As you can see in the image on the left, a limited plantar flexion movement will not generate as much of a toque, and the subsequent momentum needed to move forward. As an athlete, if you are able to maintain a good range of motion at the ankle, and work on mindfully incorporating the propulsive power of the ankle to add to your forward momentum, you may be able benefit by increasing your propulsive power during dynamic movements.
As you can see, even though these are only a few of the reasons why you should care about your walking mechanics, you never know when these tips may become handy ;).
If your team is struggling with recurrent injuries, a biomechanics consultation may help you find out injurious tendencies that can be corrected.