Improving Gait

written by Carol Crincoli, Pure Pilates Director

When my clients walk into the studio, I pay attention to many things.  Posture and energy level are helpful assessments before I get someone moving, but watching how a person walks gives me powerful information of what could be going on in someone’s body.

I recently saw a friend, who had been in the hospital for about 6 weeks last year.  He had lost weight and valuable muscle mass and what I noticed immediately is how his gait was “off” when we were walking to dinner.

In Pilates, I was taught that when your feet are out of alignment, so is the rest of our body. Joseph Pilates believed that our feet were mis-treated and under-used.  When it comes to a healthy body, Pilates taught me that the feet are the foundation to how well we move through life.

I mentioned my observation to my friend and we both agreed that while his cardiovascular workouts were important, he needed a strength training component that also focused on his feet to improve his gait.

Poor gait makes walking inefficient and can zap your energy.  It can be the reason you may have hip or back pain and it most definitely will affect our balance and increase the risk of falling.

So how do we improve and strengthen our gait? 

  • Strengthen and stretch your feet and ankles – The mobility of our feet and ankles is just as important as their strength. Lifting and lowering your heels (barefoot) off a step activates the feet, ankles and calves. Once they get tired, let the heels hang down for a deep stretch. In a seated or standing position, circle the foot and ankle in both directions for focus on mobility.
  • Activate the muscles in your legs – Leg strength is key to better gait.  If your hip flexors and back line (glutes and hamstrings) are not firing when you walk, your feet will be affected. A simple way to wake up these muscles is by squatting. Our bodies should be able to sit and get out of a chair to a standing position.  Chair squats are perfect if you are new to squatting.  With a chair behind you, hinge your upper body slightly forward as you bring your bum into the chair. Without holding on to anything, come back up to a standing position. Practice until your muscles are tired.
  • Improve your posture – “Standing up straight” will not improve your posture, although awareness or your body in space can be helpful.  We all suffer from “text neck” syndrome, mostly from being attached to our electronic devices. The poor position of the neck will also emphasize a rounded back and closed chest. Strengthening your back muscles and stretching your chest will be the first step in improving your posture.

In “Feet in Straps”, one of the workouts from our virtual library, I lead a 15-minute workout that will help you improve your gait. With the resistance of a theraband, we focus on the feet, ankles and the entire leg for strength, mobility and flexibility. Give it a try before your regular workout or as a stand alone class.