• Why it Matters if Have Enough Wiggle in Your Walk

    your hips should move when you walk

    Have you ever seen someone walking and thought “Wow, it looks like they’ve got a stick up their [backside]?” You may joke about that person’s probable lack of ability on the dance floor or make any number of other assumptions, but the thing is you can’t be sure about any of those things. The only thing you can be sure of is that they don’t have enough wiggle in their walk. In other words, their hips don’t have the proper side to side movement that we associate with walking.

    No movement at all is an extreme example, so I’m sure you don’t look like that when you walk. But all the same, you probably don’t have enough hip movement. How do I know? Because most people don’t.

    When Something That Should Move Doesn’t

    So what happens to the body when things that should move, don’t? If you said “Compensation,” you’d be right. Either other muscles are going to tighten up to protect the area that isn’t moving, or smaller muscles that are only designed to assist with the movement will fully engage and attempt to do it all themselves. This will, of course, wear out the helper muscles and probably create some pain as well.

    When the hips don’t move the way they’re supposed to, the shoulders won’t move the way they’re supposed to. Then the neck and arms start to get involved, and somewhere in there, your back may start to feel all jacked up as well. That’s because the shoulders and hips work together as part of the gait cycle (the way the body moves when we walk). If one isn’t working correctly, neither will the other, and neither will the areas between or connected to them. This domino effect can explain a lot of  otherwise “unexplained” pain and dysfunction in the body.

    Would You Know the Proper Wiggle If You Saw It?

    A few months ago I was at the grocery store and found myself in an aisle behind a woman who was walking kinda slow and really moving her hips from side to side. My knee jerk reaction was, “well she thinks she’s hot [stuff] doesn’t she?” When I turned down the next aisle, there she was. Her hips swaying dramatically. Boom. Ba-Boom. Ba-Boom. Ba-Boom. “Who is she trying to impress?” I wondered.

    She seemed to be shopping with her significant other and they didn’t seem to be in any sort of hurry. They were just shopping and talking. She seemed completely comfortable and at ease in her body and didn’t have the self-conscious look that most women do when they’re trying to walk in a sexy manner. Then it hit me. She wasn’t moving her hips, as in adding an intentional sway to attract attention; her hips were simply moving within their natural range of motion more fully than I was used to seeing.

    What Causes Loss of Wiggle?

    The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most people don’t have full movement in their hips when they walk. I wondered why. Here are a few of the physical reasons I came up with:

    • The insane amount of sitting we do. Lack of movement begets lack of movement.
    • Holding in our belly and hips to make them appear smaller. All that pent up muscle tension prevents full movement.
    • Rushing to get places. Rushing is stressful and stress causes the muscles in our hips to contract. Rushing also causes our hip muscles to contract for the second step before they’ve had a chance to finish relaxing from the first. This creates an incomplete contract/relax cycle that not only maintains but also builds tension and creates a reduced movement in the area.
    • Uneven use. If you stand with more pressure on one side, or if you’ve had a significant injury to one leg or foot, you may find that one hip moves fairly well and the other one not so much.
    • Altered gait. Whether you’re wearing high heels or just trying to walk more quietly (especially if you tend to have a heavy footfall), you very likely must alter your gait to do so. This causes a whole string of compensations and problems that eventually work their way to your hips.

    But what about my knee jerk reaction? I think many of us, whether it’s intentional or subconscious, try to not have too much swing in our hips for fear of being judged in the way I judged the woman in the grocery store. Here are two reasons why:

    • Woman Shaming. We are a frightfully judgmental society, especially when it comes to anything we might associate with physical attraction or an attempt to garner appreciation for our physical looks. We shame, or attempt to shame, women whose hips move “provocatively” by calling them names like slut and worse.
    • Man Shaming/Homophobia. We tell men that they are less manly if their hips move too much. We call them names like fag, as if the way one walks has anything to do with who one loves, as if being gay is something to be ashamed of (but that’s a different post for a different blog).

    How You Can Get Your Wiggle Back

    I’ve been doing a bit of an experiment for the past few months to get some of the wiggle back in my own walk.

    Here’s what I’ve found:

    • Walking slowly makes the biggest difference. When I walk slowly, I don’t have a heavy footfall. When I walk slowly, I allow my muscles to complete the contract/relax cycle before beginning another one.
    • Being mindful of my hips is another big key. Turns out, I spend a lot of the day holding tension in my hips for no apparent reason, except perhaps force of habit. The more often I check in, the easier it is to tell those muscles to relax and the better they respond when I do.
    • Massage helps, too. A lot. I’ve been able to maintain the progress I’ve made by making sure to request extra hip, low back, and thigh work when I get massages.

    Now I want to hear from you. Do you think you have enough wiggle in your walk? If not, what’s your plan to get it back?

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