Parallel Feet When Walking


parallel feet when walking

Walking correctly requires technique like any other physical activity. Most people don’t realize this and walk unconsciously. As a result people develop some strange patterns, the most prevalent one—walking like a duck.

It is ideal to have the feet move towards parallel when we walk. But, and this is a major but, you shouldn’t simply turn your feet in to make it happen. It is amazing how many people don’t realize that they walk with their feet turned out. Watch people walk when you are outside today and you might be shocked by what you see. Quack, quack.

We don’t need to have perfectly parallel feet when walking. Walking towards parallel with the legs under the hips is enough, but the important part is how you make it happen. The foot falls to the floor according to the position of the pelvis. If the pelvis is correctly aligned and leg muscles balanced, the feet will always fall naturally towards the midline of the body and parallel. Let’s say the pelvis is tucked under, it will push the thighs forward externally rotating legs in the process. This is what creates the foot turn-out that most people employ.

While it is pretty easy to change the way you walk– get over you and fall forward—it gets a little more complicated in the details. It is important to know how the body is supposed to work before you go about bringing changes to the system.

So even though we hope our feet will fall as close to parallel as possible when walking, how we get them to do that is essential to living an active pain free life.

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8 Comments
  1. Hi Jonathan,
    I must politely disagree with this way of thinking about movement. “Point your feet forward” is an old-fashioned idea that should be left behind, because it does not produce correct alignment. It is more accurate to say “point your knees forward,” although this is less clear to people than looking at the feet, of course. Some people find it helpful to think of the kneecaps like headlights, and notice which direction they “shine.” It’s useful to notice the usual habit and observe it for a minute before shifting to shining the kneecaps forward. Like any movement suggestion, if kneecaps forward doesn’t feel right, they should stop and consult a practitioner.

    There are several reasons why “feet forward” isn’t a useful description.
    1) There can be significant rotations in the lower legs or ankles that can cause the feet to appear externally rotated. To “fix” this, the person would be inappropriately rotating their femurs internally, which causes them to give up the support from the outer hip muscles, putting them at risk for injury in the long term.
    2) There is some scholarly debate about whether leg alignment in general should be straight forward or slightly externally rotated. There is photographic evidence of healthy, strong bodies in undeveloped countries with legs turned out, for instance.
    3) The orientation of the femur in the hip joint varies quite a bit genetically, for instance someone who can sit in lotus position easily may also have slightly more externally rotated femur position than someone whose femurs are oriented more vertically in terms of the acetabulum position. A good bone photo gallery is here: http://www.paulgrilley.com/category/2.html

    I hope these comments are useful to you!
    Sincerely,
    Karin Wagner
    Certified Rolfer
    Portland, Oregon

    • Hi Karin, I thought the post was pretty clear that I don’t advocate “point your feet forward”. But I do think if the pelvis is correctly aligned the feet will fall as close to parallel as they can. I appreciate the work of Paul Grilley but don’t always agree. All bodies are different but I am trying to teach everyone to walk in a similar way. A correctly aligned pelvis will lead to a correctly aligned foot.

      • Hi Jonathan,
        Yes, I should have acknowledged that more clearly – you definitely do back away from the toes forward concept somewhat – but I think the way that it’s written does leave “parallel feet” as the lasting impression while my take would be more like “Myth: Parallel feet” for a title, just because it’s something that people have heard and hold as a common misconception. I would suggest perhaps reworking the article? I think your observation about this movement problem is valid, it just warrants some care in how we suggest that people change it, so starting off with something that is not actually want you want people to do is risky. Especially since you won’t be there to see how they are moving and correct it. I imagine this would not be a problem when people are actually attending your classes because you would catch it and refine it.

        Re: Paul Grilley, I should have added that I’m not necessarily advocating his ideas about joints, movement, etc (actually I find Yin Yoga is very hard on hypermobile body types, though it has benefits for the nervous system). I just like his photos of bones. I had a Rolfing teacher who showed different sacrums (real bones) to show how the natural amount of lumbar curve varies genetically based on curviness of the sacrum and how forward-tilted the sacral base is. It can be a helpful explanation of some of the differences in structure, I think.

        Happy walking, and thanks for discussing this!
        Karin

        • Two things to add: I do advocate that people walk as close to parallel as normal for them (according to the correct alignment of the pelvis), which for some is parallel. I think this increases mechanical efficiency. I equate the inner foot with the psoas. When we push off successfully through the inner foot we allow the inner thighs to move back, which allows the psoas to do its thing when walking. I believe that every degree of turn-out decreases mechanical efficiency. Of course, I could be wrong.

  2. Hi Jonathan..I totally agree with you I also want to add if you do the knee forward walk your feet turn forward as well..if you walk like a duck your knees point outwards? So basically I think that everyone that disagrees with you more than likely walks like a duck and are trying defend it in their own way.P.s. Can you imagine jogging like a duck that would be painful…makes you wonder people that don’t jog probably walk like a duck ….just saying.

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