What does 'natural' walking mean?


The human foot is an incredibly complex system. Dozens of bones, ligaments and muscles make up an amazing machine of joints and levers that allow us to adapt to natural ways of moving: walking and running. We know from watching our babies grow to toddlers that these skills are learnt gradually and in order – we have to learn to walk before we can run. (And by the way, if you ever want to see how to walk or squat perfectly – watch your toddler in bare feet!).

But years of enclosing and supporting our feet in shoes, and manipulating our gait through the ‘motion control’ and cushioning technology built into those shoes, our bodies have forgotten how to walk and run naturally. Particularly when we run, we typically use a ‘heel-toe’ running gait which means our (generally heavily cushioned) heel strikes first, taking the impact, followed by pushing off our toe.

It might be ‘normal’ but that doesn’t mean it’s ‘natural’. It’s just what we’re used to.

Of course, in our modern world we can't go barefoot all the time. Let’s get real, it’s not always practical. Or appropriate… It might be natural to walk barefoot, but our modern environment is anything but. Tarmac isn't natural. We need shoes much of the time to protect us from our environment. We need puncture-resistant soles that protect the skin on our feet and we often need some insulation to keep them warm. But that’s really all we need them for.

To walk and run naturally, our feet need to be able to feel the ground beneath them and to move in the most efficient way, absorbing force and moving us forward (or up and down in running). This requires the foot to work differently when walking or running.

Generally, the natural and optimal gait for walking is ‘heel-toe’

Generally, the natural and optimal gait for running is ‘toe-heel’*

The latter – the way we run – is where we have to re-train our bodies to move properly. Because our ‘unnatural’ running shoes and our ‘unnatural’ running style force our feet into a ‘heel-toe’ action or gait. It’s not just the way our foot falls that’s important… posture and rhythm also need adjustment, but the key message here is that running shoes make us run in an unnatural way and a way that frequently causes injury, mal-alignment, and pain.