The Road Surface Less Traveled
If you've taken one of my foot clinics, walking clinics, or my yoga classes, you've heard me suggest walking on different surfaces. Get off the hard, flat, smooth surfaces of tile, sidewalk, etc. and walk in the grass, over rocks, in sand. I suggest this for the purpose of increasing foot strength and foot mobility, and for waking up muscles in the legs that don't get used that much.
Here's a way to experience this yourself. Go get a blanket and fold it up so it's fairly thick. Place it on the ground and step on it. Now keep stepping your feet. Try turning around, moving from side to side, just keep walking in place. Do this for two minutes. Go on. Do it. I'll wait.
Did you notice how you began to feel muscles in the sides of your legs waking up, possibly even getting fatigued? Maybe you felt it up near your hips or in your butt. By walking on the blanket, the surface under your feet was less stable. The surface dropped down lower as it received your body weight causing minor adjustments in your feet, ankles, legs, and pelvis. You didn't have to think about adjusting. Your body responded to the subtly shifting blanket unconsciously.
By walking on different surfaces, you create better function in all your muscles and joints. Change your terrain to increase your movement. But did you know there are other benefits?
Yesterday, I got a lesson in one of those other benefits. I joined my husband and sister-in-law to walk a 5K in their hometown. As expected, the route was on pavement. At the beginning, I stayed near my peeps and walked in the street. After a while, I could tell my legs and feet were getting tired of the hard asphalt. By then, the crowd had spread out along the route. I was near a grassy field, so I stepped out of the street and walked in the grass. I enjoyed the relief of the softer ground. I got a naturally occurring foot massage as my foot joints got to adapt to the uneven surface below them. And then I recognized that some of my muscles were now getting to rest as different muscles kicked into use.
Rest! It's not just increasing your movement by walking on varied terrain. It's about downtime for the overworked muscles.
We all know the term repetitive stress, but we usually think of it in terms of work environments that force us into over-used movement patterns. We are so accustomed to the unnatural level and smooth surfaces of our environment, we don't think of walking as an area of repetitive stress.
I encourage you to walk on grass or rocks or sand whenever you find some, or walk on folded blankets (try it during a commercial break while watching TV). Wear more flexible shoes so your feet and ankles can do their job of responding to the subtle changes of surface. If your feet are ready for it, try doing it barefoot. And if you are looking to increase your distance when walking, most definitely find other kinds of terrain to walk on. It will allow your tired leg muscles to rest while you build strength and mobility in your underutilized parts.
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