Humans are considered contralateral bipeds. This means we walk on two feet and that the sides of the body move in opposite directions. One arm swings in opposition to the other and to the same side leg. There is an amazing timing pattern amongst all the joints of the body as we walk. This pattern of ambulation has evolved over millions of years which means the nervous system, joints, and muscles have developed and cemented amazing relationships with each other. It is the most universal action that the average person performs over 1.8 million times a year. Most other athletic movements are dependent upon the quality of a person’s gait pattern. If the basic action of walking is compromised how can a person expect to have efficient athletic actions? You must be able to walk before you can run or jump.
Walking is the most common choreography humans experience. When stepping, the moment the heel strikes the ground each one of the 26 bones in the foot move with a specific timing pattern. This timing pattern allows impact to be absorbed, weight to be supported, force to be transferred into the ground and up through the rest of the body. The force will travel with the least amount of resistance if all the joints move the way they were evolved to do. For the force to flow it is imperative that the ankle moves in the proper way at the proper time. The same can be said for the knees, hips, pelvis, and so on.
When one joint moves in one direction the rest of the joints in the body respond with their own movements. In motion, the body does not move in isolation but as a closed, integrative unit. This does not occur in one simple direction but in all three dimensions. One action creates a chain reaction. For example, the pelvis can tilt forward and back. It can also tilt laterally from left to right, sway or translate left to right, and rotate in both directions too. Each of these motions occurs at specific moments in gait and are paired with specific joint actions elsewhere.
For instance, as the stepping leg fully contacts the ground and weight is being transferred upon it, the pelvis tilts forward, the knee flexes, the ankle flexes, and the arches in the foot drop. Above the pelvis we should witness the spine extending, the neck flexing, the ribs tilting back, and the skull tilting forward. Then there are the lateral actions of the joints at the same moment in time. We should witness the pelvis tilting sideways, so the higher side is over the leg beginning to bear weight. The hip of the forward leg will adduct, the knee will drive inward, the heel will evert, and the forefoot will invert. Above the pelvis we see the spine laterally flexing (side bending) in the direction of the forward leg, the ribs going in the same direction of the spine, and the skull tilting away like the pelvis itself. At the same instance, we will see the pelvis rotating away from the forward leg, the hip externally rotating, the knee externally rotating, the foot/ankle complex internally rotating as the front portion of the foot is externally rotating. Above the pelvis, we will see the spine and rib cage rotating toward the forward leg, and the skull rotating away with the pelvis. This symphony of joint action, combined with the corresponding muscular reaction, should occur every time, over and over for 1.8 million steps per year. This is just one part of the gait cycle. In order for the other leg to perform the same action, all of the joint motions listed above have to reach an endpoint, stop, and reverse directions to the other end point. This must all occur in less than one second, the time it takes for one full gait cycle to occur.
If any joint is not beginning from a central, balanced location, it will not have enough time to travel through the complete journey from one end of the spectrum to the other. This is when compensation will arise. It will occur throughout the entire system, not just isolated at one joint. So if we seek to improve performance for any activity would it make sense to begin at one of the most basic, common actions known to man? If the proper joint relationships are not occurring in gait how could one expect the proper movement to occur when running around a track, or playing basketball, swinging a golf club, or taking groceries out of the trunk of the car? By training proper joint mechanics and re-educating and strengthening the muscles that react to them, a person will move with more efficiency, coordination, power, and dynamic stability. The exercise a person selects will either encourage better movement or just the opposite. Developing an exercise program, without knowing how you move and what is missing in your movement, is just rolling the dice and hoping for the best. If done poorly, the chance of greater imbalances, compensations, and injuries are much higher.