We humans evolved as a nomadic species. We moved from harsh, arctic, searing, or turbulent locations to where the weather was comfortable and food, water and shelter were plentiful.
We hunted and gathered food and water daily, in more and more convenient ways. We migrated for better, easier living conditions.
Through this evolution, we moved from place to place often, and we didn’t do it by running. We walked. And we walked a lot. Walking is how we evolved.
As a daily habit, it’s the most overlooked and underestimated movement when it comes to sports performance.
As we walked, our muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons adapted themselves. We’ll get to how to greatly maximize this shortly, but for now, consider that walking is far more important than most are aware of as a primary movement that stretches us and keeps us limber.
The next time you take a step, put your hand on the hamstring of your back leg and feel the stretch you get with each step. Now do the same thing with your hand on the glute of the back leg. Feel the pull?
Look how your ankle tenses as your foot hits the ground, and be conscious of how your calves stretch as you propel yourself forward, especially on the back leg, with each step. You don’t get the same stretch from running.
Running is a great form of exercise and requires more immediate oxygen use than walking. Running takes more force from muscles in your legs, but at any given time, one or both feet will be in the air. Both feet are never on the ground at the same time.
Without both feet on the ground at the same time, you are not pulled or tugged in your hips, glutes and legs. These muscles are used when running, but they are used differently than in walking.
Force is applied differently, and the muscles and tendons do not get the same stretch. Walking is not only an aerobic exercise whose benefits include improved circulation but it is also a form of dynamic stretching.
When you step, notice that you experience a small tug. As you plant each foot, one in front of the other, gravity, inertia and friction try to hold that back foot.
Each step creates two vectors, one pointing down the front leg and one pointing down the back leg. These vectors represent where the stretch occurs. Since there are dozens of muscles in the lower body that control your walking motion, there are a variety of muscles that stretch with each step.
This tugging of your lower body happens many times when walking for long distances. The muscles, ligaments and tendons rearrange themselves in a very beneficial way.
I like to call the cumulative effect of these little stretches or tugs the “rubber band” effect. If you stretch a rubber band and let go, it springs back to the same shape it was in. It appears as if nothing changed.
If you take the rubber band and stretch it many, many times you will begin to see the rubber change properties. Do it enough times you can eventually even get it to expand.
Walking does the same for the lower body with these almost imperceptible stretches and, what I call “StretchStride”, a modified version of walking, accelerates the added power and fluidity that that gives you.
The effect of lots and lots of little stretches is a loosening and changing in the lower body structures and that gives you added movement and force.
Those little stretches have a compounding effect that, in time, make a big change that helps your body move more efficiently. You’ll see how to magnify that advantage in a bit with StretchStride, but for now, know that walking not only helps the blood flow and strengthens and tones our muscles, it also helps keep us limber.
Walking is the lifeblood of exercise. It is how we evolved. Walking does wonderful things without doing damage because of its low impact on the joints and the gentle engagement of the tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
Unfortunately, we have evolved into a society that doesn’t walk to gather food, to hunt, to work or to travel. The modern world has allowed us to do most work, travel and play sitting down.
From behind a desk, in a car, or from our easy chair or couch, we watch TV, study, read or play video games. We eat sitting down and we study sitting down. We travel sitting down and we work sitting down. We don’t even sit on the ground. We sit in chairs, reclined, not having to use muscles to keep us upright.
If you are an athlete you train with weights. You run sprints, dash up and down bleachers, and jump rope. You do all kinds of other intense and challenging things, but how often do you walk anymore?
You walk to your car. You walk in and out of your house, office, shops, school, etc., but how often do you go on long walks?
Runners have parallel issues. They run, because this is what they enjoy. Running is a wonderful, endorphin releasing experience. Running has its own benefits, but runners aim to run, not walk. Any walking they do is usually incidental to their lifestyle.
It’s overlooked that walking is a great cross training method. It is the natural way to dynamically stretch yourself before and after more intense activities like running, and to stay limber between training sessions.
Walking will actually help you become a better athlete. It will help get your running times down by making you a more efficient runner, and will help with other sports by making you more stable and giving you that super quick first step.
This is not to take away any of the training that you are already doing. Most physical training is wonderful, exhilarating and beneficial to the body and the mind.
What StretchStride provides is an important, specialized addition to any training regimen. It is a form of walking that will help you reach that ultimate level of success that you want to achieve.
Having said that, know that more daily regular walking alone will take you further toward your best performance than you’ve given it credit for.
More walking and less sitting, as simple as it sounds, will enhance your performance far more than most realize.
Health science tells us that as we sit, our muscles are in a contracted, shortened position. This causes them to tighten. This can have dramatic negative consequences for overall strength and mobility, joint health, and daily levels of pain.
Even if you are an avid athlete, after you have an intense training session, you get in your car to leave the gym and you are sitting. You go somewhere to eat and you sit. You go to class and you sit. You go home and relax in your favorite chair to watch TV or get on your laptop and you sit.
Sitting offsets your workout. Your muscles, in the contracted state of sitting, stiffen. We have gone from a species that walked, stood and moved around for most of the day to one that sits most of the day. Much of our day coincides with sitting in a curled position.
Sitting is bad for our posture, our flexibility, and our athletic performance. It is also shortening our lives. Sitting is literally killing us. This life style of sitting has even compelled Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, to call sitting the next cancer.
Why all this emphasis on more walking and less sitting? Because if you gain the significant yet little-known advantages of StretchStride, without understanding the impact of these two fundamental practices, your benefits will be diminished.
And I don’t want that for you. I want you to gain the full measure of this new knowledge of the duel benefits of walking and experience the kind of advancements that this understanding and practice can have on your athletic performance.
So, to be true to that mission, I’ve got to ask you to go through this short section on your chair time. I promise you it will pay off.
This is a brief overview of the negative effects of sitting. There are numerous published studies on the topic but just know that sitting so much is very bad for our health and athletic performance.
We quietly changed from a society that used to walk and move a lot to a society that sits a lot.
Consider that the lack of walking and the amount of sitting that we do are connected.
These two changes to the way we live versus our evolutionary past, plus a modified practice with regard to walking are why the StretchStride program works so well, bringing performance breakthroughs to the people who tapped into it.
Simply put, the stretching and limbering benefits of walking were not identified or emphasized before. We didn’t think of the benefits, aerobic or stretching, because it was the way we evolved and lived.
Like breathing, you did it and the consequences of not doing it were non-existent. The gradual decline of the amount of walking we did wasn’t noticed through the years.
By accident, I discovered StretchStride when I was stranded and had to walk the railroad for several hours, stepping on every other railroad tie, which was about a one third extra distance for my normal step length. This resulted in me getting an unbelievable stretch to my hips and lower body and that resulted in me feeling like superman. I could dunk the ball like never before. I could move so much better, shoot better and just play with more intensity and fluidity. This gave me so much increase in my athleticism that I connected the dots to the powerful other benefit of walking.
Walking naturally stretches our lower body. So we have lost both benefits of walking with our modern lifestyles: the aerobic, heart healthy benefit and also the natural limbering and stretching of our lower body.
We’ve replaced that time spent walking and just generally moving throughout the day with sitting. Sitting is the antithesis of walking. These are the reasons we gain so much from stretch walking.
1) Sitting is bad.
2) Walking is a more powerful ally to your athleticism and health than anyone would suspect.
3) Stretch walking (StretchStride) will take your playing, running and lower body movement to another level!
My next article will be a more in depth discussion on how to do StretchStride, different set ups, and how to determine your normal step length, but in the mean time the basics are just try to extend your normal step length about 30%. So each time you step, try to step a little farther than what your mind/body is telling you to plant your foot. Now go for a long walk. Happy StretchStriding!