You’ve probably heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” (perhaps even from this blog), to describe the negative health effects of spending over 9 hours a day sitting – the current average daily sitting time in this country. A typical American spends more time sitting in a chair than they do sleeping at night! Too much static sitting has massive and varied consequences that range from higher cancer incidence to obesity. There’s an entire industry of ergonomic furniture designed to help us sit better (and some of us have remodeled our desks for standing use only), but there’s still a potential problem when you get up from your chair: you’ve turned into a quad walker! (Cue dramatic music…)
While it might sound like some kind of sci-fi vampire robot, quad walking is simply a term that refers to lack of extension at the hip joint during gait (and let me qualify, before I launch into this discussion, that gait is an extremely complicated whole body event, with a ton of other loads/ forces/biomechanics at work which I am omitting for the sake of simplicity, and also to avoid brain breakage). When you walk, part of the leg motion involves extending your hip so that one leg moves behind you as the opposite leg swings forward. If you’ve spent a lot of time sitting in a chair, odds are you’ve adaptively shortened the muscle and connective tissue at the front of your hip, so that when you go to stand and walk, the hip no longer wants to go into extension, and you end up quad walking (which looks like flicking your leg forward from the knee as the quadriceps muscles dominate the action – it’s like you’re still sitting in the chair as you walk). If your main physical activity when not in a chair involves a lot of repetitive hip flexion (like cycling, or rowing, though I’m not trying to malign either activity, they were just the first two that came to mind, there’s more examples, but I’m hungry), then this pattern is being reinforced.
Warning: full nerd paragraph ahead!
Whenever we deviate a movement pattern from the ideal, it’s expensive to our bodies. This deviation is no exception: if I can’t create good hip extension in standing and walking, the hip is unable to optimally dissipate load throughout the joint. In other words, I create uneven wear and tear to the cartilage, ligaments, and joint capsule, not to mention muscle weaknesses front, back and sides (just because the front of my hip is short, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily strong). At the moment during gait called mid-stance, right before my hip extends behind me, the force in my hip increases to 300% of my body weight. The cartilage inside the joint is thickest at this positioning of acetabulum-on-femur so that my hip can handle the force – but if I’m quad walking, I don’t get this optimal overlap, and I wear down the joint.
What to do? Lots of things!
2) Strengthen your extensor muscles (more on this Friday).
3) Stretch the front of the hip (see above).
4) When walking, try this: leave your heel down behind you as long as you can before picking up the back leg. A client of mine dubbed this exercise “The Wedding March,” I believe because he felt a little awkward and artificial at first, but you’ll soon incorporate it into a smooth push off (unless your ankle dorsiflexion is compromised and limiting movement, which it might also be, but that will have to wait for another post).
Check back on Friday for a great YTU pose to stretch and strengthen the hip and get you out of “The Land Of The Quad Walkers”!