Are You A Quad Walker?

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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…)

Are you a knee-flicking quad walker?

Are you a shin-flicking quad walker?

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!

1) Change up your sitting. Sit different ways. Get up. Get down. Move it all around.

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”!

Discover solutions for hip pain

Watch the Hips Quickfix video

Read more on healing your hips

 

Sarah Court

Sarah Court is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Yoga Tune Up® Teacher Trainer, and the creator of Quantum Leap. She teaches public workshops, anatomy for yoga teacher trainings, and trains Yoga Tune Up® teachers worldwide. She developed and teaches her Quantum Leap continuing education program to make sophisticated movement science easy for movement teachers to understand and apply to their teaching. Sarah received her doctorate in Physical Therapy from Mount St. Mary’s University. She brings significant clinical experience to her teaching, attracting clients and students with a desire to move intelligently, regain mobility, or manage chronic conditions. Sarah is an award-winning graduate of Princeton University, and edited the Yoga Tune Up® blog for 5 years. She has been featured on exercise.com and The New York Times. Find her Yoga Tune Up® schedule here or go to her full website.

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Allison English

This has been such a revelation for me! Years of yoga has left me quad dominant and butt sleepy resulting in quad walking. I love these “little” big things I can do to help unwind the patterns that keep my quads so loud in so many movements. I especially like the “wedding walk” and it feels good on my plantar fascia as well.

Marg

Well now I am going to be that crazy, weird dog walker person who walks really slowly and holds her back leg on the ground longer for every step. |I have been trying to increase the length of my gait. This will definitely help.

Julie Mackey

These are simple tips that anyone can integrate when walking. I know I will be more mindful about how long my leg stays in extension before I allow it to step forward. As a meditation teacher I lead a walking mindfulness meditation class and plan to implement this tip as a party of the walk! Thank you.

Shelley

It’s interesting that we could be doing all things “good” for our bodies, cardiovascular work, weight work, healthy eating habits,but by ignoring the way we do what we do the most…..we can miss the best excercises yet!

Ellen S.

I’ve never heard of Quad Walkers before, and now I’m on the lookout! While I have not consciously witnessed quad walking before, I imagine that for quad walkers, the spine could also lean forward toward the quads in order to maintain hip flexion, if there is not enough thrust in the lower leg to propel it forward. Does this make sense?

Laurence CF

Your tip #4 is extremely interesting! I am certainly myself a quad walker and had never realised how little I used my back leg to propel myself forward. Paying attention the way you explain immediately fires the back leg’s hip extensors and at the same time stretches the hip flexors with an incredible efficiency. Thanks, I’ll be mindful in the coming days and try my best to avoid the wedding march style…

Markella

Such a great post. I love watching how people walk and trying to figure out what’s working and how to get them to move in their particular way. I’ve also noticed this in myself and others when climbing stairs. When I’m tired I’m a quad climber.

Alyssa P.

It’s funny, so many people think you can unravel your bodies tendencies with 4-5 classes a week, but in reality, if we work at a desk, we can’t undo 30 hours of sitting poorly with 4 hours of yoga. I’m excited to try the heel down walking technique and look for other ways to incorporate your suggestions into daily routines to get a sense out where I’m out of balance here!

Liselotte Frandsen

Until recently I thought that because I cycle to and from work sitting wasn’t so much an issue for me… but now I wonder if it is the explanation of my experience with cronical tired knees? I will do the walk!

Jess Blake

Awesome post. I can’t wait to pay more attention to my gait as I walk today. Also, looking forward to sitting on a park bench and watching others walk (a favorite pastime of mine) to see if I can tell who might be sitting to much in their daily life!

Erika E Belanger

Never heard the term Quad Walkers before, but I do see this a lot!!! I can’t believe the average time sitting is 9h!!! I didn’t think of strengthening the hip extensors oft a better walking pastern but it totally makes sense! I will remember that! Thanks Sarah.

Catherine RL

I like the term. I have seen others walking like this before, was not sure of the name. But completely makes sense given their occupations and the amount of time they spend at a desk and in a car.
I will definitely be sharing this information with them.
Thanks

Yvonne Cone

We referenced this blog post in Level 1 class today! Alex Ellis did a great example of it. I did NOT know that the space of time between legs extending created a 300% increase in body weight, it makes me so much more conscious of my walking and others. The heel down as long as possible behind you in extension is a great trick to try. So much more awareness of the Quads, hips and the way I sit and how long.

Andree-Anne Gagnon

My husband is a quad walker and we have been working together to help him find more ROM in his hips. Since we started exploring his hips, he has found that he no longer feels as stiff but has yet to make any significant strides (ha! gait joke!) in lengthening his hip flexors sufficiently. He was starying to get fed up with my insistence of using therapy balls and “weird” poses and minivinis, but I had him read this post and he has decided that what I am suggesting must be legitimate 🙂 Gladly, he has understood the importance of… Read more »

Julie Cadorette

Thank you for explaining so well what quad walking is and how it affects our body. I will now pay more attention to my hip extension when I walk and work on strenghtening my hip extensors and stretching my hip flexors, since I spend many hours a day sitting at my desk…

Jamie Walsh

Definitely guilty of this. Will be trying your recommendations out.

Thanks Sarah

Isabelle Cote

I greatly appreciate this research, the relevant informations and stimulating solutions that you share, Sarah.

I found some answers to the observations of the modification of the walking, from child, modification starting in 1st years of school (chair-desk-chair-desk !) !!

Some habits of movements we can change for an happy transformation! Thanks for links and podcasts attached to the article !

Isabelle Deschenes

I walk à lot, but i sit à lot too! I am starting awaking myself to have a better fonctional movement when walking. This make me realise that my hips flexors may not be at there best. I will go to the friday blog right away! Thanks

Emily

I am a quad walker. I’ve been trying to add “glide walking” from Ester Gokhale’s book ‘8 Steps to a Pain Free Back’ to my normal everyday patterns. There are some similarities to what call your wedding walk but with more glute contraction.

Kendra

Quad walking is more common than we think! Thanks for outlining how this occurs, and how we can fix it! The biomechanics relative to acetabulum are spot on, and I like that you took this opportunity to go more into depth with gait cycle. This article makes sense to someone with no previous training in biomechanics, while still appealing to those who want a little bit more information. Very well rounded Sarah!

Karen Bulmer

Thanks for such a clear explanation (with some bonus geekery thrown in). I am going to try “The Wedding March” while walking for the next little bit…I don’t think I’m a full-on quad walker, but my hip extension could definitely use some work. I notice I have the mental habit of wanting to get somewhere faster which I think causes me to limit hip extension while walking.

Annette Allen

This actually made me stand up when I was reading it- we all sit too much! It helped remind me that informing my students frequently and specifically of the negative consequences is an important part of my job as a fitness professional- especially in my cycle classes! Thanks for presenting this in such a clear way, and with a bit of humor.

Laurel Crane

I see this a lot in my yoga students. Those who have approached me about lower back pain I have recommended these options to help the issue. Great article. Thanks!!

Linda Zanocco

Once again, my experience with sciatica has made me more aware of possible triggers to that pain. In addition to releasing tightness in piriformis I feel I need to strengthen glute max. This article raises the possibility I may be a “quad walker.” This can be triggered by too much sitting and not getting full extension of the leg on back swing phase. Sarah suggests leaving the heel down a trifle longer than habitual—something like walking as if in a “wedding march.” This may be worth trying.

Donna Burch

Love this article! Thank you. I have been wanting to study gait more and am re-inspired to do so.
I will also practice this in the pool with my Therapeutic Water Exercise class folks.

Christy

You had me at “Warning: full nerd paragraph ahead.” Thank you for breaking this down in an understandable, but still thorough way.

Susan Jaffee

Definitely an awareness game changer to pass along to my sitting friends.

Allison Pfeiffer

New term for me so I had to check out the article. Very interesting! I am fortunate to have an active job with minimal sitting but I know people who do walk this way. Time to pass them some therapy balls!

Juliet Hewitt

I knew that sitting was bad for me, but never considered that it affected my gait. I am going to practice “The Wedding March” and sitting different ways. Thanks for the great information.

Lauren Reese

Great article!!! Love the ‘Wedding March’, I think that will really help me with my quad walking and bring good awareness to firing up my back body!

Liz Tyburczy

Most people never pay attention to their gait, I am one of them. After reading Sarah’s blog I think I may be quad dominant. Like most people I sit way too much, I do try to get up and move around as much as I can. I have incorporated more movements into by standing breaks. I am fortunate to have a full flight of stairs in my home. Now, Every time I have to climb the stairs I place the whole sole of the front foot on the step and try to keep as much of the sole of the… Read more »

Sebastien Noel

Wow, merci pour ces explications.Je suis de eux qui reste assis longtemps et je vais maintenant apporter une attention particulière à m’es hanches. Très bon texte, je vais pouvoir expliquer le tout a m’es futurs étudiant.

Maggie

I am a quad walker and have been aware of it for a long while. I have been getting regular body work, personal training and doing yoga to try to counter this and began crossfit as well. I haven’t made as much progress in alleviating it until I spent a week getting my L1 YTU certification last week. the upper fibers of my quads were so sensitive yet receptive to the therapy ball work and taking the time to really focus on this area of myself and it has worked. I am walking with more extension in my gait and… Read more »

Alexandra Duncan

Thank you for this very interesting article. The term quad walking is definitely new for me and insspires me to learn more about this subject. It is fascinating to see how people walk and have adapted their postures and gaits to accomodate certain imbalances. I find sitting for long periods of time extremely unsetlling and uncomfortable and have to get up regularly to alleviate the discomfort, especially in my lower back. I will also pay closer attention in the way I walk and will try out the “wedding march”. Thank You!