Using Your Upper Body When Walking - Chi Running

Using Your Upper Body When Walking

Posted by Katherine Dreyer on Sun Jan 15th, 2006, No comments (be the first!)

Did you know that when you are walking, your upper body is as equally important as your legs? That's right. When we walk we also need our upper body to create movement of its own that complements our legs, making them more efficient.

Try walking for 20 meters or so with your arms held stiffly at your sides, without swinging. Or, try to swing them at a different tempo than your legs are moving. Hard to do, isn't it? Now, bend your elbows just slightly and allow them to swing naturally from the shoulders, in rhythm with your legs as you walk. Doesn't that feel smoother? When you restrict the movement of your upper body, or move in an unnatural way, you end up fighting with your lower body and wasting energy.

Here are some upper body focuses to help balance the work of your lower body:

  • Bend your elbows: When walking casually, your arms should have a very slight bend to them. While walking at a medium-pace, bend your arms so your hands are level with your pockets. To walk faster still, bend your arms to a 90º angle.
  • Swing your arms to the rear: Focus on swinging your arms to the rear, rather than punching the air in front of you, to act as a counterbalance to the forward lean of your column.
  • Relax your shoulders: Many of us carry our tension in our neck and shoulders, and as we walk, our shoulders gradually creep up until they are somewhere around our ears. If you feel tension in your shoulders, dangle your arms loosely at your sides periodically.
  • Relax your wrists and hands: Your relaxed shoulders won't last long if your hands are clenched in fists. Gently close your fingers with your thumb on top, keeping your wrists in a straight line with your forearms. Don't let your hands hang down from your wrists or bend outwards. Shake out your hands and wrists from time to time when you feel tension building there.
  • Keep your head and neck aligned with your spine: Many people walk with their head tilted back, leading with their chin. To keep your head from falling back like this, Imagine a string pulling gently from the crown of your head into the sky. This will help keep your upper spine feeling long and spacious. Don't forget to look around often to take in your surroundings and relax your neck. On bright days wear sunglasses to keep your facial muscles relaxed.
  • Keep your shoulders directly over your hips: This will strengthen your core muscles which will in turn improve your balance and stability.

These are a lot of things to think about, so don't expect yourself to do them all your fist time out. Just practice one focus at a time until they start to become more familiar. In no time you'll begin to notice less effort in your legs.

Happy walking! 


Resources to help you master the Chi Walking basics:

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Over the past 45 years, I have trained for and run a race of one mile or longer every year but one. I worked my way up to running marathons, but in 1982 began experiencing knee pain – ultimately in both knees. 

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