It’s my third day in Taiwan, Abigail is busy so her best friend Catherine takes me to Elephant Mountain to climb what I called “The Endless Staircase”. One third of the way up I have to stop. Probably 100 stairs.
“Catherine… I need to take a break, my legs are screaming in pain.” –Me
“Oh~~ Okay. You know, old people climb this staircase every morning to stay in shape. Without stopping” Catherine teases. We sit down for a minute before continuing.
Sound like you? Or maybe lower back pain, knee pain? If not you are lucky.
I am actually in pretty decent shape. I try to eat healthy food and I go to the gym on a regular basis.
I would say I fail at the following 3 things, and they are all related:
I can run a mile in a decent time no problem, I practice that at the gym on the treadmill. But where do I fail? Earlier this week I was at Disney all day. 12 hours of walking with Abigail and Catherine. By the end of it, it was clear I had a problem.
I had to sit down, my feet were killing me, I couldn’t stand another minute. They didn’t seem the slightest bit tired.
I was shocked. Since I got to Taiwan, I have walked 10 or so miles most days. Just light gentle walking. It still exhausts me. So I began to wonder why I haven’t improved.
I thought being tired after a day of walking like this was normal. All of my American friends would be exhausted. Catherine and Abigail didn’t seem the slightest bit tired.
I looked at Catherine and Abigail, and how they were walking and imitated it. Straight back, hips forward, shoulders back, head high, toes forward.
Suddenly the pain went away.
I couldn’t maintain that position for long, my muscles were fighting themselves. I could feel my chest pulling my shoulders in, and my hips being pulled forward again. My slouch returned with the pain.
I began to look around at all of the Japanese around us. In Japan, most people don’t use cars. They walk EVERYWHERE. They were maintaining this position with ease.
So I began researching, like I do
I would estimate of the last 15 years of my life, I have spent 90-95% of my waking time sitting.
As a child, less than 11, I lived in a city. I could walk to the store, my friend Andrew’s house, the doctors office, to the bus stop etc. Mom also made me go play outside with the other kids, for some breathing room and exercise. We had recess in elementary school where I would run around for 30 minutes climbing, jumping etc.
I don’t remember anyone telling me I needed to stop “slouching” until I was 13 or so.
We moved out to the country. I moved around in a car everywhere. I sat 8 hours per day in one of those plastic school chairs. When I got home, I spent 2-3 hours doing homework in a chair. My hobby after homework, was to work on the computer. Either videogames or tinkering with it.
Each day I probably spent only 20 minutes walking.
We weren’t meant to sit all day.
There are two basic parts to your standing posture. The lower body and the upper body.
The upper body is the most noticeable, hunched shoulders, head sticking out. This is the part that people see.
The lower body is what causes the upper body to happen. When you are sitting, your leg muscles are relaxed. All day. The front muscles of your thigh and hips shorten when you are sitting.
The hamstrings on the back of your legs are longer when you sit.
Since your hamstrings are longer, your glutes(your butt) relaxes as well.
So what happens when you stand?
Since the muscles on the front of your leg shorten, they pull your pelvis forward.
Additionally, your leg bones naturally want to turn inward. What stops this from happening is your glutes. If your glutes are lengthened and weak, then your femur will turn inward.
To counter act this, you will place your feet outward to make your knees straight. This makes someone who sits an especially long time, like me, naturally walk like a duck. This feet position also causes your arch to collapse, giving you flat feet if you do this for many years.
If your leg bones are inward, but you twist your feet outward, your pelvis will also tilt forward. This is called the
Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Most people in modern society suffer from this to some degree because of all of the sitting we do.
I can test this by putting my feet parallel to eachother like they are supposed to be. If I look down at my knees, I can see they are pointed inward.
My legs feel awkward in this state; which is why I want to put my feet outward.
If I flex my glutes while standing(imagine trying to hold a penny between your butt cheeks) my pelvis will immediately straighten since the main job of the glutes is to rotate your femur, your knees will then straighten too.
Suddenly, it doesn’t feel weird to have my feet parallel.
If your pelvis is tilted forward all day, what does that mean for the rest of you?
Your lower back will have to curve backwards. You can pick out people with pelvic tilt, which is most people, because their back curves in first.
The worse your tilt, the more the curve is.
This backwards curve would cause you to permanently lean backwards and look at the sky if your spine didn’t curve again.
So, a person with pelvic tilt will pull their shoulders, arms, and head forward to maintain balance. This makes an S shape. Suddenly my posture makes sense.
A person can cheat and pull their shoulders back forcefully. Which is normally what I do when someone tells me to fix my posture . That does not actually fix the tilt and won’t fix your standing and walking.
You can only fix the shoulders and head after you fix the pelvic tilt. If you were to try to fix the shoulders and head first, you will be thrown off balance.
So what is the plan?
First, every morning I will do the lunge stretch. This stretches the quads, top muscles in your thigh; and your hip flexors, basically the little part that attaches your pelvis to the quads.
When I do this stretch, I immediately notice my pelvic tilt isn’t as bad and I naturally want to straighten my back.
Second I will stretch my chest by moving my arms back as far as I can. I learned this stretch from Abigail’s uncle, it makes your shoulders able to rotate into a normal position.
Third, I will watch the way I walk all day; trying to maintain a posterior tilt throughout the day, which is when you flex your glutes to pull your pelvis back into normal position.
I will try to keep my feet as straight as I can when I walk, which will force me to pull in my pelvis to rotate my legs properly. This feels very awkward, but it’s how everyone else walks. I am sure after a while with the stretches this will become normal.
Lastly, I will try to wear my Earthrunner sandles more often. These are minimalist shoes; which means that there is almost no sole on the bottom. My feet get sore when wearing them, because I actually have to use the muscles in my feet. From what I have read, going barefoot and wearing minimalist shoes will restore the arches in my feet. This is good, because I think this is one of the reasons I have foot pain after standing or walking for a long time.
These are the resources I used to come up with my conclusions. There seems to be a lot of competing talk about this online, so I had to throw out a lot of sources. If you find anything in your own search that contradicts what I have discovered here please let me know. Good luck! J