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Walking keeps many important muscle groups working and they are the key muscles that we need to use every day. It can actually be considered a full body exercise. Although the locomotion comes from the work the legs are doing, the arms still have to swing, and the core still has to work to stabilize us while we are moving. It is a sport that requires cardiovascular and muscular endurance.

As we walk forward, we move our thighs and hips backward. This movement engages the gluteus muscles in the butt and a number of key muscles in our hamstrings. The hamstrings are a group of 3 posterior muscles working to flex the knee and extend the thigh. They all rise from the ishium, posterior to the hipbone and insert on the bone of the lower legs. These muscles include the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. The walking forward motion also engages one other small muscle located at the top of our inner thigh, which is the adductor magnus. It is the largest and strongest of the adductor group.

The second motion involved in walking is the action of moving our legs forward. This action engages all the major muscles in our thigh, including our quadriceps. These muscles are located in the front of our thighs, and this is also where another major muscle is engaged, our sartorius. This is the longest muscle in our body, and it stretches down from the top of our thigh, curving inside our thigh, ending at the inside part of the knee. The point where our hips and thighs meet will also get a workout, and the muscles engaged there include our iliopsoas, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus, and adductor longus and brevis.

As our feet hit the floor, normally with a heel-to-toe movement, our calves interact with our ankles to allow each foot to be pulled back on forth. This part of our walk will engage our gastrocnemius, soleus, plantaris, and tibialis posterior and anterior muscles. Our flexor hallucis posterior and flexor digitorum longus muscles, thin muscles that help us to curl our toes, are activated here too. Also engaged when moving our feet and ankles are our extensor digitorum longus and hallucis longus muscles, which extend down from our knee on the front of our shin.

Walking will cause us to move from side to side as we shift our weight from one leg to the other. This action engages our hips, abs, waist and the muscles that support our back and general spine area. The specific muscles used are the oblique muscles in our sides, which guides the twisting and flexing of the trunk. Also used are the quadratus lumborum and multifidus muscles, which do the same job of supporting our lower back. Our abdominal muscles will also be engaged, as well as the large group of muscles sitting on our spine called the erector spinae.

Lastly, the arm and shoulder muscles are used when a person pumps his arms intensely up to chest or shoulder level while walking. This involves swinging the left arm forward naturally, while the right leg strides ahead.

As walking involves moving our body straight forward and backward and without crossing over the mid-line of our body, it is considered a sagital plane exercise.

This straight ahead and vertical “sagital plane” is the plane of movement of the joints in walking. The joints that used are the iliofemoral (hip) joint, the tibiofemoral (knee) joint, and the talocrural (ankle) joint. The knees are functionally a hinge joint and must be aligned in this straight ahead plane in walking. On the other hand, although both the hip and ankle joints are capable of movement in other planes, they must be in this sagital plane during walking.

The foot and ankle, by virtue of their location, form a dynamic link between the body and the ground when walking. As we strides during the “stance phase” (when the foot is in contact with the supporting floor), our ankle joint went into dorsiflexion and plantar flexion. As we strides into the “swing phase” (when the limb is swinging forward, out of contact with the supporting surface), our ankle joint goes into dorsiflexion.
This pivoting is at our toe joints and our foot acts as a lever arm. The calf muscles and Achilles tendon act as force generators and pull the heel (end of the lever) to elevate the foot and the weight of the entire body, with the ball of the foot acting as the fulcrum. The effort force needed is less than the load force. This is a mechanical advantage.

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