Is one position better than another? We look for a foot straight position when we do Restorative Exercise, but does that mean Foot Straight is best?
Alignment Myth #1 - Always walk with your Feet Straight
My work (and that of my Restorative Exercise colleagues) is often misunderstood. People think we force alignment and then work to maintain it - and nothing could be further from the truth! Like Gary Ward’s work (which I’ve also studied), we are finding centre - the place from which the most movement is possible in any direction. Muscles adapt to our habits/environment, so using markers to guide us, we establish a place where the relationship between parts is exposed.
One of those markers is foot straight. We establish ankle 0° so we can look at the foot/shin/knee and hip relationship relative to the ankle. But that’s not to say we should never deviate from it, or that it’s now “Aligned” or that it’s the Best* position. No! Our goal is to be able to restore option and movement potential. Moving through multiple positions regularly is what our body craves.
This is the premise behind mobility trainings that seek to visit all the movements on a methodical basis, but our method is to explore this safely in the studio and then use as much of this capacity in the outdoors. Environment plays a huge role in our movement habits (this is why I post my walks in stories and reels - as inspiration to get outdoors even in the big city and expose our bodies to some variability).
Our foot can turn out with the shin, and it can evert/invert (tilt) relative to the shin. This allows us to navigate a wide range of ground variables and also to move our foot in one direction while our hip continues moving straight ahead. If we had to turn our hips to accommodate our foot position, we would need extremely mobile pelvic joints (sacroiliac joints) and that is not the case. Also, we would be lurching side to side with each step! So our pelvis/hip can continue to move in the direction we are going as our foot, ankle and shins accommodate any ground surface variability such as steps, rocks, roots, slants, angles etc.
This is how we are made - foot angle is there for a reason, so why would anyone say walking with the foot straight is the goal? I think a lot of people who have only read the books, or have not had the benefit of years of in person study with the author, biomechanist Katy Bowman, might be taking that a little too literally!
Having said that, if there was no reason to deviate from “neutral” we would not need those extensive options. In other words, if we lived in an environment that didn’t call for a variety of joint positions, we would be able to get by with fewer! That’s the case for the majority of us who live in urban centres with paved or concrete sidewalks. Have you ever noticed if a sidewalk is broken, how the city comes along and places cones around it with a “use other side” sign? That’s because they’d be liable for injury claims if someone had to (gasp) use another joint position than a flat/level environment requires. After living in this environment most of our lives, we lack the capacity for a range of potential joint requirements now and are taken by surprise when we are met with a deviation from the norm. This is why we try to cover as many bases as we can in the studio where the variation is controlled and doesn’t take us by surprise.
But of course, you can never predict the unpredictable, so we need to choose our steps wisely. I wouldn’t go from the city to the jungle in one day - I’d start by walking on the grass. My point is, even if you live in the city, we have options, they just aren’t obvious. I try to walk (when appropriate) on the surfaces next to the sidewalk - I won’t trod in your garden, but if there is a grassy area next to the pavement, I’ll take it. If I can climb a hill rather than take the stairs, I take it. The more variety we can find, the greater the body’s capacity for variety is maintained.
The end goal of foot straight is the ability for the foot, ankle, knee and hip to be going in the same direction - to meet up in centre - before going their separate ways when required to do so. It's this relationship that we are studying when we start the work from the ground up. The ability of the joints to rotate means often when one joint is neutral (or facing straight ahead) the others are not, which is normal in some circumstances, but not in the flat/level scenario. We restore that relationship as best we can so that not only is movement potential restored, but the nervous system can familiarise this relationship and the deviations from it in circumstances that require it.
Foot Straight Myth - BUSTED!