A Question of Legs

A Question: when you walk, in which direction do your legs move?

Most people say ‘forward’. This is correct, but only part of the picture.


 Not only do they move backwards from a ‘forwards’ position, they also move behind the line of the body.

If you think this sounds odd, try an experiment. Put one foot on a step, sideways, so you can dangle the other foot over the edge (I recommend doing this at the bottom of the stairs, not the top). Now think of your leg as the pendulum of a clock. Swing it to the front, and then to the back. Don’t twist your pelvis, just move the leg.

See? It goes behind you. A small(*) but very significant amount.

It amazes me how many of my students are really surprised when I tell them this. “I never thought of it like that” comes the reply. And it shows in their movement. Someone who thinks that their legs don’t move backwards doesn’t move them backwards. Instead they lock their entire upper leg/pelvis region with extra muscle tension. The result? Their leg reaches the upright position and no further.

52 questionoflegs pic1

Imagine what would happen to the pendulum if you stopped it half way through the swing. Not good for the clock. Not good for the human body either. It makes it very hard to walk(**). Or run. Or do quite a lot of different sports.

So how do you make your leg move backwards? Well, there are muscles involved. Surprising muscles that I will talk about next week.

But for now, the most important thing is: You don’t have to make your leg move backwards. It will swing through the whole of its natural range if you let it. Your job is to stop the muscle tension that is locking your leg solid, and let it move.

Try it out on the bottom step. Then go try it out when you walk. If you run, try it then as well. And do let me know how you get on.

(*) To about 30 degrees

(**) When you are walking, it is your foot that stays still and your body that moves over it, but you still need the same backwards swing in your leg to get a nice, easy stride.

CNHC and ITM registered Alexander Technique teacher.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in movement, muscles
7 comments on “A Question of Legs
  1. It gets even more interesting when you time your thought not to coincide with the “forward” movement, but about allowing the undoing so the backward swing can happen easier.
    Another situation that’s fun to experiment with is while riding a bike – most people think about the moment when the force increases on the crank that drives the bike forward rather than the opposite motion the other leg is making around the other part of the circle.
    Strangely enough in both cases, the “forwards” impulse is so strong that it takes care of itself.

  2. Franis, I hadn’t thought of cycling! Maybe because I don’t, and I haven’t had a student who does for a while. But it’s such a good activity to think about legs moving forward and back; about timing and rhythm. The idea of ‘takes care of itself’ is so important. Worth a blog or two by itself. Thanks for such a great comment. Karen

  3. atphila says:

    It also helps to experiment with pausing with your weight on one leg with the other extended behind you (on the ball of the foot) and allowing the knee to swing forward as a “letting” not a “doing”. I liken the motion to giving a child a ride on a swing with that marvelous moment when you drop the swing from its apex — wondrous free fall! When we “do” the forward in walking we invariably retract the femur in towards the hip, while allowing the pendular swing facilitates “legs away”.

    • Hi Ariel, I love the idea of the ‘swing’ experiment. it’s a great extension to the idea of a pendulum, and possibly more familiar to students. The more we can get students to ‘let’ rather than ‘do’, the better. Karen

  4. Jagadish.nv says:

    Hi karen,
    thanks for the blog.
    Practicing alexander technique is great for me, since iam not in a delution of seeing human physical parts but happy to see their movements as a whole a small and small commonsense.

    Iam surprised by the alexander thought of
    ‘thinking of trunk(torso) as a single functional unit’.
    What such a wonder ful term ‘LENGTHEN and WIDEN’ is!

    Fm told , we have to start from the fundamentals, from where how humans learned the movements!

    We know every thing, fm principles and directions which are very preventive in nature helps us to know the unknown(subtle wholeness).

    I think what you written about the legs are part of secondary directions after thinking the primary directions.

    Thanks once again for the great post.

  5. It helped me understand this when my teacher suggested that my back leg could linger ever so slightly before coming forward. This gave me a sense of the backward motion, and the fact my leg does indeed go backward!

  6. […] I’d already been thinking of this phenomenon quite a bit thanks to a blog entitled “A Question of Legs” by Alexander Technique teacher Karen Evans. Using this awareness when walking uphill proved […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: