Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Did Medieval people walk the way we do?



Here's a video that's impossible to watch without walking around and trying it out. (Link to video)
Roland Warzecha proposes that Medieval people walked with different body mechanics, planting the toe first, rather than the heel first—or at least, softening the heel strike.

I've been trying it out, but it's hard to build up any speed and it seems like a lot of effort to maintain that mode. Maybe my tendons are too short. Anyway, I'd be interested in what you think after you try it out, especially what animators think about this.
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Further reading
The modern medical establishment regards "toe-walking" as an abnormality
New York magazine article on barefoot walking
Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks

34 comments:

  1. Erroneously - he presented "lazy" and "conserving energy" as synonyms. Seemingly, what he meant was "conserving energy" linked to survival. And that would be counter to (being) "lazy" but akin to being instinctively "smart." Otherwise, a logical idea.

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  2. Well, I think men have often walked this way during my lifetime... conserving energy and being of good posture... especially when sneaking in the back door after staying out late on a Saturday night... works well in the dark, too... that is until the wife decides to rearrange the furniture...

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  3. My toddler walks on her toes like this. I remember as a kid, going barefoot that I walked on my toes because it was easier to avoid sharp things in the ground. I have adult family members who still walk on their toes. His mechanics makes sense to me. But I'm surprised that he brought in the fencing illustration as evidence, since modern fighters still move on their toes. Though, I suppose modern fencers will go heel to toe on certain lunges . .

    As an animator the argument makes sense to me that people, at large, walked differently when their footwear was different. Modern people walk differently depending on if they're wearing soft-soled shoes (average, casual person), heavy boots (construction or military), heels (business men, dancers), or high heels. All of those cause significantly different gaits. So if everyone was essentially barefoot and there wasn't really any paving to speak of, then I'd expect people to walk more like barefoot kids outside.

    So I do think the demonstrator here DOES look a little awkward while walking toe to heel. The adults and toddlers I know who have been walking on their toes their whole lives make it much less noticeable, but even with that there's a straighter back and a more distinctive lean forward when walking.

    Cool video, thanks!

    -Nathan

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    1. Tip-toes may look cute on a toddler but can cause major problems in later life with a limited range of movement which is hard and costly to fix. Get your kid checked out.

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  4. Interesting video! I walk like that all the time when I'm barefoot. I always attributed it to my childhood gymnastics training. It's very natural and comfortable in barefeet to walk toe-heel and you can walk just as fast as heel-toe walking. As Nathan said, the demonstrator does look a bit awkward there, but maybe he's overemphasizing it for the video for us to see. I don't think it's all that noticeable most of the time.

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    1. I've walked like that since survival training over 10 years ago - it's natural at this point. It's generally a quieter way to walk, so when you are hunting or sneaking up on someone, it's handy.

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  5. Side note: If you look at most other animals skeleton, you'll notice their feet have fully evolved to walk on that ball of the toes. What would be our heel bone is now part of their legs.

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  6. When I walk, I hit heel first. But when I run or jog its the opposite---I land toes first. ( I never noticed it until my kids pointed it out to me). I tried reversing it, but landing with my heel first while running is pretty uncomfortable in my opinion.

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  7. As a kid I'd always heard historical native americans walked that way and some tribal dances reflect that movement. Similar footwear -- makes sense.

    On a related note, I recommend the book: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. Its basic premise is that humans evolved to run, not faster but longer (lung capacity and the ability to sweat). It also details the best running form of successful ultra runners from central America to Kenya all run by landing on the ball or forefoot as opposed to heel strike. Heel striking in running became ubiquitous in the 1970s with the growing sales of Nike's waffle trainer. McDougall exposes the "science" behind the Waffle trainer as well as the rise of running injuries do to this new way of running. You Tube has lots of videos on proper running form.

    That said, in animation it was always satisfying to have that heel strike followed by a big floppy forefoot slap, and then a leg squash, in a cascade of breaking joints.

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  8. Haha Daroo makes a solid point about what's satisfying to animate. I always have to fight against overdoing the "drag" on the toes even when I'm animating realistically.

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  9. I think this is really cool and I'm going to try walking around like this more!

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  10. I agree with Nathan's observation that shoe type affects how a person walks. As a kid, I spent the summers barefoot, mostly on grass with clover blossoms and bees. Ball-of-foot walking was natural, and also good for sneaking up on little sisters in a house with squeaky floorboards and wooden stairs. I had sneaking down to a fine art, knowing where all the tattle-tale squeaky spots were. Then the school year started, and it was a few weeks until my feet quit fidgeting from confinement in shoes. Shoes were stiff,(and noisier)and found it easier and faster to walk heel first. It wasn't until I was in college and took to wearing moccasins that I really appreciated the difference. In the city with pavement, and buildings with cement and tile floors, heel walking in moccasins was VERY jarring, and resulted in all kinds of aches at the end of the day. As for wearing high heels, it shortens the length of ones stride. I had to (actually still need to) educate my male companions to slow down a bit when I'm in high heels.

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  11. It took me about six months to get used to walking on the ball of my feet first on pavement in shoes. I grew up walking barefoot outside not on the pavement and naturally walk ball first under those circumstances. I found that if you go loose through the hips and swing them a little bit and you keep your body absolutely upright so that you can look around and you bend your knees a little bit and think about raising your knees and putting them down rather than about how your feet are landing, and use those heavy muscles in your legs rather than all the small ones, you'll find it easier to walk fast.

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  12. This is only half true, and there are some harmful misunderstandings here.

    1. Modern hunter gatherers (who are presumably representative of pre-1500 Europeans) do indeed walk differently than today's stiff-shoed populace, but they do not walk by putting the toes first. That *is* the appropriate way to run, but the biomechanics of running are dramatically different than the biomechanics of walking. The guy in this video is basically describing a healthy running gait, and an awful walking gait.

    2. A proper walking gait *should* begin with the heel, but not in the sort of way stiff-shoed folks are accustomed. The knee should be stabilized/straight when the heel strikes, and the weight should be mostly downward on the heel, not forward at an odd angle on the heel. The foot behind you should play a significant role in 'pushing off', also. Walking is NOT simply falling forward. You're doing it wrong if that's the case, and your pelvis will become weak and cause painful back problems and knee problems eventually. This is a pretty important topic, health wise, and this video only muddies the waters.

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  13. Here are some links with more details, from the website of Katy Bowman, a famous biomechanist:

    Brief description of appropriate running vs. walking gait:
    https://nutritiousmovement.com/gait-101/

    Helpful video clips to illustrate:
    https://nutritiousmovement.com/walking-or-bouncing/

    Some basic physics of the pelvis talking about why this is important and why it makes sense biomechanically:
    https://nutritiousmovement.com/mind-your-pelvis/

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  14. Thanks, everybody for all the comments and links. I didn't know this was a topic with so many perspectives. Walking is such a basic thing, and we all need to understand it better.

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  15. Hi James,
    I work in the animation industry in Burbank, CA. I thought the video you posted about medieval walking was interesting. I believe what it explains has more to do with medieval fashion and the classes at the time. What the host explains appears to me to be a form of "court posture" among the upper class. In animation if you want I person to have a dignified bearing in a royal court these mechanics would work. If you wish to animate a peasant, heel to toe and slumped is fine. Considering the hard lives that the average person had in feudal times I would doubt that any peasant would be walking like this especially while passing a Lord, Lady or Priest. They would end up in a dark, damp dungeon. Also, in medieval times, sword-play was similar to the dance. Rising on the ball of the foot has certain advantages which a fundamental class in sword-work could reveal (alas, I am not a musketeer). Making a general assumption about everyone because someone found a pair of medieval shoes that is worn at the toe would be a mistake and I think maybe the video host is close to doing that.

    I know with some survivalist/hunters their are methods of walking quietly through the woods that require a different posture where the foot is "rolled" from the sides(Tom Brown: Field Guide to Wilderness Survival).

    Walking gaits are usually matched to the action needed.

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  16. Interesting- considering that among autistics, toe-walking is a trait a number of them have.

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  17. I would be interested in knowing what evidence was presented at the conference the lady he mentioned attended. Surely there would be a difference in wear on the shoe-leather in excavated turn-shoes, right?

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  18. Physio person has told me walking heel first takes pressure off the hips as I have bad arthritis and yes it really works - until I can go ahead and have a hip replacement I don't want to take too many meds so consciously walking like this helps

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  19. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iV2ViNJFZC8

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  20. As a student of medieval history, someone that fenced and a heel-walker, what really comes to mind is the footwear setting the standard. Fencing shoes are light and designed like a running shoe. Being on the balls of your feet is to get lift and bursts of speed in a straight line. I have a hard time imagining Roman legions, with all their gear and sandals, toe-walking for twenty or miles a day. Someone pushing a cart will walk with the balls of their feet, but not pulling a cart (unless they are trying to get initial inertia). Much of medieval footwear examples I've seen leave the wearer a choice, whereas a pair of work boots do not. This also reminds me of the Earth Shoe craze, based on indigenous people of South America putting so much emphasis on their heel.

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  21. I learned to walk that way in dance class, ballet and modern.

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  22. I've lived where most people either go barefoot or wear light sandals, and when walking (not running) they walk just the way we do; this whole thing strikes me as some sort of historical urban legend.

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  23. That is the ballet walk. Dancers use it in all modes of the ballet discipline. It was so ingrained into my mind that I used it for years after I stopped training. Turned out that it also caused bursitis in my feet.

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  24. I found myself walking this way during a five year stint in a sub-arctic area. I found that if I walked this way, I was far less likely to slip around on ice.

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  25. Toe walking (Equinus Deformity) can also a medical condition. I've known people who have it. They have shortened Achilles tendons because of it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toe_walking

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  26. Id like to know about that knife. It is a very interesting shape and placement...

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  27. is it a comedy or a joke?
    the only credible part is the costume
    Demonstrations are hilarious
    The claims are false.
    Running and walking mechanics are different on many levels, you are mixing both, and it sounds like you have not even thought about it...
    The heel has evolved (for many reasons, you should do some research it is indeed very interesting what has been discovered) as an excellent pad/cushion to decelerate the landing walking body. It is only one little aspect of the the many shock absorber/ energy storage mechanisms in the contemporary human body.
    One good book to start with is "human locomotion" from Michaud.
    Enjoy the read!

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  28. He's walking with his toes significantly turned out. I wonder if that was as it's natural to him or if this was based on research. Everyone has a different degree of natural turnout.

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  29. Great video, even whilst practicing martial arts today. Like boxing, when you move in boxing it is always on the ball of the feet, that's also where the power in the punch starts!

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  30. Our modern shoes (hard soles, elavated heels) make balls-first walking pretty much impossible, and when we walk with shoes the whole time, our body gets used to that mode of walking and adapts accordingly. This year, I've started walking barefoot in everyday life, and even though I did remember the balls-first strike from running around barefoot in childhood days, it still took time to adapt back to it. Your whole movement and posture changes, you need to build flexibility and muscles, and you do indeed take smaller steps than with shoes. You also don't place the feet that far ahead of you – as the guy in the video says, you don't accelerate by putting the leg in front of you, you accelerate by shifting your body weight and pushing yourself off the ground behind you. Flat feet, outward pointing feet and other defects in the feet can make the balls-first strike very hard, and shortened hip flexors will make pushing off behind you hard. Both are very common problems nowadays.

    Now that I'm comfortable walking barefoot all the time, I find that I switch between heel-strike and balls-strike depending on my walking speed and the ground I walk on, though my heel-strike is a bit different than it used to be – the foot touches the ground in a flatter angle and rolls along the outside of the foot. I even find regular shoes weird to walk in now: I feel clumsy and like it's taking a lot of effort. So yeah, it's really about what you wear on your feet and what you are used to. ;)

    Just to make it clear, you do not walk on your tiptoes. You place the outside of your balls down first, roll towards the inside of your balls, then towards your heel. Our feet are built to absorb the power of the strike that way with the small arc that runs across our balls and the big arc that runs from balls to heel, and all the muscles and tendons in the foot. They basically act as a spring.

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  31. Our modern shoes (hard soles, elavated heels) make balls-first walking pretty much impossible, and when we walk with shoes the whole time, our body gets used to that mode of walking and adapts accordingly. This year, I've started walking barefoot in everyday life, and even though I did remember the balls-first strike from running around barefoot in childhood days, it still took time to adapt back to it. Your whole movement and posture changes, you need to build flexibility and muscles, and you do indeed take smaller steps than with shoes. You also don't place the feet that far ahead of you – as the guy in the video says, you don't accelerate by putting the leg in front of you, you accelerate by shifting your body weight and pushing yourself off the ground behind you. Flat feet, outward pointing feet and other defects in the feet can make the balls-first strike very hard, and shortened hip flexors will make pushing off behind you hard. Both are very common problems nowadays.

    Now that I'm comfortable walking barefoot all the time, I find that I switch between heel-strike and balls-strike depending on my walking speed and the ground I walk on, though my heel-strike is a bit different than it used to be – the foot touches the ground in a flatter angle and rolls along the outside of the foot. I even find regular shoes weird to walk in now: I feel clumsy and like it's taking a lot of effort. So yeah, it's really about what you wear on your feet and what you are used to. ;)

    Just to make it clear, you do not walk on your tiptoes. You place the outside of your balls down first, roll towards the inside of your balls, then towards your heel. Our feet are built to absorb the power of the strike that way with the small arc that runs across our balls and the big arc that runs from balls to heel, and all the muscles and tendons in the foot. They basically act as a spring.

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