Walking probably feels as easy to you now as breathing, remember: there was a time when you literally didn’t know how to do it. The movement pattern is fairly complex, in fact, and requires more muscle engagement than you might think. According to American Bone Health, an organization for osteoporosis education and awareness, each gait cycle consists of two mini-cycles: “stance” and “swing.”
In the stance phase of walking, your heel hits the ground, the entire foot touches down, weight shifts into the ball of the foot, and your big toe begins to lift you off the ground. The swing phase accelerates the forward motion of the heel before helping to carefully lower your heel for the next step.
During the gait cycle, many muscles in your legs are forced to work—and not just the obvious ones. “Everybody thinks of walking as a lower-body, leg workout. And you’re definitely working your leg muscles—your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes,” says Stanten. That said, there is more to your progress. In fact, when you pay a little attention to each step, you’ll find that walking is a full-body workout.
Below, Stanten names three unexpected muscle groups you’ll be working on your afternoon walk around your neighborhood. Also, how about sending them a little extra engagement love that you know they’re backing you up for miles.
3 Unexpected Muscle Groups You Work When You Walk
1. Tibialis anterior
This muscle runs on the outside of your tibia or shin bone. “When we’re just walking at our normal pace and we’re not challenging ourselves, most of the time we don’t even notice that muscle,” Stanten explains. to feel [the anterior tibialis] And they’ll get that burning sensation.”
After a long, challenging walk, the tibialis anterior will likely feel fatigued, a sensation that is easy to confuse for shin splints. “This muscle is responsible for lifting your toes up. So when you swing your leg forward and you land on your heel, your toes are up and that shin muscle is working. The faster you walk, the more steps you take and the harder it is. Working,” Stanten said.
2. Abdominal muscles
When you walk, your core needs to keep your body upright—and that requires some serious muscle engagement. According to Stanton, The Spinal Stabilizer, the erector spinae, multifidus, and quadratus lumborum (QL)—which are the muscles of the back and pelvis—work harder when you walk.
“What they’re doing is really supporting your body,” she says. “As you speed up as you walk, your hips start to swivel a bit. So there’s a bit of rotation with walking. So the abdominal muscles are working in that capacity as well.” With this in mind, you can focus a little more on engaging your core as you move forward (especially if you’re climbing a big hill, or bracing yourself on a downhill).
3. Upper back muscles
Stenten is a big fan of getting your arms into action during your run. When you bend them to a 90-degree angle to help propel your body forward, you’re engaging the upper back muscles (including the rhomboids behind the scapula). “If you’re bending your arms, swinging your arms and driving those elbows back, you really start working those muscles. That nice strong arm swing can help your walking power,” says Stanten.
A more deliberate arm swing will leave your back muscles feeling strong—if a little tired. So go ahead, walk a little longer with the arm drive and see how you feel.