How We Use Our Feet

4 minute read

We learn how to walk. Like Birds, we are born incapable of moving ourselves around. It is uncommon to find animals that cannot locomote almost immediately upon birth, as being unable to do so is an extreme disadvantage. For both Birds and our species moving involves learned actions, supplementing the innate movement potentials presented by our genes. Both flying and bipedal gait have a level of complexity far too complex to be genetically inherited1 and require modeling of parents and others that have mastered the art.

Our genes encode a hybrid developmental process synthesizing exploration and learning, with innate potentials. Once born, through observation and discovery, we resolve the mystery of replicating how those around us stand upright and move around on just two legs. However, with each passing generation, our urban surroundings diverge further from the natural environment in which we evolved our gait automaticities. As we continue evolving our built environment the body of knowledge informing optimized bipedal gait, which has culturally passed from generation to generation for millions of years, dwindles. We have to learn how to walk through our built environment. Conversely, without this ability we would not have been able to build an environment to navigate, restricted to surroundings within which our innate gait mechanisms could successfully function.
The Documentary BABIES covers this subject comprehensively, and the section on The Standard of Care of Feet discusses this further:

Suboptimal stability and movement organization in our feet place additional strains on our bodies, instigating the myriad musculoskeletal issues we encounter, particularly as we age. Developing optimal gait enables our bodies to minimize wear and tear, maximize, and organize our body’s regenerative potential and optimizes our potential for responding to life’s challenges. Even in our senior years, our bodies continually regenerate. Persistent cultivation of our stance and gait patterns facilitate regeneration to a stronger, more durable form. All of the papers in this section are based on the foot having a “root”, which is anatomically similar to our thumb. The function of this root can be understood by thinking of it as the thumb of our foot, opposing the pull of gravity by pushing into the ground. This root can provide a range of functions, and, therefore, needs to be discussed in the context of those functions, which are listed below:

Learning how to improve our advanced bipedal gait is both fun2 and beneficial. These sections deconstruct bipedal movement into its fundamental attributes, enabling one to understand and play with the correct forms.


Although these are coarse categories, they contain enough specificity to encompass the scope of foundational training.

1 Excluded from this conversation is Bipedal Gait found in an animal where the body mass is counterbalanced by the weight of its tail – which simplifies the role of the feet. (EG: Some Dinosaurs). On this website, all discussion about evolutionary progression is presented in the context of the lineage of our species.
2 It feels good to apply the effort to develop and refine these complex functions – it is fun. There is a discussion on the role of this type of activity in mammalian maturation in the section on PLAY.

Cultural variations in depiction of gait. The S.F icon represents Automatic Gait.

A common Physiology description of gait is that we walk by falling forward, which means leaning forward and then stopping the fall by extending a leg. In walking, if we roll off of the inside of the big toe this is what we would have to do to perambulate. However, if the foot is properly aligned we can push ourselves forward using the ball of the foot and the big toe, facilitating both the injection of power into gait and refined control of direction.

We have a reflex called “Automatic Gait” which is an innate mechanism for preventing us from falling forward (the reflex would be better labeled “The Falling Forward Reflex”). To use it to move around infers a poor level of reflex integration (needing to destabilize our mass relative to our center of gravity to move). By turning the foot outwards to enable walking by falling forward, we inhibit the foot’s innate mechanisms for powerful and efficient perambulation which our ancestors had refined over the past ~4 million years. Walking in this manner eventually leads to a myriad of foot and other structural issues, which are endemic to post-industrial societies. It is possible to observe this type of gait without even seeing it as it is accompanied by a vigorous heel strike which is easily heard.

The best “proof” that heel strike is not natural is that our Hunter-Gatherer ancestors would have more likely been prey than predators if they pounded the earth with their heels, making it quite convenient for our predators to await our arrival, and our prey to discretely disappear. Bipedalism would have been a short-lived evolutionary experiment without the ability for subtle, yet powerful motion.

Automatic Gait is an innate developmental/postural reflex “hard-wired” into our neurology. It is likely that most of us learn to walk by experimenting with this reflex – tipping ourselves forward and then catching the fall. However, it appears that many of us never matured our gait patterns much beyond this initial phase. The guidelines presented in this section on the feet can assist with the continued maturation of our stance and gait patterns, leading to enhanced scope for movement and awareness, as well as minimizing wear and tear on our bodies.

Almost all of the foot issues we encounter are not due to “bad genes”. If our parents had foot issues we are not cursed with foot issues. Almost all foot issues this writer encounters are the consequence of improper use. This section covers ways to this writer recommends for improving foot function, thereby alleviating many of the issues we deal with with our feet.


An overview of foot structural and functional issues and means to optimize how we use our feet:

An overview of the core physiological structure and functions of which feet are an essential attribute:
and a discussion of human neurophysiology dissected by physiology:

An overview of the several models describing the expression of Life through the form of our species: