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Where do you carry your baggage?

After reading Primate Change this month I’ve been spending more time walking to do all my errands my commute. While walking I listen to awesome podcasts like The Foot Collective and Freakonomics and like a good movement nerd I have more time to take notice of my movement and joints. One thing came to mind the other day and that is where I carry my stuff when I’m walking and how that might impact my movement.

If you look around, most people carry their stuff in a backpack of some sort. All the weight that they’re carting around is distributed on their back while they are propelling themselves forward down the street. If we think about it, is having all the weight of your stuff on your back a good place to carry it?

This was a question I was asking myself that day. And also, if there was an ideal place to carry a weight while we walk that does the least to disrupt our natural gait cycle, where would that be?

Let’s examine the backpack. Having the weight on your back is asking you to counterbalance that weight through redistributing your centre of mass to compensate for that load. Someone carrying a heavy load is going to lean forward, maintain a pike in their hips and have to push themselves forward using a lot of force in the calf muscles. That imbalance is surely impacting their gait. If you didn’t counterbalance, you’d fall over backwards. The weight is also not distributed at your centre of mass, which is around your belly button (L4-L5 for the anatomy nerds). It’s higher up in your ribcage, again altering your posture and gait.

So what have I opted to do and what might that be doing to my gait cycle? I have two shoulder bags. My everyday purse sits on my left should and hugs my right hip. I chose it particularly because it hugs close to my body and won’t disrupt my side to side movements (or frontal plane movement for the anatomy nerds). My carry-all is also a shoulder bag made of light fabric that moulds to my left hip. They both sit just slightly below my centre of mass (at my greater trochanter, for the anatomy nerds). Having the bags lower on my body and not disrupting my posture surely has some benefits by not altering my gait cycle. Perhaps it affects my ability to shift my weight from one foot to the other but my hope it that it is less disruptive than carrying something on my back. Add to this my choice of zero-drop shoes, and we’re getting closer to allowing the body to move freely.

If I were to ask myself the ideal way of carrying something that would introduce the least amount of invasion to my natural gait cycle I might look to countries where (mostly) women carry heavy objects on top of their head. Distributing the load straight down the central axis of your body may have the least impact on your gait cycle. But how many of us are going to adopt such a carry method? Probably none of us.

I don’t claim to have all the answers but it’s certainly interesting examining how our choices affect our bodies.


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