Quiet walking is a term I use to describe an efficient gait pattern—one that greatly decreases the stress to joints by using muscles (as they were designed) to “soften” the impact of foot to ground impact. Muscles are the body’s primary shock absorbers. Used correctly, they help reduce wear and tear to the joints.

Observe people running at a track. See how quiet and smooth the elite runners are? See how they appear to be gliding? Compare that to the runners with the loud footsteps. If it looks like they are running injured, it’s because the actions are similar. When a limb is injured, the body (brain) tries to protect that limb by shutting down the muscles around the injury (neurological inhibition). A limp develops when you try to use (stand, walk, run) a leg that the body is trying to shut down, because of this interference or lack of control. Loud runners (and walkers) are not controlling the descent and foot strike well–due to weakness and/or poor technique–thus the heavy landing of the foot.

Learning how to walk quietly is a simple way to improve gait efficiency and reduce stress to the joints. I teach people to focus on the loudness and the rhythm (cadence) of their footsteps. Sometimes people need to unload (take weight off their legs) by leaning on their arms on the railing of the treadmill–which makes controlling the landing of the feet easier. Slower speeds and shorter strides also make it easier to walk softly.

Improved walking technique also depends on strength. You cannot walk efficiently without an adequate level of strength. Remember, muscles are the primary shock absorbers of the body. Muscles need to be strong enough to allow proper technique. Shock absorbing shoes or insoles can provide a little relief, but the maximum amount of shock absorption they can provide is a fraction of what strong muscles can provide.

The goal is to be able to walk quietly at your normal speed (between 2.5 and 3.5 mph for most adults). Then, when strong enough, progress to running quietly.