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Why Kenyan Women Can School Soldiers and Backpackers
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Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Why Kenyan Women Can School Soldiers and Backpackers on 07/21/2011 12:40:26 MDT Print View

Interesting article.

Leigh Baker

Locale: Northeast Texas Pineywoods
re:"Why Kenyan Women Can School Soldiers and Backpackers" on 07/22/2011 05:44:20 MDT Print View

That's a very cool article, thanks for sharing! I'm going to look for the full story in Nature!

Jerry Wick
(JerryW) - F

Locale: Illinois
Re: Why Kenyan Women Can School Soldiers and Backpackers on 07/22/2011 10:09:05 MDT Print View

I found the article in Nature, but it costs $32 to download it. Yikes! Does anyone subscribe that could give us a summary?


tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
yes on 07/22/2011 10:43:23 MDT Print View

The letter in Nature is simply a more technical description of the information supplied in the NY Times article. Neither piece explains *how to* adjust your gait to "transfer at least 80 percent of [your] forward energy to the next step." I wonder if there are some books available.

This has implications for UL backpacking, since it shows that it is possible to use body mechanics alone to carry weight up to 20% of our body weight for "free."

Also, here's a link to a video of related research. No sound, but interesting.

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
video on 07/22/2011 10:51:28 MDT Print View

Hmmmmm...watching that video was really interesting for me. These were the major points I gleaned:

1) Bare feet;
2) Short, balanced, even steps. No reaching forward;
3) Bent knees;
4) straight back;
5) Feet seem to be center striking and them almost rolling; and
6) High cadence.

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
sherpa on 07/22/2011 11:06:24 MDT Print View

The conclusion was that "the actual mechanism is unknown at this time."

T kawa
(kitsune) - F
same as proper running form.. on 07/22/2011 11:31:01 MDT Print View

I think this is where I'm supposed to insert my anti-shoe diatribe....sooooo, they allow you to walk badly heel strike and overstriding... basically all the bad things we do while running because of nike, we do while walking too. walk softly and you avoid all kinds of foot, knee, and ankle problems.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: same as proper running form.. on 07/23/2011 21:12:37 MDT Print View

Russ, you may be on to something...

This sounds like what Edward Abbey refers to as the "Indian Gait." Or atleast what I've come to associate with that style of walk. It feels very different when you do it and gives you the appearance of gliding over the ground rather than walking. I do it sometimes when in a hurry. It's hard to explain.

You basically keep you knees from fully locking until your torso (center of mass) has already moved in front of your feet. It also helps to place more weight towards the front of your foot (difficult depending on the shoes you wear, I usually walk around in worn out skate shoes that have very little rise between forefoot and heel...or VFFs). You have to consciously keep your center of gravity at the same height, so you kind of shuffle or lope along the ground (I only use it on flat ground really).

I will say though that it "feels" more energy efficient but that it uses completely different muscles so they tire out really quick and I've never taken the time build up the endurance to see how much it could help over the long run. Your quads and calves develop a burn faster than normal walking.

As for the research, I'm not sure what they're talking about with first documentation of improving the efficiency of walking. Speed Walkers have been doing it for years. They use a method where they dramatically twist their hips forward with each step. It makes your butt wiggle all goofy, but definitely increases your speed with a minimal extra input of energy.

DISCLAIMER: This is all anecdotal, but growing up a latch-key kid in the AZ Desert, I've had to walk home from school (and now walk to/from college) in the summer heat. So I've spent a lot of time trying to minimize my time in the heat without having to raise my core temp or heart rate, which simply running would do.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Why Kenyan Women Can School Soldiers and Backpackers on 07/23/2011 22:00:59 MDT Print View

Very interesting article, but why do western scientists always do that? Make a claim about "all people in the world, except these Kenyan women"? It simply isn't possible that these scientists examined or have seen or even know about how most people in the world walk, especially all the other people in the world who carry loads on their heads. A silly claim. I'm sure there are a lot more efficient walkers all around the world and over the millennia than these scientists could possibly imagine. But just because it is published in "Nature" and "The New York Times", that somehow makes it informed and true. Pah!

I remember going to a lecture by a famed Harvard expert on geckos. He showed slides of geckos he had encountered around the world and talked about their habits. Then he made a claim that astounded me, "So far, science has not been able to determine where geckos hide out during the day." WHAT?!?! Any sun-browned, mosquito-bite-covered-legged kid in Japan or anywhere in Asia (and most probably South America Africa, too, I surmise) can tell you right off the bat where geckos hide during the day. Just peel off loose strips of bark, open two leaves pressed together, or flake off a flat piece of stone or concrete from a wall, and there you have your geckos. What stone had this scientist been hiding under all these years? And why in the world did he never bother to ask the locals, especially the kids, where the critters were? Too high in his Harvard seat to stoop to such rustic noodle fare? Again, "Pah!"

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Re: Why Kenyan Women Can School Soldiers and Backpackers on 07/24/2011 00:35:14 MDT Print View

I can't agree with you more Miguel. The egoism of western academia can be rather sickening at times. Remember when accupressure was considered hocus pocus, and now trigger points and myofascial release are considered legitimate physical therapy!

It extends beyond just academia. I had a Serbian prof who (in light of the Bin Laden mission) brought up that one of the Serbian War Criminals had been finally "caught" one election year. No seemed to have bothered to ask the locals. When the news broke, many Serbs thought "what do you mean you just found him? He's been living in that building for years! He's been advertising his naturopathic health remedies all over Europe! You could have just asked us where he was if you were really trying to find him!"

Even in Academia the politics of being "first" or "best" in a field seem to cloud the realities of the research unfortunately.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
let us look at ourselves here ... on 07/24/2011 08:50:13 MDT Print View

"..but why do western scientists always do that? Make a claim about "all.."
what did i miss here ... ?
Miguel... did you not just commit the very same thing ??

Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
Re: same as proper running form.. on 07/25/2011 22:22:16 MDT Print View

Amen. Since I've started being barefoot nearly all the time (better for my job, somehow), this sounds like pretty much the same way I walk. It did make me sore for the first couple weeks, using different muscles than I'm used to, but now I can just keep walking... Got some zero-drop shoes just before backpacking in the 'dacks this past weekend and walking this way with a loaded pack also felt GREAT.

T kawa
(kitsune) - F
Re: let us look at ourselves here ... on 07/26/2011 10:04:38 MDT Print View

hehe, yup can't just limit the arrogance to scientists, or academics... I'd say the entire U.S. can be lumped in there too... ALL of us =)

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
Re: Re: Why Kenyan Women Can School Soldiers and Backpackers on 07/26/2011 11:05:08 MDT Print View

Did you actually read the article in Nature? I have to ask, because I found no such quote as the one you included in your post. In fact, the journal article was actually very clear from the very first sentence or the first paragraph that "in many area of the world that lack a transportation infrastructure, people routinely carry extraordinary loads supported by their heads, for example...." (Helund et al., 1995, p.52). The authors then go on to list some examples, BUT focus on women from two specific tribes, the Kikuyu and the Luo. And this is just in the very first paragraph.

Also, several of the scientists who wrote this paper have written other papers on other groups since this piece was published.


Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
Re: Re: let us look at ourselves here ... on 07/26/2011 11:05:32 MDT Print View

If we want to get really serious, I'm sure every individual in every culture possesses SOME sort of unexamined hubris regarding one topic or another.

I'm accumulating a fine collection of repeatedly split hairs these days... maybe I'll see if I can weave them into some sort of UL fabric...

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Re: Re: Why Kenyan Women Can School Soldiers and Backpackers on 07/27/2011 16:37:03 MDT Print View

Tommy, the NYTimes article quoted an author of the paper, may not have been in the paper itself but the author did say it (just to be snarky did you read the NYTimes article? ;)

Yeah, everyone falls into this hubris, I've just personally noticed it in a lot of academics (and have also seen quite a few truly decent academics that keep their emotions/bias out of their research as well).

Anyway, back on topic: This method of walking is also probably the same as many women had to learn going through finishing school (back before they were empowered to be lazy slobs just like men.)

What's the number one detriment to carrying a heavy load on your head? It's not the weight, it's balance. If the load is not stable, you spend an extraordinary amount of energy trying to keep it from tipping over. Works with all balancing acts, balance an egg on a flat table is far easier than balancing an egg on top of ANOTHER egg.

Walking is similar, it's a balancing act to keep our torsos from toppling over. The heavy loads just exacerbate the problem. So if we create a more solid base, ie keep our torsos from wobbling and bouncing around like normal when we walk, then carrying heavy loads should become more efficient because we use less energy to keep upright and more can be converted to forward propulsion.

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Why Kenyan Women Can School Soldiers and Backpackers on 07/28/2011 09:16:34 MDT Print View

HA! I love a little snark with my morning coffee... ;-)

Just to be clear, do you guys mean this quote: "Every person and every animal that we have yet tested has roughly the same walking economy, except for these African women," said an author of the study, Dr. Norman Heglund, a physiologist at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. "We were pretty surprised." Was there some other quote in the NY Times piece that I missed? Because, it read to me that the important qualifier from that quote was "yet tested."

That said, the elimination of bias is impossible. So, I'm sure the researchers, the writer for the NY Times, and all of us have biases. Eliminating bias from research isn't possible. The best we can do is be as transparent as possible and mitigate bias as best as we can achieve.

Anyway..... back on topic.