Running

‘Duck Walking’ Can Strengthen and Stretch Your Calves and Shins if They’re Inflamed From Pounding the Pavement

Photo: Getty Images/ Carolin Voelker / EyeEm
Runners will do just about anything to keep themselves from being sidelined by an injury, so it shouldn’t surprise us that this TikTok touting the magic cure for shin splints, an inflammation of the connective tissue covering the front of your lower leg, which the repetitive movement patterns of walking or running can cause, has sent RunTok into an absolute frenzy. The video shows user @retiredcowgirlwowgirl marching down the street on her heels with her toes raised and then reversing it by turning her heels outward and walking on her toes—an exercise she affectionately calls “duck walks.”

But like anything on the internet, you can’t take every TikTok as gospel, so we spoke with Ned Trim, a running coach with Mile High Running Club and Brooklyn Track Club, to find out if there’s any merit to this wacky warm-up.

So, is duck walking legit?

In short, yes. Although Trim has never heard them called “duck walks,” he’s well-acquainted with the exercise @retiredcowgirlwowgirl is demonstrating in the video. Trim calls them “heel walks,” and he often prescribes them to his runners struggling with shin splints.

“That coupled with the toe walks are just simple, basic strengthening and stretching exercises for the calf and the shin,” Trim says.

How to duck walk

Now that we know duck walking can help you battle shin splints, let’s break down how to waddle like a pro. Start by standing up nice and straight, then lift your toes as high off the ground as you can, Trim says. Feel free to hold onto a wall for balance. Then, take 20 small steps forward and repeat this three times.

Trim suggests following up each set of heel walks with toe walks. Although he admits he’s never seen someone invert their toes the way the runner does in the TikTok, Trim says it could be a way to target the smaller muscles that run down the middle and up the side of your calf. But if kicking your heels out feels uncomfortable, rising straight up on your toes is just as effective. Once on your toes, take 20 small steps forward, and repeat three times.

The good news is that incorporating duck walks into you warm-up before walks or runs can help if you’re already battling shin splits, but Trim does caution that exercises like these will only serve as a Band-Aid if you don’t find the root of the problem. “Shin splints is pain manifesting in the shins from issues elsewhere,” he says.

What causes shin splints?

Overstriding

Truthfully there are a million reasons you could be dealing with shin splints, but one of the most-common causes is overstriding' Trim says. Overstriding happens when your foot lands too far in front of your center of gravity when you’re running or power walking, which is harder on your knees, hips, and shins. If your foot reaches beyond perpendicular to your knee, you’re overstriding, he says.

To prevent overstriding, Trim recommends this simple drill: Stand up tall and lean forward from the ankles. Keep leaning until you have to step forward to catch yourself. This foot positioning and sensation are what you should be aiming for with every stride.

Weak calves

Shin splints can also be an indicator of weakness in your calves, Trim says. This is why exercises like duck walking can help alleviate the pain because it both strengthens and stretches the muscles in your lower leg. Trim also encourages his athletes to add eccentric calf drops to their everyday running prep.

To perform an eccentric calf drop, hold onto something stationary for balance and rise up to the balls of your feet. Next, raise one of your legs off the ground and slowly lower your opposite heel to the floor, counting down from three and alternating which leg is raised. “That’s one of the best ways to build strength in your calf and decrease injuries,” he says.

Improper running shoes

Another cause to consider is your go-to shoe. If you find that shin splints are a nagging problem, it may be worth dropping in to your local sporting goods store to have them look at your form, check if your current shoe is overused, and fit you with a pair that’s just the right size and style.

Ultimately, you can duck waddle all the way around the world, but if you don’t address the underlying problem, you’ll find that shin splints are a persistent—and annoying—running buddy.

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