Have you ever noticed that at a certain weight people start to waddle more than just walk?
I know, it doesn’t sound very flattering but this is a judgment-free zone and different people all have kinds of different gaits. I know that my husband and I have certainly developed a bit of a waddle over the years so I can speak from first-hand experience.
But why do fat people waddle when they walk? While there can be a variety of reasons that explain the waddle walk, the biggest factors are that larger thighs require a bit more room to walk comfortably and a change in the overall balance based on their center of gravity.
Of course, a person’s gait is as unique as they are and there can be a variety of reasons why a heavy person might waddle. But I can tell from personal experience that as I got fatter there just wasn’t enough room for my legs and I had to take on a bit of waddle to prevent chafing.
But let’s take a closer look at what’s going on with the waddle walk.
Reason 1: A Need For Increased Stability
Fatter folks have a heavier mass to move around and balance. While you might think that would make it harder for them to fall over, it can oftentimes be just the opposite as the extra mass can quickly gain momentum. Consider how much effort it would take for a skinner person to balance their body weight if they were to trip compared to someone that weighs two or three times as much.
As a result, fat people have to be a bit more careful when they walk in order to keep their center of mass balanced. Of course, some of this will depend on the muscle mass of the person and there are plenty of very strong fat folks that wouldn’t have any problem doing a lunge…or 40.
But for the more unathletic heavy people, adding a bit of a waddle to your walk is a good way to make sure you don’t lose balance. Especially if you don’t have the hip, glute, and trunk power required to move that mass around.
Just to be clear, much of this is pretty subtle. I’m not saying that if a heavy person didn’t waddle a little they’d fall right over. Instead, your body and your brain work together to eliminate instability, however subtle, and add a bit of waddle to your walk.
Reason 2: Changes In Center of Gravity
Closely related to the first point, as a person gains more weight their center of gravity can change over time and as a result, change their posture and the way they walk.
But what exactly is your center of gravity?
Physio-pedia defines it as a “hypothetical point around which the force of gravity appears to act. It is a point at which the combined mass of the body appears to be concentrated.” However, your center of gravity is constantly changing as your body moves. But in some cases, it can even change as you gain weight.
This can be especially true depending on how your weight is distributed which is largely impacted by genetics. If a person doesn’t get fat in a balanced way, then they may have a different center of gravity when compared to someone who gets fat all over.
Waddling can be a natural response to balancing your center of gravity and keeping your body stable.
But even if a fat person’s center of gravity doesn’t change, they may still find waddling is a great way to maintain balance. The findings of one study support this idea where they concluded that the center of gravity may not have been that different between obese and other individuals but that fat folks had a harder time regaining balance.
This makes sense when you consider that they’ve got more weight to move around. As Physio-pedia puts it, “However, once the center of gravity of an individual affected by obesity falls outside of the base of support, recovering balance may become more difficult than for people with normal weight, because of the greater body weight to be moved, and the individual with obesity’s relatively inferior mass specific lower limb power.”
This also explains why fat people typically take shorter strides as a longer gait is more likely to put them in an unfavorable position where they could lose their balance.
Once a fat person has experienced either a change in their center of gravity or the difficulty of finding it when they lose balance, waddling may become a subconscious way of walking just to keep themselves stable.
Reason 3: There’s Not Enough Room!
I can tell you that I certainly don’t have a thigh gap! My thighs are constantly touching and this chafing can certainly get a little irritating.
While I’ve been fat all my life, I have noticed that as I’ve gained more weight there’s even less room between my thighs and walking with a wide-stance waddle is generally more comfortable. Simply put, there’s only so much space between our legs and fat thighs have to go somewhere.
By taking shorter strides, you can decrease the amount of chafing happening not only between your legs but everywhere else too.
Reason 4: Decreased Range of Motion
Depending on how much fat is present, the range of motion for some joints may actually decrease slightly or at least require more effort to see the full range.
One study found a decrease in the range of motion for both knees and hips in obese participants. Over time, that range of motion can lead to increased stiffness and erectness of the joints when walking leaving waddling as the best option.
Reason 5: It’s a Strength Issue
Extra weight takes more strength to move and in some cases, fat folks might not have the muscle power to move properly. Walking is actually a complex movement that requires several muscles working in conjunction to pull off.
Weakness in the hips or glute muscles can lead to more of a swaying or waddling motion instead of the traditional one foot in front of the other. This type of walk actually has a name and it’s called the Trendelenburg Gait. While it’s not exactly the same thing as when a fat person waddles, both are impacted by relative muscle weakness in the hips and glutes.
You can check out the Trendelenburg Gait along with a more detailed explanation of the muscle groups involved in this video:
There are several reasons why a fat person would waddle ranging from a muscular weakness to just playing it safe or trying to reduce chaffing. I know that for me, the biggest motivations are comfort. Between big thighs and a history of back pain, a wider waddle just feels better when I walk!
What do you think? Did you learn something new?