Race Walking is Not Walking Fast

From shin stretches to keeping a foot in contact with the ground at all times, race walking training and race walking technique is not that easy for serious race walkers.

Race walking looks funny. Those people that you see waddling down the street like ducks are race walkers. Even though you think walking fast looks funny, you also think that it looks relatively easy to do – at least the race walking training part of it looks easy.

In fact, you think you’re going to try it yourself. You’re fit, have done some power walking, and have run in a few road races. So you enter a walking race as a race walker instead of as a regular walker – without having done any race walking training.

You’re doing okay. You even think you’re doing quite well and are pretty proud of yourself, thinking, “This is easy.”

Then a race organizer official flags you down and tells you that you are disqualified from the race. “What?”

Race walking is not as easy as it may look. There are not many natural race walkers. For those who have a dream of being a good race walker and who set out to make their dream come true, it can take as long as a year to master the correct race walking technique. Some are lucky enough to master the technique within a month or two, if they really take their race walking training seriously.

During an official race, you will be disqualified if you don’t adhere to certain race walking rules. There are two rules that apply to technique.

  1. A foot must be in contact with the ground at all times.
  2. When lifting the back foot to bring it forward, the knee of the leg that’s on the ground must not bend until after the back leg has swung past it. During the forward swing of the back leg, the leg that is on the ground is not in a perfect vertical position until the back leg has swung past it. The leg on the ground must reach that perfect vertical position before the back leg that is moving forward strikes the ground in front.

The first rule:

At one instance during every step forward, a jogger or runner has both feet off the ground. A race walker must maintain constant contact with the ground.

The second rule:

Power walking or running involves a lot more bending of the knees than race walking does.

Tips to help speed up the process of learning correct technique

  • Instead of leaning backwards or forwards, thrust your hips forward and down to help you maintain a good upright posture - do not slouch or arch your back at all
  • Perfect the action of allowing your heel to strike the ground first, with your toes pointed upward
  • Do some shin stretches; shin strengthening exercises will help you keep your toes pointed upward as your back foot moves forward to strike the ground – shin stretches will also decrease the amount of pain you may feel during a long walk, and after the walk
  • Relax your shoulders, keep your elbows down, and don’t let your hands and wrists flop about
  • Look ahead of you instead of just in front of you – you want to maintain that upright posture and not end up with a stiff neck and shoulders
  • Put a little more waddle into your duck walk – swaying those hips a bit more as your back leg swings forward helps keep the one that’s on the ground straight
  • Relax – be conscious of tensing up, and tell yourself to relax

Lastly, don’t get upset if people laugh at how odd you look. Haven’t you yet felt what the race walking is doing to your body? Remind yourself that it’s toning your upper arms, stomach, waist, hips, thighs and butt!

Race Walking image credit:  author's own

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Teresa Schultz
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Posted on Aug 16, 2010
Colin Dovey
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Posted on Aug 16, 2010