Race walking is an aerobic activity that shares some similarities and differences with the sport of running. Like running, race walking requires endurance and stamina to get to the finish line after completing a specific distance. Unlike running, you must maintain contact with the ground at all times. This leads to the odd, wiggly, almost dance-like motion that is associated with the sport, but is also what makes it so hard to do.
The sport of race walking produces less impact on the body, but is a very technically demanding activity. Not only do race walkers need to maintain contact with the ground at all times, but the leading leg must be straight with the knee locked as the foot makes contact with the ground and must remain straightened until the leg passes under the body. Judges are used during race walking events to evaluate participants’ technique and can disqualify those who do not follow the proper technique.
Learning the technique involved in race walking is not an easy task. This is especially true if you are coming to the sport as a runner and are more focused on speed than form. It takes much more concentration on the technical details of how you move your body than running does. It also requires a tremendous amount of discipline, since proper technique is not only encouraged, but is absolutely required – and you must maintain that technique from start to end, even when you begin to get tired.
Some people pick up the technique quickly, while for others it may take years of practice to perfect it. The good news is that once you master the race walking technique, you can enjoy a sport that challenges your body while producing less impact on your joints and bones than running.
So, what’s with all the twisting and wiggling that race walkers do?
To perfect the art of race walking, you have to:
Twist your hips more than you typically would when walking, which helps you take longer steps. Most people twist their hips about 4 degrees when walking, but you’ll have to twist your hips closer to 20 degrees.
Keep your hips lower than normal, to make your center of gravity lower and make your gait less jerky.
Walk in an extremely straight line, which makes your pelvis rotate more and elongates your stride. Sure, it makes you look like you’re holding it in so you can get to the bathroom, but it’s an important part of the technique.
Focus on keeping your front leg straight as your foot hits the ground, until your leg passes under your body.
Remember to maintain contact with the ground at all times.
Competitive race walking events are available for people of all ages, from kids through seniors. The sport even has a place in the summer Olympic Games. In fact, Olympic race walkers break 7-minute miles, all while having to adhere to intense scrutiny by judges who are serious about making sure there are no breaks in form during the event.
Men’s race walking made its debut as a standalone Olympic sport in the 1908 Olympics in London. Women didn’t compete in the sport, however, until the 1992 games in Barcelona. The 2016 Olympics in Rio included three race walking events – a men’s 20-kilometer race (12.4 miles) won by China’s Wang Chen, a women’s 20-kilometer race won by China’s Liu Hong and a men’s 50-kilometer race (31 miles) won by Slovakia’s Matej Toth.