By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
The first time I racewalked in a grocery store was before the 1994 Big Chicken Chase Race in Marietta, Georgia. It was October and at 8 AM the temperature was in the low 50’s with a brisk wind. I was wearing shorts in preparation for the temperature to warm up during the race, but it sure hadn’t warmed up yet. The race would start in the parking lot of Publix. To get out of the cold, I went into Publix thinking I would do a few drills to warm up (literally), and then resume the rest of my routine outdoors.
I selected the first aisle in which I didn’t see anyone – happened to be the freezer aisle. Purely by coincidence, I got a look at my reflection doing my “rocking feet” drill. I did another drill and then another, going back and forth down the freezer aisle. Since it was 8 AM, very few shoppers (and even fewer store clerks) were out and about. Since that day, I often use my weekly grocery outing to practice my racewalking drills. Here’s how you can be subtle about it.
Take a Shorter Front Stride
Racewalkers don’t actually have a short stride, but they should decrease their front stride. Taking a long front stride turns your front leg into a brake and also puts undue stress on your hamstrings. As you get more proficient and as your hip flexors become more flexible in time, your stride to the rear will lengthen a bit. But, don’t force it. For now, simply work on your front stride – keeping it closer under your body.
Using the grocery cart, keep your waist pressed up against the handle of the cart as you walk down the aisles. You can’t take a long front stride or your shins will get banged up. Do 30 seconds and then take a break.
Rock and Roll Your “Rocking Feet”
Racewalkers shouldn’t plant their feet flat-footed like regular walkers do. Instead, we pretend we have rockers (like on the bottom of a rocking chair) on the bottoms of our shoes. Rock from the tip of your heel all the way to the tip of your toes.
Using the grocery cart (actually hiding your feet behind the grocery cart where no one can see what you’re doing) practice rocking your feet through the entire rolling motion. Exaggerate it – start with your toes pointing up to the handle of the cart. Do this drill very slowly, feeling every part of your foot making contact with the ground.
Sneak a Peek in the Freezer
The freezer aisles are a great place to watch your racewalking style. Go up and down the aisles with the tall glass freezer doors so you can watch your reflection. Check for high “rocking feet” and a front stride planting close to under your body. If there’s no one in the freezer aisle – sneak in some racewalking arm technique. Check to see if your loosely closed fists are coming back far enough past your side seam. Also check to see if your fists are staying low enough in front (no higher than the bottom of your ribs).
Even in the freezer aisle – no chicken wings allowed. Keep your elbows close in and streamline. They shouldn’t be plastered against your body; neither should they be flapping out to the sides causing lateral motion.
Without the cart, and without groceries in your hands, racewalk very close to the freezer doors on one side. Pretend that you’re walking down a very narrow hallway. If you let your elbows pop out, you’ll get some concrete (actually metal and glass) reinforcement reminding you to keep your elbows in.