By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
What would you do if you couldn’t racewalk outdoors because of a hurricane? If you said, “Racewalk on a treadmill,” how about if the electricity went out? I’ve only racewalked outdoors once during a hurricane. OK, twice, but the second time, even though we were evacuated from our house, the radar clearly was showing the hurricane moving farther away from our county. Even without hurricanes, Tampa Bay (where I live) is the lightening capital of the world. And lightening storms are a common occurrence in the summertime in Florida. Good enough reason to plan some indoor workouts that can help your racewalking.
If you have access to a treadmill – lucky you. If bad weather gets in the way of being outdoors, whatever workout you planned for the day can be done on a treadmill – even intervals or a hill workout. Actually, this article isn’t about racewalking on a treadmill, nor about racewalking during a hurricane, which I hope you won’t do. This article is about workouts to do when you can’t racewalk outdoors and you don’t have access to a treadmill.
Naturally, you could do alternative cardiovascular exercise such as swimming (indoor pool) or walking repeatedly up the stairs (great for when you’re staying in a hotel without a fitness center). However, here are some racewalking-specific, but non-aerobic alternatives in which you don’t need a pool or stairs.
Many racewalkers neglect drills, yet they are ideal for improving muscular strength, endurance, and coordination. You can do them in your house and they’re especially great for hotel hallways. All beginning racewalkers should include heel-walking (10-30 seconds at a time) in their warm-up or cool down. Walk on your heels with your toes pointed up to the sky. Take short steps, keep upright and erect (don’t let your rear stick out) and don’t let the balls of your feet touch the ground/floor.
This exercise builds strength in your tibialis anterior muscles - typically a weak site for new walkers. Don’t stop heel-walking, even as your racewalking progresses. Advanced racewalkers benefit from this drill to be able to elevate their feet higher and get more power from their rocking feet. Advanced racewalkers should work up to doing one-two minutes of heel-walking at a time.
EXAGGERATED ROCKING FEET
Instead of soles on the bottom of your shoes, pretend that you have “rockers” like on a rocking chair. Slowly rock your feet in an exaggerated manner from heel to toe. Start with your toes pointed to the sky and plant your heel. One mistake new walkers make is that they start with their toes up, but quickly let the whole foot slap down. Bend your foot at the ankle joint (rather than the toe joint). Keep the toes relaxed by using the ankle as the point of flexion. Feel every part of the foot making contact with the ground. First the heel, then the mid-foot, then the ball of the foot, and lastly the toes. Really exaggerated the rocking motion. Bend each part of your foot as you roll through the motion.
Can’t get outside today? Take the opportunity to do an extended stretching session. Of course we should be stretching every day after our racewalking workout, but that is usually 10 minutes or so. If you have extra time, do extra stretching – 30 minutes or more. I recommend Bob Anderson’s book aptly named, Stretching. If you’re not stretching regularly – you’re asking for injuries down the road. Always remember to warm up for five minutes or so before stretching. A good way to warm up indoors is by doing . . .
Sit-ups, crunches, curl-ups - - - whatever you call them, just do them. For a racewalker, they’re indispensable. They help strengthen the abdominal area to help keep proper racewalking posture. A strong abdominal wall will make you a better racewalker as well as help protect your low back by strengthening the opposing muscle group. Start with three sets of 10 and work up from there.
Drills, stretching, and sit-ups should be part of every racewalker’s program. They should be done every time you racewalk. Yet, more time can be devoted to these activities once a week when getting outdoors is not possible.
Naturally, what’s really going to help your racewalking the most is getting out and racewalking. A racewalker who faithfully stretches, does drills and sit-ups but doesn’t racewalk enough is, well ... a flexible, coordinated, poor racewalker with strong abdominals. Might be of some help in the next hurricane, but not the next race.