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 Bonnie Stein

          Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.

Injury Free Racewalking - Keeping a Safe Sport Even Safer

By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.

I’ve had plenty of sports related injuries during my amateur athlete days.  I’ve broken a bone in my foot playing racquetball, pulled my trapezius muscle using hand weights during aerobics, and torn the meniscus in my right knee during my running days. 

 After almost 18 years of racewalking, competitively and for fitness, I have never had to take time off from racewalking.  I’ve yet to have any injuries I can attribute to this sport. 

Dr. Peter Francis, a biomechanics professor at San Diego State University, has researched injuries among competitive racewalkers.  He found that “based on the total number of years of participation by several hundred racewalkers and the total number of injuries they suffered collectively, the average competitive racewalker suffers only one serious injury every 51.7 years.”

If we measure injury level by how much time is spent recovering we find that runners take significantly more time off from their training due to injuries.  A six month study by Byrnes and McCullagh compared the injury rate of runners to high intensity walkers—80% maximum heart rate for both groups.  The runners lost an average of 11.1 days of training while the walkers lost only 1.5 days during the 28 weeks.  Runners spent more than seven times as much time recovering from injuries.

An article in Runner’s World, written by a medical doctor, informed us that each year 50 percent of all runners, from recreational athletes to elite, sustain an injury that affects their running. 

So what kind of injuries do racewalkers incur during those infrequent occasions?  Dr. Howard Palamarchuck (Sports Medicine  ‘80) found that when racewalkers get injuries, they are the same type of injuries as runners get.  They include hamstring injuries, medial knee pain, non-specific hip pain, plantar fasciitis, “shin splints”, and groin strains.  Yet the occurance of injuries in racewalkers seems to be significantly less.

Here are some tips that have worked to keep me and many other racewalkers injury-free:


Always warm up with one half to one mile of “slow” racewalking before any workout. 


Never stretch cold muscles.  Rather, I wait until after my racewalking bout is complete.  Then I spend about 10 minutes stretching the major muscles used in racewalking. This includes the gastrocnemius and soleus of the calf, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and I.T. Band.  For an excellent resource book see Stretching by Bob Anderson.


If you have a particularly tight area, warm up first for 5-8 minutes with some slow racewalking (sounds like an oxymoron); then, stop and stretch.  Do a more complete stretching after you’re finished  with your workout.


Always cool down after a workout by walking slowly for 5-8 minutes before stopping to stretch.


Never progress too quickly.  If you’ve been comfortable racewalking 5K races, don’t try a half-marathon next.  Even a 10K, at race pace, would be too intense.  Instead, gradually work up to doing four miles, then five miles, then a 10K.  Overuse injuries are most common in racewalkers who do too much too soon.


Never increase more than one component (frequency, intensity, duration) at a time.  For example, if you’ve been racewalking four days a week and you decide to increase to five days a week, don’t also increase your mileage the same day.


Never increase a weekly workout by more than five percent.   For example, if you racewalk four miles per session, when you increase, you can increase to 4.2 miles (5% of four miles is 0.2 miles.)


A tip from Ian Whatley, an elite racewalker and a former member of our National 20K Racewalk Team, is to increase your amount of miles by no more than the amount of days you walk per week.  That means if you walk five days per week, increase your weekly distance by no more than five miles.  A conservative approach is not to make another change for at least three more weeks.


For racewalkers who train for long distances, or racewalkers who are over 50,  training every other day may work best.  It gives your muscles a chance to recover completely and regenerate stronger for the next workout. 

I have found that those racewalkers who always warm up, always cool down, and always stretch warm muscles are the ones who rarely get injured.  When in doubt, err on the conservative side.  Most of us can live with one injury every 51.7 years.

© 2007 by Bonnie Stein. All Rights Reserved.

LIMITS OF LIABILITY AND DISCLAIMER - The authors and publishers of this newsletter have used their best efforts in preparing the articles and information contained within it. Additionally, you are advised to consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. The authors and publishers make no warranty of any kind, expressed or implied, and shall not be liable in the event of incidental or consequential damages.

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