Pump Up Your Tires and Walk The
Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
Good racewalkers have
something in common with cyclists and gymnasts. Top cyclists, like Greg La
Monde, would only set off on properly inflated tires. World class gymnasts,
like Mary Lou Retton, plant their feet close together on the balance beam-
racewalkers should do the same.
Important to you may be how
your feet look in your racewalking shoes. What’s more important to fast
racewalking is what your feet are doing in your shoes. Here are two
“feet” techniques guaranteed to improve your racewalking form and speed.
Rocking Feet - Many exercise walkers land with a flat-footed step. They let the
whole foot make contact with the ground as one unit. Plop, plop, plop.
A flat-footed step is a braking action. Stepping that way sends your energy
right into the ground; it’s a slow way to walk. According to Dave McGovern, a
member of the 1997 U.S. World Cup Racewalking Team, walking flat-footed is
like riding a bike with flat tires. Think about how much energy goes into
pedaling and you don’t get very far for your effort.
Instead, a racewalker needs rocking feet. Pretend that on the bottom
of your shoes (instead of soles) you have rockers - like on a rocking chair.
Plant your heel and roll to your toes. As your rock your foot, feel every part
of your foot make contact with the ground. First your heel, then your mid-foot,
then the ball of your foot, finally your toes. As you start your “rocking
foot” by planting your heel, try to elevate at the ankle joint, not at the
toes. By rocking your feet instead of plopping them down, you have a more
propulsive device from which to push off. It’s like pumping up your tires.
You’re doing it right when you can’t hear your feet.
Walk on the Balance Beam - Typically, people walk with a
shoulder-width stance. That’s too wide apart for racewalkers. A wide stance
causes some upper body lateral sway, which takes away from forward motion. To
exaggerate - think about a one year old who’s just learning to walk. They
spread their little feet apart and “toddle” back and forth. I guess that’s
why we call them toddlers. Their wide apart stance gives them more balance
and stability, however it compromises forward motion.
A racewalker doesn’t need
to worry about balance and stability. Remember, we’ve got one foot on the
ground at all times. Pretend you are walking on a four to six inch balance
beam. Keep in mind that a balance beam is not a tight rope. You shouldn’t be
putting one foot directly in front of the other. That’s an old style of
racewalking. It led to the feet crossing over and way too much sideways hip and
arm action. Crossing over with your feet is just as inefficient as too wide of
a stance. Rather, plant one heel about half-way into the path of the other
foot. Of course you’re still using your rocking feet on the balance beam.
Greg La Monde and Mary
Lou Retton may have nothing to worry about if you pump up your tires and walk on
your balance beam. Yet, if you practice these two techniques, neither will be
able to come close to you in your next racewalk.