By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
Mistake #1: MOVING THE ARMS SIDEWAYS
Moving the arms laterally will take away from forward propulsion, sending your energy where you do not want it to go. Mark Fenton, sports science coordinator for USA Track and Field Racewalking, says the “arms are driven vigorously but compactly fore-and-aft, not laterally.”
Keep your arms close to the body with the elbows in (don’t be a chicken-winger). Let the arms move as shortened pendulums, swinging from the shoulder joint, and angling toward the mid-line of your body. I find it helpful to allow my fists to graze the side seams of my shorts or pants, as my arms move forward and back.
Mistake #2: TAKING TOO LONG OF A STRIDE IN FRONT
New racewalkers assume that to walk faster, one needs to really “stride out” in front. However, to be a faster walker, shorten the length of your stride to one that is comfortable for your leg length when you plant your heel with a straightened knee.
The further in front you reach with that leading leg, the more you are “putting on the brakes.” Your leg (the lever) needs to wait until your body catches up with where you’ve planted it. Only when your body is back above that leg can that leg then start generating forward propulsion. Instead of a long stride, plant the heel very close to your body.
The elite racewalkers work on getting their heels planted almost under their bodies. As you become a more proficient walker, your stride lengthens behind you (with more hip and hamstring flexibility). Never reach out to artificially lengthen your stride in front.
Mistake #3: PICKING UP YOUR TRAILING FOOT TOO QUICKLY
The time when you are generating maximum forward propulsion is when you are pushing vigorously with your toes. If you pick up the rear foot too quickly, you shorten that power phase. Remember that you get no power from pushing against air, so keep that trailing foot on the ground as long as possible before you powerfully push off with your toes. Initially, push off for only 10 seconds at a time. You’ll need to work on the strength of your calves to master this technique.
Mistake #4: LETTING YOUR TOES POINT OUT
Martin Rudow, former coach of the National Men’s Racewalking Team, says that “toeing out will rob the racewalker of stride length.” If you don’t keep your toes pointing straight ahead, you will lose a few centimeters per stride. Added up over a 5K race, a few centimeters per stride is significant.
Mistake #5: WALKING FLAT-FOOTED
Racewalkers who plant their feet “flat-footed” do so because elevating the foot is hard on the unconditioned shin muscle. Ideally the racewalker plants the heel with the foot elevated up to a 45 degree angle. Elevating the foot allows for it to be utilized as a more propulsive device. Elevating also plays a role in straightening the knee, as required for official competitive racewalking. New racewalkers should spend time strengthening the shins since walking with flat-footed stepping is a braking action. You’re not going to be very fast if you send your energy into the ground.