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 Bonnie Stein

          Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.

Straight is Straight . . .

By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.

ďStraight is straight, and bent is bent.Ē I like those profound words from Bohdan Bulakowski, the U.S. National Team Racewalk coach. What Bulakowski is saying is that thereís no middle ground with racewalking. If you want to compete, you canít have soft knees, almost straight knees, or only one straight knee. Nor are any excuses such as, ďbut, Iím over 55 and my knees donít straighten,Ē acceptable. If you want to be a competitive racewalker, only USATF rules apply. That is, the leg must be straight (not bent at the knee) as the foot makes contact with the ground.

Last month I asked if you were willing to do what it takes to achieve straight racewalking knees. I also gave you some ways to tell if a walker is able to straighten their knees. I have found that very few walkers, even older walkers, are unable to straighten their knees if they are willing to put in the time and training that's required.

There's the problem. Some masters walkers are unwilling to take the time and make the effort required to learn knee straightening, so they blame it on bad knees, bad judging, or bad luck. Most likely, itís none of those things. Here are some tips that will help straighten your knees without any help from Tonya Harding.

  1. Slow down initially to practice correct straight leg technique. Bulakowski suggests slowing down to the pace that you can straighten your knees perfectly, and work from there. If racewalkers would be willing to slow down initially, they would find that they would eventually be faster with good technique than with bent knees.

  2. Take the time necessary to stretch and work on flexibility of the hamstrings. Tight hamstrings are a limiting factor in knee straightening. As we age we become less flexible and it becomes a challenge to continually work on flexibility. However, it can be done.

  3. Stop overstriding. Planting the heel closer to one's center of gravity will result in a straighter knee. Way too many new racewalkers (especially former runners) tend to overstride making it harder to have a straight knee as the heel contacts the ground.

  4. Drink enough water! That's right. Dehydration is a factor that limits flexibility. Muscles are about 70% water. As we age, we need to drink more water to keep up with hydration needs. Also as we age we lose our desire for water and the thirst mechanism is not as effective. I find that many beginning racewalkers (masters, especially) need to be reminded to drink more water. An interesting reference is a book entitled Your Body's Many Cries for Water - You're Not Sick, You're Thirsty by F. Batmanghelidj, M.D. (Publisher is Global Health Solutions in Falls Church, VA. 703-848-2333.)

  5. Donít save good technique for the races. Practice knee straightening every time you racewalk at any pace. Some racewalkers think that good technique is important only for the races. Neuromuscular learning is taking place every time you train. Therefore, if you practice with sloppy technique you are teaching your body to get better at racewalking with sloppy technique. Do all drills, warming up, and mobility exercises with good technique and straight knees.

© 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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