Straight is Straight . . .
Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
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.
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.
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
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
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.)
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.