A Program for New Racewalkers
By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
The two questions I most often answer at a clinic for new racewalkers are “How often do I need to racewalk?” And “how fast should I go?” The answers depend on your goals. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends three days a week of vigorous activity if your goal is fitness. Knowing that it’s difficult to get new exercisers to commit to vigorous activity, CDC has suggested that 30 minutes of moderate activity every day is an adequate goal for health benefits. Racewalking at a proper pace certainly would come under the category of “vigorous activity.” Yet, many new racewalkers are looking to lose weight and get in shape. If that’s your goal, then three days a week of exercise are not enough.
If your goal is weight loss and you’ve chosen racewalking as your activity, you should aim to racewalk every day. You read it right – I said every day. I find that if you aim for every day, you’ll get in five or six days, which I’d be satisfied with. If you aim for five days, you’ll get in three. That will not let you reach your weight loss goals. So, aim for every day, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day during the week.
Have you heard that racewalkers (like runners) should take a day off once a week? That’s true for walkers and runners who are training for speed and distance. If your goal is weight loss right now, then you’re going to be racewalking at the intensity that you can do every day. You don’t need to take a day off unless you want to.
YOUR PACE OR MINE?
Imagine a scale of 1-10 with your breathing rate related to the numbers. Number one is your breathing when you first wake up, before you get out of bed. Number two is your breathing while you’re sitting up as in watching TV. Number three is standing and moving around a little. Number 10 describes your breathing right after you’ve walked up 15 flights of stairs. Huff, huff!
Your warm-up pace should be #5 (very comfortable - you could keep up this pace for hours). Once you’re warmed up (5-8 minutes) ease into #6 (comfortably hard). This is a good starting pace for brand new racewalkers who are out of shape. For most racewalkers who are aiming to lose body fat, take it up to a #7. That’s a pace described as “somewhat hard”, although not hard. It’s a pace that you can carry on a limited conversation with a little labored breathing, but never out of breath. If you can carry on an easy conversation, then you’re not walking fast enough.
Many new racewalkers make the mistake of going too fast and making speed their goal before they have developed good technique. That’s a way to get injured or burnt out quickly. They would do better if they would walk at a #7 pace for most of their outings. Concentrate on form and good technique every time you workout.
TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL
When you have passed the beginning racewalker stage (after at least six months of consistent walking almost every day) then you can play with the numbers. Your walks don’t all have to be #7 walks any more. Once a week you can do a longer, but slower walk - #6 pace. A long walk is typically double your regular walking distance. For example if you walk three miles a day, then your eventual long walk would be six miles once a week. But don’t go out this weekend and do six miles. Work up to it by walking three and a half miles the first weekend, maybe four miles the following weekend, and so on. If four miles feel like too much for you, then don’t increase the following weekend. Remember that when you increase your distance, you should decrease your intensity. Therefore, your pace decreases to a #6 on a long walk day.
A #8 pace is described as “hard.” Your breathing should be more labored than #7, but not “very hard” which would be a #9 pace (race pace for most of us). You can talk in short phrases when you’re racewalking at a #8 pace, and you’ll need to take an extra deep breath more often. It’s a fitness enhancing pace, but also it’s a pace that is more likely to cause injuries if you do it every day. I recommend that racewalkers who have been walking for more than six months might want to add one day a week of #8 racewalking to their routine.
Of course if you’re walking faster, you need to decrease the distance. If you’re doing #8 racewalking - warm up well, then do about half of your regular distance. That would be a mile and a half for someone who usually does three miles a day.
A BEGINNER’S PROGRAM
For a brand new beginner – aim for 7 days a week of walking at a #7 intensity for 20-40 minutes. Do a good warm-up at a #5 pace for 5-8 minutes. Better to racewalk 20 minutes every day than 40 minutes three times a week if your goal is weight loss. Cool down by walking slowly for 5-8 minutes at the end. This will bring your heart rate back down as well as help your core body temperature return to normal. Finally, stretch at the end to enhance flexibility.
For a racewalker who’s been walking for at least six months (and is past the “racewalking for weight control” stage), aim for one day a week of slower, but longer #6 walking, one day a week of faster, but shorter #8 walking, and three to five days of #7 walking. If you’re doing only three days of #7 walking, you can weight train or do another physical activity on your non-racewalking days.