Is It Powerwalking or Racewalking?
Power walking can be done almost anywhere, without any rules, it’s noncompetitive (except for personal goals), I’ve never seen a power walking competition, wouldn’t know how it could be judged and it’s what most people are more likely to pursue.
In power walking, like racewalking, the entire body is used to propel the walker down the road. If you’ve seen world class runners you know that most look anorexic at best, corpses at worst. That’s not the case with power walkers and, to a lesser degree racewalkers. Every muscle comes into play to go from A to B within a reasonably short period of time and get a good workout. The arms are pumped, as if reaching forward and grabbing a pin to pull the body forward. The legs are thrown forward to gain as much distance in each stride as possible. The feet are set down without shock or jarring and, once the lead foot is on the ground, all the muscles from toes to head are used to pull the body forward to the next step. In power walking, the body’s weight can be anywhere that’s comfortable to the walker, usually the knees are slightly bent and the walker can lose contact with the ground (picking both feet off the ground at the same time). The last items, and some other minor differences, including our goals, is where racewalking differs.
Racewalking is a world class athletic event and very popular Olympic sport, except in the US and, in my opinion, to the detriment of many fitness minded people in the US. In racewalking, the support leg, the leg that’s supporting the body’s weight, has to be straight when the body’s weight passes over it. In other words, you can’t have a bent knee when the leg holding up the body’s weight is directly under the torso. This is a difficult thing to judge for most self professed racewalking judges and some world class judges as well. The second rule is: there must be contact with the ground at all times. All of the body can be off the ground except for a portion of a toe or heel, but contact must be maintained and illegal if you want to compete. One must have a very well-trained eye to tell the difference between legal and illegal when the cadence picks up.
In order to be a fast racewalker, besides increasing the cadence, you can do one, or both, of two other things. One thing you can do is swivel the hips. Swiveling the hips allows the walker to gain a few more inches per stride. Olympic distances for racewalking are 20K and 50K. 20K is a half marathon and 50K is 32 miles. (If you think completing a 26 mile marathon is difficult, try power walking or racewalking for 32 miles). A few inches gained with each stride amounts to a lot of ground over those distances. If you’ve ever seen the label on a Johnny Walker ® rum bottle, you can get an idea about the second trick for speed.
I stumbled onto that, pun intended, one day while training and going down a slight incline. In order to keep my balance, and not stumble, I had to throw my legs, straight legged, out in front. I also found, in order to maintain that style and include the swivel hips, I had to be walking in the low eight minute miles or faster. In order for me to do that, I have to train with nothing else in mind, no family life, no fishing, nothing but hit the road walking every day, day after day and many miles after many miles. For me, life really is too short to spend it all at the office, no matter where your office might be. Swivel hipping in my opinion, and arguably, isn’t as fast overall
By adding wrist or hand weights when power walking, the walker can increase the workout. The primary objective for most power walkers is aerobics and by adding weight(s) the workout can become anaerobic. Or, the focus can be shifted from endurance to muscle mass accumulation or to lean muscle mass maintenance. Each of us is an experiment of one where determining what we want to accomplish is concerned, and how we can best achieve our goals.
If we want to reach our fitness goals, we may find it necessary to ignore other people’s comments and lack of knowledge. Most believe unless you’re running or doing aerobics at the gym, you’re really not interested in getting an aerobic workout and only fooling yourself. If they were to ignore their BS (belief system), not let peer pressure run their life and give either one a serious try, they’d have the opportunity to discover a whole new physical fitness regimen capable of taking them to new heights of lifelong health and wellness.
Larry R Miller was an alternate on a US Olympic racewalking team.