Yes, walking improves cardiovascular health, overall mortality, sleep quality, and more. But did you know that if you get really good at it, you can earn an Olympic gold medal? If you’re a racewalker, this is a definite possibility.
Racewalking is exactly what it sounds like: competitive walking at high speed. Sport has been an integral part of the Olympic Games since 1904. However, the sport has very strict rules of form and technique to distinguish it from running, says Robyn Stevens, a top racer who competed for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics.
“There are two [main] Rules, “says Stevens. One foot always has to be on the ground to start with. Second, you have to land every step on a straight leg.” It has to stay straight all the way until it gets under your hip, “she says. There are judges who can watch the races closely and impose penalties on the drivers – much like yellow and red cards in football, Stevens adds.
These rules require a very special form of walking. You step on with your legs straight, says Stevens, rolling from heel to toe. Once the leg is below your hip, lower your hip and bend your leg. It looks similar to merengue or waltz dancing, but accelerates when walking. (Here’s a step-by-step guide on what exactly it looks like.)
This step can take some getting used to, but with the right form you can go really quickly. Stevens says she’s running at about 7.17 mph or faster. (Now I can’t even run a mile that fast!) But even if her form and sport is a little different than most walkers, she still has a lot to offer when it comes to improving walking speed and technique. Read on for Stevens’ tips for improving your running game. And for more walking secrets, don’t miss out: New study reveals important side effect of walking more.
Obviously the average person isn’t going to want to go as fast as Stevens. But if you increase your pace with some walking exercise, you can burn more calories. Stevens says it helps using Fartleks – walking at a different pace – to help you get used to a higher speed. “Start with 100 meters [racewalking] and 100 meters [jogging or walking more slowly]“She says, repeating this for 20 to 40 minutes a day. Once this becomes comfortable, you can increase your speed or make yourself run (or walk) longer distances. Read More
Your glutes and calves are the main drivers for your walks, says Steven – so you should use special exercises to keep them strong. Box jumps are her favorite pastime. “Get on a box or a park bench,” she suggests. “Activate these gluteal muscles when you step on, contract these muscles. Do 15 of these on each side, four to five times. For more tricks to improve your walking form, don’t miss out: A walking defect that hurts your body, says the 76-year-old former Olympian.
Core strength is essential when walking – it supports your posture and allows you to activate the right muscles with every step. It’s also important for stability, Stevens adds, which is why she does a “ton” of core work in the gym. She relies on exercises like Supermans to keep her strong (here’s how to do it at home). Looking for other great core strengthening moves? Check Out: These Are The 5 Best Exercises To Tone Your Abs, Says Trainer.
Your arm swing is an important way to speed up your gait. Get stronger by grabbing a pair of light weights (like a pound, max) and swinging your arms back and forth like you’re standing in front of a mirror while standing still, suggests Stevens. “That builds the muscles between the shoulder blades, the strength in the swing and the muscles in the trunk,” she says. Read More
Stevens says that when she trained for the Olympics, she was doing about 5 miles of aerobic activity a day. She also did strength training and a second form of cardio, such as 40 minutes of cycling or swimming. To be clear, she doesn’t recommend that much exercise for a home athlete. But no matter who you are, mixing up your workouts is key to getting stronger and improving your walking performance. On non-running days, try weight training or other forms of cardio to challenge your muscles in new ways. And don’t miss: these 8-minute pre-breakfast workouts will help you get lean, says the trainer.