By John Stanton
Founder of the Running Room/Walking Room
The Foot Plant
Our feet and gate are a gift from our parents so remember there are some things you can control and some you cannot. First, let your shoe professional at the Walking Room fit you with a couple of pairs of shoes which are right for you specifically. Now, start walking and having fun.
In a normal stride, the sequence of actions is as follows. The foot lands marginally on outside of the heel before the rest of the sole, rolling naturally forward before giving a final push with the ball of the foot. The first part of the stride tends to be slightly on the outside of the foot, with a roll inwards towards the end of the stride. This action is called pronation
Your personal stride is the result of your shape, your physique and the strength and balance of your muscles, much genetic, passed on from your parents. For some of us, with athletic parents, this is a blessing, for o the rs whose parents were card players and movie fans we must work a little harder but the results will be worth the effort. Please don’t try to change your foot plant as you train: you will be not walking naturally and you are very likely to sustain an Injury. Changes to your gait only happen as a result of longer term changes elsewhere.
As you gain fitness and strength, you may well notice that many irregularities resolve the mselves. Modern training shoes are designed to accommodate biomechanical variances in the walker’s feet. Often, the problem you thought you had will turn out to be not so much of a problem after all. But if you really do have a problem which continues to affect your activity, you may have to seek the advice of a the rapist, physician or coach to assess and deal with your particular situation. They should be part of your success team.
Stride Rate, not Stride Length
Studies show as walkers get faster, their stride length actually decreases, but the stride rate, called turnover rate, increases. Too long a stride results in three problems.
First to note in an athletically efficient gait is that the foot is already moving backwards when it hits the ground. When our foot is stuck out in front of us, we slow down the forward momentum.
Secondly, with too long a stride, we land at a point ahead of the body’s centre of mass. It’s like putting on a brake; we have to wait until our foot is directly under the body before we start pushing forward again. Shorten the stride and we land more under our body and our momentum carries us forward.
Thirdly, extra time in the air is largely wasted: when our feet aren’t on the ground, they’re not driving us forward. Unless you are naturally endowed with a long stride, which are already efficient, improvements in your own personal efficiency are likely to come first from shortening your stride. Lengthening your stride naturally is a long-term process of increased fitness and muscle strengthening.
Over striding, the muscles work harder than they need to. They will tighten up and tire before your walk is done. The fatigue will make you soon revert to your natural stride length anyway.
Practice your technique
Once or twice a week, a little technique work is really helpful. After your warm-up, walk some accelerations of 50 – 150m. Pick one of the elements of good form and feel yourself executing it well during the acceleration. Rehearse each element at least four times, and keep to one or two elements at most in each session. A change in technique may feel a little awkward at first, but as your coordination and skill improves, it feels good. We are designed to walk fast.
You can also follow the lead of athletes in events like sprinting and hurdling where effective technique is a vitally important ingredient of their success. The warm-up is actually designed so that their technique or skill is rehearsed every time they prepare for training or competition.
Your warm-up already consists of a period of walking and stretching. Build in some technique and form accelerations. Your motor skills improve the most by focusing on one point of technique for a short period of time and then repeating it several times.
In technique and form work, the short periods are the key. When you’re moving your body in a new way, your brain literally gets tired, and quite quickly! You’ll feel it happen; there will be a noticeable loss in your coordination. It’s temporary; the short break between accelerations will give you the recovery you need. Keep the high quality session short to maintain form and coordination; after all you only want to practice good form not bad form.
The Basics of Athletic Walking Technique
Race pace walking is the fastest of walking: everything is designed for speed. There is a clear transition from regular walking to race pace walking which replaces the leisurely, low effort aspects of walking are replaced with dynamic, highly efficient actions. These result in trained athletes being able to reach speeds of over 15 kph while observing the rules of race walking.
Feet, Ankles and Knees
Feet are placed directly in front of each o the r in an attempt to progress in as straight a line as possible. Any slight outward turn of the foot loses a couple of centimetres on each stride. The ankle and knee flexion of regular walking replaces the jaunty bounce of a purposeful stroll and is done with a much greater degree of control provided by the strong contractions of the leg muscles.
Perhaps one of the most unique and recognizable actions of Race Walking are the hips move forward and down not side to side. They are driven, and appear to wiggle. The motions accomplish the following:
- The forward motion increases the length of each stride without any side to side lateral motion which slows the stride rate. Race Walkers use the hip to carry the whole body into an advantageous position to begin the next drive. The advancing foot strikes the ground almost directly below the centre of mass. More importantly, the foot is already moving backwards. Without the hip action, the foot lands ahead of the centre of mass resulting in the braking action which has to be overcome before the next drive phase.
- The dropping of each hip provides the action which is often misinterpreted as a wiggle. The hip opposite to the locked supporting leg drops. This allows the body’s centre of mass to move forward without the need to rise up over the straight supporting leg. The whole body moves forward more smoothly with wasted motion avoided.
Although the hip action is a distinctive feature of Race Walking, it does not define it. Even the best walkers vary greatly in hip mobility and use. Effective hip action certainly leng the ns and flattens the stride. But if attempting a classic hip movement slows your rhythm, don’t worry. Fast, efficient rhythm is more important than a slower technique, however classic. In any event, the modification of hip action will be a longer term project improving with practice.
The arms are bent at the elbow for the walker, creating this shorter lever, creates faster movement. The arm action is dynamic, for middle distance walking, and helps to provide a fast turnover rate.
The arm swing should be forward and back, with lateral motion reduced as much as possible. Upward movement at the end of the forward arm swing should also be avoided, as the effect is to lift the body, good for a high jumper but not a race walker.
So the race walking action is the exception to the elbow at 90 degrees rule on the arms. Race Walkers want to go in the shortest and straightest line possible from start to finish. The key is to keep the forearm as parallel to the ground as reasonably possible. This will mean that the elbow angle opens a little when the arm is in front of the body and closes a little when it is behind. Imagine that your arms work like a piston to drive you forward.
The arms do not actually drive you forward, but the rhythm of the ir action does reflect the stride rhythm. So you can use your arm action as a cue to remind your legs of the rate of turn over. The legs will try a match a short and quick arm action. Use your body’s lateral mid-line as a guide. Don’t take your hand behind the mid-line as the arm moves back and don’t take the elbow in front of the mid-line as the arm drives forward.
Fatigue caused by the dynamic motion, may result in hunched shoulders, pulling the arm carriage up high. This is inefficient, and also has the effect of raising the centre of mass and contributing to lifting. The hands should be low enough to almost brush the shorts on each swing. This low arm carriage is achieved by keeping the shoulders relaxed. Newton ’s law is also engaged with every action is a reaction the arms drive back you legs drive forward.
Overall Body Position
The body should be upright. The tendency to lean forward has three significant effects. First, the re is a considerable loss of the power generated by the arms. Second, stride length is reduced. Third, lifting may occur as the rear foot is pulled prematurely off the ground.
Forward lean is often a result of fatigue. A backward lean is less common and is likely called by a weakness or imbalance in the postural muscles. Correction is the refore longer term, but attention is warranted because of the undoubted loss of a portion of the drive phase.
The ability to maintain rhythm is the key to race walking success. Muscular endurance through regular training at a target rhythm is a the me which runs through our training program. The o the r components of stamina, strength and speed are all linked toge the r and defined by the ability to maintain rhythm for the appropriate race distance. We’ll deal with this important idea in the sections for more advanced walkers.
Walking Form Checklist
Posture1. Is your posture erect?
- Walk tall—shoulders and chest open. Have your head level and look forward, not down. Glance down to monitor your step but keep your chin up.
- Relax your neck, back and shoulders.
Chest and Hips
2. Is your chest open? Are your hips moving forward?
- Chest out—shoulders back, we’ve all heard that in relation to soldiers marching, well it applies to walkers as well. Pull back your shoulders and open the chest for improved posture. Dropping your shoulders closes off the chest, restricts your breathing and limits arm motion.
- Hips move forward and do not wiggle side to side.
Arm action and position
3. Are your arms loose at your side or at 90 degree angles?
- Bend your elbows at right angles so you can swing your arms faster—faster arm motion allows for faster walking.
- Swing your arms from shoulder and keep your elbows close to your body. Allow your hands to come to the centerline of your body, but not to cross it in front.
- Cup your hands lightly to avoid clenching your fists.
Foot strike and push off
4. Do you feel your foot roll smoothly from heel to toe?
- As you step forward lift your toes and plant the heel of your lead foot.
- Roll through the entire foot and push off with your toes, lifting your heel high. Feel your foot roll smoothly from heel to toe.
- Avoid over striding and bouncing. Walking is all forward motion.
- Count your stride rate—as a general rule walking faster requires faster steps. We have provided a basic guideline to follow that allows you to compare your steps per minute to approximate speed, pace and effort
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