What is the difference between race walking and normal walking?

A person learns to walk at the very beginning of his life. Further, moving on foot becomes as natural as breathing. Have you ever wondered how you place your foot when you take your next step? Hardly. But someone wanted to move on foot at high speed, competing with rivals, and even according to special rules. According to history, the first similar case of a walking marathon was recorded in 1589 in England, where Sir Robert Carey went from London to Berwick. The term “race walking” appeared much later, when a separate Athletics Federation was formed at the end of the 19th century.

At first, only the British and Americans were engaged in this new sport. In the world, the sport took root much later. In Russia, the first amateur competitions were held on April 12, 1892 in St. Petersburg. Race walking became an Olympic sport with distances that still exist today in 1932. Although before that in 1904-1908 there were similar Olympic competitions with shorter distances of 1.5 and 3 km.

And now we will try to compare how we walk in ordinary life, and how athletes walk.

Comparison of normal and sports walking

First, normal walking. Taking a step, we absolutely do not control the movement, everything turns out automatically. But if you pay attention, then when we move our legs, we only slightly bend our knees. The foot comes off the ground a few centimeters and is placed on the heel with a slight roll to the toe. And some don’t even have a few centimeters of foot lift, only a dull shuffling gait or, even worse, a landing on a full foot.

The speed is also low, and we only speed up if we are late for something. And often this acceleration turns into jogging. At the same time, the knees do not bend much either. Only at the military command “on the spot march step” the knees rise up and the leg bends.

If you have ever seen athletes walk, then most likely this gait seemed strange to you. The roll of the foot from heel to toe is strongly pronounced, and the second leg seems to be unnaturally thrown forward. In this case, swaying of the pelvis and the entire body is observed. This is the first point in answering the question of how race walking differs from ordinary walking. As, however, from running too. Yes, the gait is strange, but those are the rules. It is this technique that is adopted in this sport.

About the competition rules

  • One foot must touch the ground. Both touch at the same time only briefly.
  • The forward leg should be fully extended. No slightest bend in the knee is allowed. Due to such an ejection of the leg forward, the step can increase up to 1 meter, and during normal walking – up to a maximum of 70 centimeters.
  • Arms bent at the elbows also move actively, as if running, as if helping to move forward.
  • The back is straight both at the start and during the movement along the route. Compare with running. There, the torso is always slightly tilted forward, and the start is taken from a deep slope with the legs bent at the knees.

Try to maintain such a step at least for a small segment of the path of 10-20 meters. It definitely won’t work the first time, and it’s unlikely that you will want to repeat such a mockery of the natural movements of the legs when walking. Now imagine what kind of willpower an athlete needs to have in order to withstand such a step at a distance of 20 or 35 kilometers. Women were spared a little here, leaving only a distance of 20 kilometers. Competitions are held not only in open areas, but also in stadiums. Distances of 5 km, 10 km and 20 km from laps of 400 or 200 meters. And at the same time, maintaining a high speed, it is necessary to bypass rivals. In normal walking, the speed is from 3-4 km / h to in rare cases 6 km / h. It turns out that we pass one kilometer in 15-20 minutes.

Experienced professional athletes can maintain a speed of 15-16 km / h for a long time.

  • 20 km race walking record : 1 km in 3 minutes 50 seconds – for men; and 4 minutes 14 seconds for women.
  • Record at a distance of 50 km : 4 minutes 15 seconds – men; and 4 minutes 47 seconds – women.

The last women’s record was set in 2019 in China, and since then it has been decided not to allow women to this distance.

Conclusion: the difference between sports walking and ordinary walking lies in the speed and special technique of movement. Despite the apparent ease, this sport is clearly not for the weak. Therefore, walking and running can be healthy, and walking is only for professionals. What other difficulties await someone who has seriously decided to take up this sport?

Difficulties in competition

Outdoor competitions rarely take place on a flat track. Usually, rugged terrain with lowlands and uphills is chosen. These are also difficult sections for an ordinary pedestrian, and with such a technique of movement it is difficult not to break into a run when descending or at some point not to straighten the forward leg on the ascent. And then you immediately get not even a chance and a warning, but a 100% failure and instant removal from the competition. Why?

Judging in race walking is considered subjective. The competition is watched by 7-9 judges, depending on the length and complexity of the track. All of them are dispersed along the distance and it turns out that only one person watches the athletes on a certain section of the route. 

Well, if the remark is true, but if not, then it is impossible to prove the truth. There are no other judges nearby. There has been information about the development of special insoles with chips that automatically fix the contact of the foot with the ground, but whether they are practiced is not yet known for sure. And this chip will not be able to fix a bent knee. Therefore, everything is in the hands of the judging team and their visual perception.

Warnings are issued by yellow cards, on which a wavy line is drawn (no foot touching the ground) or an angle of two lines (leg bent at the knee). All warnings are sent to the Chief Referee. Three yellow marks and the athlete can be disqualified even after crossing the finish line.

Equipment of athletes

Despite all the difficulties in sports, the number of amateurs and professionals is not decreasing. Perhaps you, doing wellness practices, decide that ordinary walking is too easy, and decide to switch to sports. Then we’ll check the equipment. Is everything in your wardrobe?

  • Shoes . In sneakers with a hard sole, the technique will immediately fail. Only with a flexible sole can you make a classic roll of the foot from heel to toe. There is no ground impact here, so sneakers with soft soles are also suitable.
  • A summer set of T-shirt shorts for sunny weather, or light sweatpants and a T-shirt for cooler weather. In autumn and spring, a windproof jacket is a must. Speeds of more than 10 km / h cannot be achieved after a month or two of training. Therefore, warming in the form of a thin sweater under the jacket will not hurt. And it is better to buy a sports jacket and pants made of membrane fabric. This is a three-in-one option: protection from wind, moisture, low temperatures.
    • Hats and gloves are also a must. Professional athletes can afford to train in a light headband, but beginners need equipment for the weather.

    A few more recommendations in addition to equipment. The two main questions to ask about race walking are:

    • Can you lose weight by walking? The answer may not be the same for everyone. Any regular exercise helps to lose a few pounds. Many muscles are involved in walking. But the scales do not always reflect the result that you want. Physical activity burns fat accumulation, but strengthens and builds muscles. Therefore, the result may be less than expected.
    • Are there health restrictions? As with any sport, physical activity will increase. Therefore, consultation with the attending physician is undoubtedly necessary. Only he knows the state of your body well and will be able to determine the allowable load. A gradual increase in the duration of training in any case will give a positive effect. 

    Actively working leg muscles will help reduce venous blood stasis. When the joints work, blood begins to flow to their cartilaginous connective tissue. Improving mobility will definitely be not only in the knee, but also in the ankle joint. And the active movements of the arms bent at the elbows improve blood circulation.

    When walking, there is no shock load on the spine, which is obtained at the moment of landing of the legs while running. Therefore, even for a problematic spine, there will be no harm.


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