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Copyright 2012
Club Northwest




1.   Fitness walkers


A group photo of walkers of all ages after one of our races.

You’re a fitness walker or want to be one. You walk to keep fit, even walking in road races possibly as far as marathons, but the word competition doesn’t get your juices flowing. You want an activity, not a sport.

Racewalking can help. There are two rules in racewalking; one foot on the ground at all times, and the knee must straighten when you land on the heel of the foot striding in front of you, and remain straight until the upright position under your body. Because racewalking developed under these two rules, it is the most efficient, fastest way to walk. Even if you only use just most of this form, your walking speed will increase, because racewalking emphasizes shorter steps and a rolling, heel to toe, motion that helps you walk faster.

Powerwalking, hiking, and normal walking, all emphasize a long stride and long arm movements. In racewalking, you emphasize a quick rhythm with your feet and the arms bent approximately 90 degrees at the elbow (an L shape), while leaning into the walk from the ankle of each trailing foot. This helps raise your heart rate and get a better workout effect as you can walk much faster.

Walking and weight loss.

There are controversies about walking and weight loss. The main issue is that it’s still a moderate effort, slower paced activity, compared to running, or something like singles tennis or basketball. Walking burns about 100 calories a mile for the average sized person. If you are walking 12 minutes a mile, very doable with racewalk form, that’s still only 2.5 miles in a half hour. If you then eat a power bar or have a cappuccino, the calorie burning is negated. Weight loss only works if you eat whatever you do today for weight maintenance, and then add the exercise. It’s best to do some exercise activity daily for a weight loss focus. Adding some weight training, for example, rowing, free weights, core work like situps, etc, is needed to convert fat to muscle. Walking does burn some calories, but won’t reshape your body. So, you basically need exercise and to watch your diet. Racewalking employs 30 percent more muscles than running, due to the vigorous upper body activity.

I’m currently doing about 40 miles a week of aerobic activity, mainly racewalking, but a little elliptical and Nordic track when I’m indoors. This means I’m burning about 4,000 calories a week through exercise. Unless I do an intense day, where there might be a lingering calorie burning effect, that’s it. (Interval training, or hard efforts for short periods, are recommended to get this intensity.) If my goal was weight loss, that’s basically a pound a week. Losing faster doesn’t really work as it’s just water weight. The body has an ability to only lose about 2.5 pounds a week of real weight, and even this is difficult. Slow and steady is the best method.

If your goal is weight loss, and you burn the 4,000 calories or 2,000 calories via exercise, you’ll need to increase your eating less than that. Exercise does nee3d fuel so you will need to eat a little more when exercising heavily. And yes, you will feel hungry at times. For motivation, think of those who feel that way all the time, a big percentage of the world’s population!

So, when you go out for a longer walk, don’t load yourself down with bottles of energy drinks and gels and bars. You want access to these just in case, but your body, at a point about an hour into a longer walk, resorts to fat burning, the “second wind” feeling, and this is where a great benefit comes in. I used to do 5 hours walks to prepare for long races, and wouldn’t carry anything but some money. About halfway through I’d pop into a Seven Eleven and buy a root beer and a chocolate chip cookie, about 500 calories, and continue on my way. That’s the upside and downside of walking. If I tried to do this while running, I’d probably throw that cookie up a mile later, but walking you don’t get the bouncing action that affects the stomach so it’s like biking, you can eat without that penalty. But that doesn’t mean to eat the 100 calories for every mile you do. Let the body burn some fat and eat some extra before and after but remember, it’s the deficit that counts in weight loss.

The other good news about racewalking, is that you don’t need to be as lean as a Kenyan marathoner to be successful in walking fast. Because you are not lifting your body off the ground like in running, you can carry more weight, hopefully most is extra muscle, than runners can. You can also improve your speed in two ways; becoming fitter, and developing better technique.

A downside in racewalking is it looks a little funny as there is a hip wiggle involved and there are not many folks out there doing it. So, having a partner or friend who walks with you helps. Once you get the form down decently, and are gliding along, you’ll get the raised eyebrows of spectators who are thinking, “Wow, that’s some fast walking.”  (return to home page)