How to Racewalk Like an Olympian

Olympic racewalking technique is a very specific type of walking. Unlike running or regular walking, it is not a natural style of body movement and you will need to learn the technique. Here are the basics of the style from racewalking coach Judy Heller so you can get started on the right foot.

In addition to reading these lessons and watching videos, consult with a coach or attend a racewalking clinic to make sure you are doing the technique correctly. Poor technique will mean less speed and efficiency. Racewalking is relatively injury-free, but when done incorrectly, it may cause muscle aches, strains, or back pain, as indicated in this lesson. You can search for a racewalk coach via LinkedIn.

The information provided is intended to help you enhance your overall health and well-being. Consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program or with any question or concerns you may have with regard to your medical condition.


Preparing to Learn to Racewalk

Race walking at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images Sport

Begin each practice session with a warm-up of five to 10 minutes of easy walking. As racewalking will target different muscles from regular walking, you may want to do five to 10 minutes of stretching and flexibility drills once you are warmed up.

End your workout with a five-minute cool down of easy walking and again five to 10 minutes of gentle stretching.


Racewalking Technique: Head and Posture

Racewalking Sequence
Racewalking Sequence. Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images
  • Head level, eyes looking approximately 20 yards in front of the body.
  • Relax and avoid tension in your neck. Your jaw should also remain relaxed.

Racewalking Technique: Arms

Racewalking Arm Motion
ERO-Fit and Associates
  • Arms should be bent 85 to 90 degrees at the elbows—at all times.
  • Swing your arms loosely and vigorously, pivoting from the shoulders.
  • Keep your hands close to your body, with the heel of the hand brushing by the hip bone.
  • Your hands should not cross the vertical midline of your body or go above chest height.
  • At the completion of the forward swing, your upper arm should be parallel with your torso. In the forward swing, your hands are not driven upward.
  • During the backswing, imagine you are reaching for a cell phone in your hip pocket. Avoid extending the arm past your current range of motion—this can lead to bent over posture and restricted breathing.
  • Keep your hands relaxed—a loosely clenched fist with the thumb on top is the most effective technique.
  • Proper arm action is very important in achieving and maintaining a powerful torso and leg technique, resulting in a faster, controlled pace.

Racewalking Technique: Torso

Racewalking Posture
ERO-Fit and Associates
  • Keep your body posture relaxed and straight. In other words, walk tall.
  • Avoid leaning too far forward or sitting back. This can result in a loss of power.
  • Keep your abdominal muscles firm to maintain neutral lower back curvature. Over-tightening of the abdominals can cause lower back discomfort. Over-relaxation of the abdominals can case sway back.
  • The shoulders must remain relaxed. Avoid hiking up your shoulders toward your ears, as this will cause tension in your neck and shoulder area.

Racewalking Technique: Feet

Racewalking Foot Action
ERO-Fit and Associates
  • One foot must constantly be in contact with the ground. The lead foot must make contact before the rear foot loses contact.
  • Landing too far forward of the torso is over-striding and an inefficient technique that will slow the pace, cause "soft knee," and possibly lead to an injury of the iliopsoas (groin) and popliteal (behind the knee) muscles. On uphill terrain, the hamstrings and gluteal muscles can be injured by over-striding.
  • Land on your heel, ankle flexed within your range of motion. Roll straight forward through the center of the forefoot and off the end of the toes. Be sure not to lift the toes when flexing the ankle—this can stress the tendons at the top of the ankle.
  • As the advancing foot has rolled off the toes, keep the ankle relaxed and the toes pointed towards the ground until past the supporting leg, at which time the ankle will begin to flex in preparation for the heel plant.
  • Anterior tibialis (shin) tightness, burning, or soreness (shin splints) may occur in the beginning, so take it easy until these muscles become conditioned.

Racewalking Technique: Hips

Racewalking Hip Action
Ero-Fit and Associates
  • Flex (rotate) pelvis forward and back horizontally. The action is similar to the "Twist" dance of the early 1960s.
  • The oblique (side abdominal) muscles are the primary flexors for this action.
  • Avoid excessive lateral (side to side) hip motion as this can lead to an injury to the gluteus medius and minimus (side of hip) muscles.
  • Driving the knees forward and towards the centerline of the body will help bring the pelvis around. Flex (rotate) pelvis forward and back horizontally.

Racewalking Technique: Legs and Stride

Racewalking Leg Action
ERO-Fit and Associates
  • The knee of the advancing leg must be straightened when the advancing foot makes contact with the ground.
  • Bring the knee through low when the advancing leg swings forward.
  • Move legs slowly at first, then gradually increase leg speed (cadence).
  • The proper way to achieve a faster pace is to increase leg speed, not overstriding. Maintain the natural stride length for your body and increase the number of strides per minute. Gradually work towards achieving 160 steps per minute. Over time, you may reach 180 to 200 steps per minute. However, your stride length may shorten initially as the cadence is increased.

Learn the Rules of Racewalking

20 Kilometer Race Walk - 2012 London Olympic Games
20 Kilometer Race Walk - 2012 London Olympic Games. Getty Images Sports / Jeff J. Mitchell

Now that you have the basics of the technique, you will need to follow two rules if you are going to be officially racewalking:

  • One foot must be on the ground at all times. If a judge can see that both are off the ground, you get a lifting violation.
  • Your knee must be straight from the time the leading foot touches the ground until it passes vertically under the body. If a judge sees a bent knee, the walker is disqualified.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.