The Difference Between Fast Walking, Racewalking, and Power Walking

Woman speedwalking in a grassy area

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Speed walking is the general term for fast walking or walking at a pace of a 15-minute mile or faster. Within the speed-walking category are a variety of fast-walking styles and techniques, including power walking and Olympic-style race walking, where walkers can go as fast as a 6-minute mile.

There are many benefits of speed walking, including improved cardiovascular health, a higher calorie burn, and the ability to cover more ground in less time. If this sounds like a good fit for you, read on to explore the different types of speed walking and what you need to know to get started.

Fast Walking

Fast walking is the most common type of speed walking. Before focusing on increasing your speed, it's important to learn about proper fast-walking mechanics.

Walkers can build speed by using good walking posture, appropriate arm motions, and making other simple changes to their walk. In fact, these small tweaks can help you quickly improve your speed by 0.5 mph to 1 mph and shave 2 to 4 minutes off of your mile.

The trick is to use a good stride, where you roll through each step from heel to toe and get a good push-off from the trailing foot. This requires that you eliminate overstriding, a common mistake for people who are trying to walk faster.

Wearing the right shoes is another essential part of speed walking. Sneakers should be flat, flexible, and lightweight in order to build speed and use the proper foot motion. It also helps to wear comfortable athletic apparel for ease of movement.

Olympic-Style Racewalking

Olympic-style racewalking is a track-and-field sport that has been part of the Olympic Games since 1906. It is a serious distance sport with 20-kilometer courses for men and women, and 50-kilometer courses for men. Racers can keep a pace of a mile in 6 minutes or under.

Racewalking uses a specific technique that is subject to rules and judging at competitions. The knee is kept straight and unbent from the time the forward foot hits the ground until it passes underneath the body. One foot is in contact with the ground at all times, and racewalkers use arm motion to enhance their speed. The technique results in a distinctive rolling-hip action.

Racewalking is not a natural motion and many people find it is best to learn from an in-person coach who can provide guidance and feedback.

Power Walking

Power walking is a general technique of fast walking that does not adhere to the formal racewalking style but still uses arm motion for speed. Before you give power walking a try, learn the proper fast-walking arm motion to avoid using sloppy, exaggerated moves that will wear you out without shaving time off of your mile.

Some power walkers use hand weights in an attempt to burn more calories or build upper-body strength. However, physical therapists warn this can cause strain on the neck, shoulder, elbow, and wrist. You should also avoid using ankle weights or specially designed weighted shoes, which can increase your risk of strain and injury. Experts advise saving the weights for a separate strength-training workout.

How to Prevent Common Speed-Walking Injuries

To safeguard against injuries and improve your workout, always start with a 5-minute warm-up at an easy pace, then do some gentle stretches before starting the fast portion of your walk. You should also stretch out after your workout to avoid excessive soreness and injuries.

When you first add speed-walking techniques to your routine, slowly work your way into it by alternating between a few minutes of fast walking and a few minutes of a gentler walking style. Gradually increase speed-walking intervals to build stamina and prevent injuries, such as muscle soreness or shin-splint pain.

Shin Splints

Shin splints are a painful inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue believed to be caused by repetitive stress and overuse. If you experience shin splints, you will feel a sharp pain or dull ache on your lower leg bone (the tibia) while speed walking. The pain is typically located in the front of the leg (shin), but may also occur in the back (calf), inside, or outside of the lower leg. There may also be slight swelling at the inside of the lower leg, between the knee and the ankle.

Is It Shin Splints?

Pain from shin splints typically stops when you stop moving. It can be caused by overstriding, footwear that is old or not supportive, or your foot's arch being rigid or flat.

To treat shin splints, you should rest the injury, apply ice, take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication (an NSAID), and wrap the calf in an elastic bandage or compression sock.

If you suspect shin splints, but the pain continues after a few minutes of inactivity or does not improve with rest, consult your healthcare provider. It could be a sign or a more serious injury, such as a stress fracture.

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