If you're bored with basic walking, race walking is an effective way to rev up your heart rate and add a new challenge. The brisk arm pumping gives your upper body a rigorous workout and tones your arms.
Spending just 30 minutes race walking at speeds of at least 5 mph, a 145-pound woman can burn about 220 calories—more than she would walking or even jogging at the same pace shows a Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness study.What's more, without the pavement pounding inherent in running, race walking puts less pressure on your knees and hip joints. Here's how you can step up your stride.
Race Walking 101
Named a women's Olympic sport in 1992, race walking differs from running and powerwalking with its two tricky technique rules. The first: You must be in contact with the ground at all times. This means that only when the front foot's heel touches down can the back foot's toe lift off.
Secondly, the knee of the supporting leg must remain straight from the time it hits the ground until it passes under the torso. The former keeps your body from lifting off the ground, as it would while running; the latter keeps the body from getting into bent-knee running stance.
You get more of an aerobic workout with race walking than with standard walking. That's because you're vigorously pushing your arms, low and close to your swiveling hips, while making small, quick strides.
A beginner first trying out the moves may appear to be doing an ungainly chicken-dance-in-motion. But top form (short steps, straight back, arms bent and swinging by hips) looks synchronized and fluid. "I compare it to ballroom dancing," says Stella Cashman, founder of New York City-based Park Racewalkers. "As your waist rotates, your body elegantly glides."
Focus on nailing the technique before upping the speed so you can avoid injuries. "Don't rush to push the pace too soon to prevent pulling your hamstrings and other leg muscles," says Cashman. "After you've covered a lot of distance and built muscle then you can go faster."
When you're doing 3-4 race-walking sessions a week, one of which is an hour long, you should be ready for speed work, she says. Joining a club can help you structure your training and fine-tune your moves under the guidance of experienced striders. Go to Racewalk.com to find one near you. You'll find stellar drills there, too!
Finding the right shoes is an essential part of avoiding injuries and increasing speed. "Before buying race-walking shoes, know what type of arch you have—high, neutral or flat," says Dr. Elizabeth Kurtz, a podiatrist with the American Podiatric Medical Association. "That determines how much cushioning you need. Because race walking involves forward motion, not side to side like you see in basketball, the shoe should support the longitudinal arch which runs along the inside of the foot from toes to heel."
Look for a racing flat, a thinner-soled running shoe designed for racing, or a run-walk shoe, says SHAPE's Athletic Footwear Editor, Sarah Bowen Shea. "You'll want lightweight shoes, that won't weigh you down, with flexible soles that allow your foot to roll through each stride without impediment." Test out Bowen Shea's top three picks and see which works best for you:
Saucony Grid Instep RT (Fitting for beginners)
Brooks Racer ST 3 (Offering a bit more support)
RW Cushion KFS (Reebok's run-walk hybrid)