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BENEFITS OF RACE WALKING

Are You a Baby Boomer?   
Olympic-Style Race Walking Is the Highly Aerobic, Low-Impact Exercise You’ve Been Looking For

By Brent Bohlen

Mike Mulvany - A baby boomer who found athletics later in life.I wrote BoomerWalk because I knew what Olympic-style race walking had done for me and I wanted my fellow baby boomers to also enjoy those benefits.  After witnessing what this exercise has done for dozens of others, I’m more convinced than ever that race walking could explode in popularity and bring a level of fitness to our aging cohort that few could imagine.

Race walking can be just as aerobic as running.  I’m 62.  I haven’t run in years.  But my resting heart rate, a measure of fitness, is 48 beats per minute.  I could never have gotten into this kind of shape by running because my bad knees cannot take the pounding.  But while race walking I have trained for and completed a marathon and many half marathons with no pain in my knees.

Couch Potato or Athlete?  Race walking is good for both.

Over the past few years I’ve trained more than 100 baby boomers in the Springfield, Ill., area in the technique of Olympic-style race walking.  Many had lived sedentary life styles and decided to finally get up and get active.  Others were life-long athletes whose bodies could no longer take the pounding of running or other high-impact sports.  Race walking offers benefits to the full spectrum from couch potatoes to athletes.

Mike Mulvany is a great example of one of the local race walkers who came from the inactive end of the range.  He was sedentary and over weight and had never, ever considered himself an athlete.  He decided to change his life.  He adjusted his eating habits and then a few months later began to race walk.  The pounds melted from his frame – and eventually Mike was 75 pounds lighter than when he began to change his life.  Within a year or so this so-called non athlete was race walking half marathons.

Jim Scott - Competitive athlete turned race walkerJim Scott comes from the other end of the spectrum.  He was a two-sport athlete in college and has an unquenchable competitive spirit.  Unfortunately, a bad knee prevents him from running or participating in many sports.  At about age 50 Jim began to race walk.  He looked for race walking competitions where he could test himself against others his age.  In spite of a demanding work schedule, Jim found the time to train hard and increase the efficiency of his race walking technique.  In 2012 Jim won three gold medals in the 50-54 age group in national USA Track & Field masters competitions.

Fun or a Challenge?  Race walking is both.
Race walking is a pleasant activity to enjoy outdoors whether you do it alone or with others.  Some of the local race walkers formed a club and now get together for social events both on and off the walking path.  It’s an eclectic group, most of whom would not have met any of the others but for race walking.  We dress appropriately and enjoy our sport in all seasons of the year.

Race walking also is a challenge.  In half an hour you can learn the basics of the race walking technique and start enjoying its benefits.  But you can spend a lifetime perfecting the technique and making yourself as efficient a race walker as possible.  Most baby boomer race walkers challenge themselves to train for long distances.  Although they might not have thought it possible when they first started, the majority of our club members have race walked half marathons.  Several have done full marathons.  If you really want a challenge, judged race walking competitions are available.

Power Walking or Race Walking?  Race walking is unique.
 Race walking has been an Olympic sport for more than 100 years.  I hope I’m not offending power walkers out there, but as far as I know power walking is just walking forcefully – there are no rules.  Race walking has a precise, two-part definition.

The first part of the definition is that it must appear to the naked eye that the race walker never loses contact with the ground, i.e. there cannot be a visible “in flight” period where an observer could tell that both feet are off the ground.  That part of the definition is not difficult for new race walkers.  I still spend too much time in the “double-support phase” where both feet are in contact with the ground.

The second part of the definition is an initial challenge to new race walkers.  When the heel of the lead leg touches the ground in front of the race walker, the leg must be totally straightened at the knee and the leg must remain straightened at least until the race walker’s body has moved forward to the point where the leg is vertical under the body.  THIS WILL SEEM AWKWARD AT FIRST.  But trust me, with practice it becomes smoother and begins to feel like a natural gait.  I’m certain that some people try in once or twice and give up because it feels awkward.  Please stick with it for a while.  You’ll be glad you did.

In official race walking competitions certified judges observe the participants during a race.  If three officials give a walker a “red card” for violating a part of the definition of race walking, the walker is disqualified from the race.  Most of the baby boomer race walkers I know seldom, if ever, enter judged races.  They just race walk for the exercise and camaraderie and occasionally enter walker-friendly 5k and half marathon running races.

Brent Bohlen - Author of BoomerWalkOn Your Own or with a Teacher?  Race walking can be learned either way.
Supposedly it takes 10,000 repetitions of an activity for one’s muscle memory to get trained in that specific movement.  It would be great if you have access to an experienced race walker to teach you the fundamentals of the race walking technique and monitor your effort so that your muscle memory gets the technique right the first time.  That isn’t always possible.

If you have a training partner who also is new to race walking, you can help one another with the technique.  Although it’s fun to walk together and chat, on occasion stand off to the side and observe each other as he or she race walks past and compare the person’s technique to photos of the technique you have seen in books or online.  Check to see that the knee is properly straightened, that posture and arm swing are appropriate, and that hip rotation and foot placement are correct.

Even if you have an experienced race walker to teach you, I think it is very important is to periodically – and especially early on – have someone stand off to the side of you with a digital camera take lots and lots of photos of as you race walk past.  By taking lots of photos you will get some at critical points in the stride to compare them with the proper race walking technique.  Since they are digital pictures, it doesn’t cost you anything to look at them on the back of the camera or on a computer.  Every time I see photos of myself race walking I see things about my technique that I can improve.  Having someone tell me something is one thing, but seeing it with my own eyes makes me a believer.

Here’s a final tip for your early race walking education.  Don’t learn to race walk while on a treadmill.  Once you learn the race walking technique on the ground you can begin to race walk on a treadmill.  I spent a lot of my early time on a treadmill, and I think I picked up a couple of bad habits specifically because of that experience.

To Race Walk or Not to Race Walk?  Race walking can change your life.
If you are ready to add something new to your life that can be fun, challenging and filled with health benefits, consider Olympic-style race walking.  Before you start make up your mind to give it a serious effort.  If you are only willing to try it once or twice for a few minutes each time, you will not succeed.  It will be awkward at first, I guarantee you that.  But with time and practice it will become smoother.  Look at photos and watch videos of race walkers and incorporate those images into your mind’s view of your own attempts at race walking.  Give it an honest effort and you’ll be amazed at the benefits you’ll get in return.  Before you know it you’ll be race walking your first half marathon.

Learn more about baby boomer race walking by ordering BoomerWalk today!

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