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WHAT IS RACE WALKING? STRAIGHTENING THE LEG

Straightened Knee - Race Walking TechniqueWhen we look to the other side of the definition, the straighten knee portion, note it obviously doesn't mean that you should have both knees straightened all of the time. You can't possibly walk like this unless you are the Frankenstein monster.  

The two race walkers shown now are both masters walkers. The gentlemen is actually someone I've coached since he was in his mid 60's. He's Jack Starr many time National and World age group record holder.  He did his first marathon in 4:52 at the age of 72. What's really impressive is he didn't start race walking until he was in his sixties. He straightens his leg perfectly. So age is not an issue when it comes to whether or not you can straighten your leg. It's about a balance of flexibility and strength.  Still he gets some calls. Look at his knee. It's knobby. Some judges will see that and incorrectly give him a call for not straightening his knee. Obviously it's easy to judge looking at a still photograph. However a judge has only three seconds to make a decision. This is why I do not want to be a judge.

This is the portion of the definition that is most difficult for beginners to do correctly. However it is usually because they are trying to walk too quickly for their strength and flexibility. You'll often hear older walkers say they can't do it, they aren't flexible enough. Well almost ever distance athlete I know isn't flexible enough. But if you do your exercises and drills, you'll eventually become more flexible.

The same holds true for me. If I try to race walk as fast as I physically can, I will bend my knee. If instead, I walk at a pace that is within my technique then I race walk with completely legal technique. My issue is that while I remain fit, I haven't been religiously doing the workouts to keep my knees strong and my legs and hips flexible enough to maintain race walking technique at high speeds.

Some people ask if you are supposed to lock your knee. The word "lock" to me is a very forceful word often associated with slamming your knee back and having it hyperextend. You do not have to hyperextend, although some race walkers do. If you naturally hyperextend, then it is ok to do so, but don't try to hyperextend unnaturally.

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Learn more about race walking from Jeff Salvage's groundbreak book and DVD set Race Walk Like a Champion. You can order it in our online store.

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