6 Racewalking Mistakes to Avoid

Don't Break the Rules or Waste Your Energy

Racewalking uses a very specific technique in order to be able to walk very fast while maintaining contact with the ground with at least one foot. Racewalkers are careful not to commit two mistakes that violate the rules and can be flagged by judges and lead to disqualification. But they also make mistakes that impair their performance. Here are the common mistakes, as provided by coach Judy Heller and Erofit & Associates.

Lifting - Racewalk Rule Violation

Racewalker Dane Bird-Smith is Lifting
Racewalker Dane Bird-Smith is Lifting. Michael Steele/Getty Images

It is one of the two basic rules of racewalking that one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times.  If a walker "lifts," or loses contact with the ground with both feet as judged by the naked eye, he/she may be disqualified by a judge during a racewalking competition. In this photo taken during the IAAF World Athletics Championships, you can see that both feet are off the ground. For this to be a lifting violation, it would have to be seen by the naked eye and not just the camera. The camera will often catch elite racewalkers with both feet off the ground.

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Bent Knee - Creeping - Racewalk Rule Violation

Racewalker Heather Lewis with Bent Knee
Racewalker Heather Lewis with Bent Knee. Tony Marshall/Getty Images

The straight leg rule is one of the two basic rules of racewalking. The leading (supporting) leg must have knee straight from the moment the leading foot touches the ground until it passes vertically under the body.  If you violate this rule as seen by the naked eye by a judge at a racewalk competition, you may be disqualified. In this photo, racewalker Heather Lewis breaks form as she wins the 5000 meter Walk in Birmingham, England. Her forward knee is still bent even though the foot has contacted the ground.

Ineffective Arm Motion

Woman Walking Solo - Fuse - Getty
High Hands. © Fuse/Getty Images

Racewalkers use powerful arm motion, which helps produce and counter the hip and leg motion. But they can also make several mistakes unless they spot and correct them. The hands should not cross the midpoint of the body on the forward arm swing, that is called crossing over. They also should not come up past your nipples, as you can see in the photo with the hand at the level of the throat. The elbows should be close to the body rather than rocking out side to side like you are rocking baby. The elbows come up in back so your hand is at a level as if reaching for your wallet in a back pocket. Without moving your arms back, you are swinging your arms only in front like windshield wipers.

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Walking with Straight Arms and Overstriding - Two Mistakes in One!. © Maxime Laurent / Photodisc / Getty

Overstriding, also called overstriking, is landing your leading foot too far in front of your body.  This is a common mistake that does not improve speed.  Walkers should concentrate on lengthening the stride in back of the body for a powerful push off, while landing the front foot closer to the body. This photo is a two-fer, the woman is using a poor straight-arm arm swing while also significantly overstriding. The space under her body shows the forward leg equally distant from her hips as her trailing leg. This gives less power to the back leg for the push off.

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Leaning Forward

Racewalking Sequence
Racewalking Sequence. Dorling Kindersley/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images

A slight forward lean used to be taught by racewalking coaches. This older illustration shows as slight forward lean at the waist. This technique proved to be ineffective and is no longer taught by racewalking coaches. Many walkers bent forward more than was recommended. In searching through photos of elite racewalking competitions, you won't find examples of forward lean, showing that it is no longer practiced.

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Leaning Back

Some racewalkers find themselves leaning back on their hips. A backward lean makes achieving a straight leg more difficult and slows the walker. Racewalkers must have a straight leg from the time the forward foot contacts the ground until it passes under the body. Don't lean back more than the vertical.

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