How to Race Walk: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

How to Race Walk: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Race walking may look unusual to the untrained eye, but it’s a legitimate Olympic sport that requires skill, endurance, and proper technique.

As a low-impact activity, race walking is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise and an inclusive sport that anyone can try regardless of age or athletic background.

If you’re new to race walking, have no fear! In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn proper race-walking technique, common mistakes to avoid, how to train for race walking events, gear recommendations, and additional resources to help you excel.

Let’s lace up our shoes and get moving!

Introduction to Race Walking

Race walking is a challenging athletic event in which competitors must walk as fast as possible under strict rules.

The unusual gait and technique separate serious race walkers from casual strollers.

The sport has been contested at the Summer Olympics since 1908 for men and 1992 for women.

Standard race-walking distances range from 3000m up to 20km or 50km on the road.

Elite race walkers can average sub-7-minute miles for 20km!

Unlike regular walking, race walking requires scrupulous posture and distinctive hip rotation to achieve an efficient stride length.

Officials closely monitor that each race walker’s foot remains in contact with the ground at all times, with no visible loss of contact.

Disqualification will result from runners who appear to be running rather than walking.

While observing proper form is paramount, race walking also requires incredible muscular endurance.

The best race walkers possess fitness on par with long-distance runners.

This unique combination of technique mastery and physical conditioning creates an intriguing sport.

Are you ready to learn? Let’s break down the biomechanics of proper race walking to help you nail the fundamentals.

The Basics of Race-Walking Technique

Mastering race-walking technique takes conscious effort, correction, and repetition.

But any beginner can comprehend the basics with some focused practice:


  • Maintain upright posture with eyes looking forward and chin parallel to the ground. Avoid rounding the shoulders or slouching.
  • Keep the head steady without excessive side-to-side movement.
  • Do not bend at the waist. Lean slightly forward from the ankles to control speed.

Arm Swing

  • Bend arms at 90 degrees with minimal tension. Do not clench fists.
  • Power comes from the shoulders and back, not the hands. Swing the arms forcefully in a straight line from chest to hips.
  • Hands should swing vertically near the sides of the body, not cross the torso.
  • Elbows stay close to the body without flaring out.


  • Lengthen the stride to cover more ground efficiently. Take smaller steps to increase cadence.
  • Land on the heel first then smoothly roll through the foot to push off the toes.
  • Push off forcefully with each step to propel forward. Drive the knee and open the hip of the rear leg.
  • Avoid overstriding or reaching too far with front leg. Stride should remain under control.

Hip Rotation

  • Rotate the hips naturally with each stride. The rear hip thrusts forward as the front leg rolls over the foot.
  • Pivoting the hips propels the body forward efficiently. This motion differentiates race walking from regular walking.
  • Hips should swivel fully with each step. Practice rotating the hips smoothly and quickly.

Foot Contact

  • One foot must remain in contact with the ground at all times. There can be no visible loss of contact.
  • Land heel first and smoothly roll through to the toe. The foot should not visibly flick off the ground.
  • Stay up on the balls of the feet, taking shorter quicker steps if needed.
  • Obeying the foot contact rule is imperative. Judges will disqualify competitors for running.

With proper posture, arm drive, stride length, hip rotation, and foot contact, you’re well on your way to mastering efficient race-walking biomechanics. Don’t worry about speed yet. Focus first on excellent technique.

Now let’s examine common mistakes to avoid as a race-walking beginner.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Developing proper race-walking technique takes mindfulness. Here are some frequent errors to be aware of:

  • Bent knees – Don’t bend the knees excessively. Keep legs as straight as feels comfortable.
  • Flailing arms – Don’t windmill the arms. Make sure elbows stay close to the torso.
  • Overstriding – Avoid reaching too far with front leg. Stride should remain controlled.
  • Bouncing – Excessive bouncing can waste energy. Try to keep head and torso steady.
  • Leaning backwards – Don’t lean back. Hinge slightly forward from the ankles to control speed.
  • Loss of contact – Never allow both feet to leave the ground. Respect the contact rule.
  • Curled toes – Flicking the foot upwards violates the foot contact rule. Keep toes pointed down.
  • Poor hip rotation – Thrust hips fully forward with each step. Pivot them smoothly and quickly.
  • Crossing legs – Don’t allow feet to cross over the body’s midline. Stay parallel.

With mindful practice, you can break bad habits and engrain proper race-walking mechanics. Now let’s discuss how to train those techniques through a race-walking training regimen.

How to Train for Race Walking

Once you have a handle on fundamental race-walking biomechanics, it’s time to build endurance through a training plan.

Here are some tips for beginners:

  • Start by race walking 20-30 minutes at an easy pace 2-3x per week. Gradually increase duration.
  • Try 3x per week interval workouts as you improve. For example, walk hard for 2 minutes, easy for 3, repeating 6-8 times.
  • Work up to a long steady race walk of 60+ minutes once per week. This builds aerobic capacity.
  • Supplement with 1-2x per week strength training. Focus on core, hips, glutes, and quads.
  • Don’t ignore recovery. Take 1-2 rest days per week to let the body adapt. Proper rest prevents injury.
  • Cross train on off days with easy running, cycling, swimming, yoga, etc. Variety is beneficial.
  • Compare pace over standard distances monthly to quantify improvement. Use apps to track progress.
  • Enter a 5k or 10k race walk event when ready. Test your skills in a competitive setting.

With a purposeful training regimen emphasizing technique work, endurance development, and recovery, you will boost race walking performance dramatically.

Race Walking Gear

Race walking necessitates minimal equipment, but certain gear can make training more pleasant:

Shoes – A comfortable pair of lightweight running or racing shoes provides cushion and traction. Replace shoes around 300-500 miles.

Moisture wicking clothing – Synthetic moisture wicking fabrics keep you cool and chafe-free. Avoid cotton which absorbs sweat.

Reflective gear – When race walking near roads, use reflective clothing and LED lights to stand out. Safety first!

Stopwatch – Time yourself over set distances to monitor improvement. A GPS watch offers added data like pace and splits.

Comfortable socks – Blister-proof socks that wick moisture will help your feet go the distance. Carry extras on long walks.

Backpack – Bring water, snacks, layers, first aid, and personal items on training walks in a comfortable backpack.

The right race-walking gear can boost comfort and performance. Invest in quality shoes first, then complement with moisture wicking clothing, safety accessories, and portable supplies to fuel your effort.

Race Walking Resources

Here are some additional resources for learning more about race walking technique, training programs, upcoming events, and joining the community:

  • USA Track & Field – Governing body with race walk guidelines and resources.
  • New York Road Runners – Race walking programs and classes in New York City and nationwide.
  • – Training plans, technique advice, news, and race results.
  • World Athletics – International federation of race-walking events and records.
  • Local running stores – Many host weekend group walks and can connect you with race walking communities.
  • Race walking clubs – Join a local club to meet training partners, mentors, and have access to coaches.

Don’t be intimidated to start race walking. With proper technique, training, and helpful resources, it can become an enjoyable and rewarding life-long activity.


For such an unusual sport at first glance, race walking offers tremendous fitness benefits if you dedicate yourself to learning proper form and put in the mileage. With this beginner’s guide, you’re equipped with the fundamentals to get started.

Remember to begin by prioritizing technique mastery before speed. Grasp the biomechanics through mindful practice. Then gradually build your endurance and speed through consistent training. Equip yourself with quality gear to stay comfortable mile after mile.

Now you’re ready to join the race-walking community. Consult the resources to continue your education, find training partners, and register for your first event. The rewarding journey begins with a single step! Just be sure it’s within the rules.

Happy race walking!


Q: How fast do elite race walkers go?

A: The top male race walkers in the world can average under 7-minute miles for the 20km race walk and under 8-minute miles for the 50km. The women’s 20km world record pace is around 7:30 per mile. For elite race walkers, maintaining proper technique at high speeds requires tremendous fitness.

Q: What are good beginner times for race walking?

A: When starting out, don’t worry about speed. Focus on learning proper form. A reasonable beginner goal is finishing a 5K (3.1 miles) race walk comfortably under 45 minutes. For a 10K, strive to finish under 1:30 as technique improves. With training, speed will come naturally.

Q: How many calories do you burn race walking?

A: Race walking burns approximately 100 calories per mile, similar to running. The actual amount varies based on your weight and effort level. Over an hour of vigorous race walking, most people can expect to burn 600-700 calories. It’s an extremely effective exercise for weight loss goals.

Q: What should I wear for race walking?

A: Lightweight, breathable clothing that wicks sweat is ideal for race walking. Shorts, t-shirts, tank tops and shoes with good cushion and flexibility are recommended. Dress in layers if race walking in cooler climates. Visible clothing is a must for safety near roads.

Q: Where can I race walk in my community?

A: Many public parks have designated race-walking loops or tracks. Schools often open tracks to the public after hours. Check local listings for race walking clubs that do group training sessions. And consider entering charity 5k/10k events that include race walking divisions. With some digging, you can find safe places to practice.

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