Several years ago, Dr. Ann Gerhardt suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in an alpine skiing
accident. An accomplished long-distance runner, cyclist and kayaker, the Sacramento physician began to walk as part of her lengthy rehabilitation.
Walking helped, but it also provided a dilemma.
“I wasn’t getting any endorphins from regular walking, Gerhardt recalled. “My knee still hurt too much to be able to run, so I decided to get some to tell me how to racewalk.”
After finding an instructor, taking a community racewalking class and some early technique experimentation, Gerhardt eventually learned the proper racewalking technique.
She has since exchanged her one-time passion for running for a competitive racewalking career. She has completed numerous events, including a 50-kilometer race she finished in 6 hours and 10 minutes.
Like many others, Gerhardt discovered that walking – brisk walking, powerwalking and racewalking – provides great cardiovascular benefits.
“I was on the downhill side of my running career,” said Gerhardt, who had completed many road races including several marathons. “Just in terms of interest and speed, and something came along that was a challenge. I started to do well and it quickly filled in that (competitive) space and I had absolutely no interest in running again. I was getting plenty of endorphins from racewalking and getting more of a challenge from racewalking.”
Racewalkers, powerwalkers and recreational walkers can all benefit from the sport and exercise. It’s also a beneficial alternative for experienced runners.
According to Gerhardt, one primary benefit of walking is that the feet aren’t lifted as high off the ground. As a result, there’s less impact or force and therefore less injuries to bones and joints.
“The other plus about racewalking and powerwalking,” Gerhardt explained, “is that if you do the technique correctly and put as much effort into walking as you would running, you can get the same aerobic benefit. You are moving almost every part of your body.”
Conversely, Gerhardt warns with the required hip and pelvis twisting involved, walkers can develop more pelvis problems.
The American Running Association (ASA) in Bethesda, Md., recommends runners try racewalking, particularly if their running mileage is taking its toll on the body.
“The racewalker works primarily on increasing stride frequency,” explained Carol Newman, former editor of the ASA’s newsletter, Running & FitNews. “This is achieved by focusing on heel placement, when to raise your toes, how the foot rolls, hip rotation, overall posture, arm swing and head position. Runners may benefit from giving even half as much attention to technique as walkers do.”
As Newman detailed, “Runners who are returning from injury or desiring some form of cross training, can also use walking to get good cardiovascular workouts without the impact on the body that running generates.”
Although such factors as weight, speed and time vary, a 150-pound walker can generally expect to burn 100 calories per mile, according to Wendy Bumgardner, a journalist who specializes in walking and fitness articles and has completed more than 700 competitive walking events.
Like other exercises, beginning runners, recreational walkers to racewalkers – should adhere to common sense practice. The do’s and don’ts include: walk in the daytime or at night in well-lighted areas, walk in a group, don’t use headphones and be aware of your surroundings.
If you’re a beginning walker, prepare for the activity with the following guidelines:
* Wear shoes with thick flexible soles that will cushion your feet and absorb shock.
* Wear clothes that are right for the season. Cotton clothes for the summer help to keep you cool by absorbing sweat and allowing it to evaporate. Layer your clothing in the winter, and as you warm up, you can take off some layers.
* Stretch before you walk.
* Think of your walk in three parts. Walk slowly for 5 minutes. Increase your speed for the next 5 minutes. Finally, to cool down, walk slowly again for 5 minutes.
* Try to walk at least three times per week. Add 2 to 3 minutes per week to the fast walk. If you walk less than three times per week, increase the fast walk more slowly.
* To avoid stiff or sore muscles or joints, start gradually. Over several weeks, begin walking faster, going farther and walking for longer periods of time.