You know you need to do regular aerobic exercise to get/stay fit, but you may also have some nagging joint aches and pains in your knees and ankles that prevent you from doing certain forms of exercise. Since many forms of aerobic exercise are impact oriented, you may have shied away from running, jogging, or even playing a fun game of basketball, volleyball or soccer with your grandchildren. There is a form of exercise that’s both fun to do and is easier on your knees and joints – it’s called Race Walking.
Race Walking: Get Fit, Save Your Knees
For those of you who took a look at the Senior Olympics held in Ohio this past summer, you know that a hybrid sport called “race walking” was part of the competition. It’s as fast, and heart rate pumping as running, but like walking is much easier on knees and shins. Ta-dah…the perfect exercise for Boomers who need to get their heart rate up to burn fat and strengthen their heart, build bone density with impact-type exercise, and keep muscles strong and toned. So how do you race walk?
First, you’ll need a good pair of shoes that are built for either race walking or both running and walking. There are specific race walking shoes, or cross trainers can also be good choices. You’ll also want to wear a good, heavier sock on your feet to help absorb sweat and avoid blisters. You’ll also want to dress for the weather to stay not too hot or too cold, but comfortable. Also, you’ll need to do a good overall body stretch to loosen up all your muscles as well as stretch your hamstrings out completely to avoid shin splints.
Second, it might seem that race walking is just a “leg” sport, but really it involves your whole body. The arm-swinging motion engages your upper body as well and helps your heart rate get up higher. If you’re doing it correctly, the coordinated upper and lower body movements should resemble dancing “the twist”. Learning the correct technique, then, is important. It wouldn’t hurt to join a race walking clinic, or take a class in it, at your local Y or Recreational Center to learn proper technique.
Even though the movements sound pretty self-explanatory, a good trainer, or coach, can help observe your technique to make sure you’re not turning your feet, ankles in ways that will cause pulled ligaments or tendons, or put pressure on your knees and hips. There are other race walk errors you’ll want to avoid as well such as keeping your body in the correct alignment while moving. Leaning too far forward can put too much stress on hips and knees.
Third, you can go on the internet, or library, to find videos that show you, basically, how the sport is done. To get a quick basic tutorial, see the video at the bottom of this article. There are also books that have been written about the benefits of race walking as exercise as well as competitive sport. A good one is The Complete Guide to Race walking by Dave McGovern, another is Race walk Like a Champion, by Jeff Salvage that also includes a DVD/CD set. There may be groups doing race walking in your community as well. One place to find them is at a local community center or recreational center, church bulletins, or even Meetups.com.
Race walking can be a good way for over-50 people to get back into shape or stay fit. It has all the ingredients of what constitutes a good, healthy fitness routine. Get a friend, or your spouse, to join you, for companionship, and maybe even a little competition to spur you on. But you might just want to go it alone with some lively beat music to accompany you for some important “you” time.