Racewalk lesson with Tom Eastler PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 05 September 2009 16:02
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Thomas Eastler, Ph.D., Professor of Geology, University of Maine at Farmington, has coached racewalking for more than 30 years. In 1990, he helped introduce racewalking to the Maine high school outdoor track and field competition schedule. His son Kevin Eastler competed for the USA in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Tom recently published a children's book, "Racewalking?! Fun?"

Coach Eastler asked how fast I have walked. About 12 minutes a mile, I guessed. "We'll get you on a treadmill to improve your technique and make better time," he commented. So we met at the local workout center, along with Emily, a 16-year-old athlete who has racewalked for two years.

 

Feet

Tom examined my bag of shoes. He pressed the toe of each shoe toward the heel to see how the sole would bend. Those with a crease below the ball of the foot, bent toward the front, were favored. Those with built-up heels could be worn, but the flatter the sole, the better.

The shoe's heel should promote weight transfer in a smooth motion. A built-up shoe heel, which projects to the rear of the foot, may induce you to walk with a bent knee, which gets you disqualified in competition. The sole of the shoe should not make a "slapping" sound upon hitting the ground.

The heel of the front foot is placed almost directly in front of the trailing foot. Then the body's weight passes from the heel to the outer edge of the foot and forward to the toes. The toes bend as weight shifts ahead to the advancing leg.

The ankle can be, and should be, bent with the toe pointing up. A fully bent ankle maintains correct form of the knee. A slightly bent ankle usually signifies a slightly bent knee (as in casual walking).

Knees

No bending of the forward leg at the knee.  The heel plant and weight transfer on the forward foot must be accomplished with a straight leg.

Judges often look at the relaxation of quadricep muscles above the knee for proof of a fully straightened leg. Bend the ankle, when the forward foot makes contact with the ground, to ensure a straight leg.

Hips

Tom put me on a treadmill with pieces of reflective tape on my hips and back at belt level. My hips move like a distance-runners, Tom observed. The tape on my hip and back remained stationary as I walked in place on the treadmill.

Then he compared my stride with that of Emily. The tape on Emily's hips moved forward and back, and the tape on her lower spine moved from side to side, as she walked on the treadmill. Tom noted "Emily demonstrates exemplary racewalking technique."

Coach Tom had used the reflective tape to point out that, while the spine remains vertical in racewalking technique, the hips pivot underneath, forward and back. This swiveling hip movement adds one to six inches to every stride, potentially saving the racewalker more than a thousand steps in distance competition.

Arms

The shoulders should be relaxed, not stiff and held up with tension. The head and shoulders are kept in one stationary plane. The shoulders do NOT move forward and back. Rather, the arms pivot in the shoulder sockets like pendulums, expanding and contracting select muscles in the upper arm that issue from the shoulder. This alternating pendular movement extends mainly behind the back, and not so much ahead of the torso. The elbows, being gently locked at right angles, contribute no arm motion.

The arms swing forward to a height below the chest without crossing in front of the torso. When the novice forgets to swing the arms fully behind the back, leaving both hands visible at once in front, the mistake is called, "playing the piano."

The arm's backward swing throws the hip forward. This back-and-forth arm and hip action happens all on one side, then gets repeated on the opposite side, for each stride.

Coordination Exercises

  • How do you keep your leg straight? Think of kicking a soccer ball without a high follow through. Scuff the ground with your heel. Scuffing around with both feet for a while can give you the feel of the straight leg. With my head head held high and eyes looking ahead, this exercise felt almost like strutting.

  • The skill of keeping the shoulders in plane while swiveling the hips involves muscular coordination. An exercise for developing that coordination follows. Extend the arms horizontally to the side from a normal standing position. Then pivot the hips back and forth while keeping feet and arms stationary.

  • To promote flexibility and enhance racewalking form, the athlete can cross-step the line of a track, with each new forward step crossing in front of the torso past the outside of the trailing foot.

  • You can gain insight about the pivoting hip movement by standing before a mirror. Move only your arms in the racewalk style, keeping your feet, hips, and torso stationary. Observe how your body attempts to counterbalance the backward arm movement. When the arm swings back on one side, notice how the hip below it tends to move forward. In racewalking, the backward arm swing thrusts the hip ahead, acting like a catapult. By allowing that hip to advance, the racewalker takes a longer stride.

Longer stride

Keep the trailing foot on the ground longer instead of reaching the advancing foot ahead. Do not attempt to "stretch" the stride from the groin.

The lengthened stride comes from 1) rotating the hips and 2) leaving the trailing leg on the ground for 65-70% of the stride.

Evolution of racewalking form

At an earlier time, racewalkers maintained their balance evenly between the forward and back leg. The center of gravity, drawn with an imaginary line from the torso to the ground, defined a cone-like triangle with the front and back sides symmetrically shaped.

However, elite racewalking style has evolved from a cone-like triangle to an asymmetrical triangle defining the shape of the stride. The trailing leg forms the long side of the triangle.  Keep the front part of the stride short, in order to limit braking action of the front heel hitting the ground.

Track & field event

Elite competitors racewalk at six to eight minutes per mile, faster than many runners. Racewalking can be a strenuous competitive event, recruiting nearly every muscle in the body. Entrants are disqualified by judges for three minor infractions.

The racewalking form is meant for flat or slightly inclined surfaces. The surface can be compared to a train track that is kept level and free of sudden bumps. Attempting this walking style on trails or steep inclines could cause injury.

Learning a new skill

Experienced hikers and distance runners may have difficulty retraining their muscle memory. Springiness, lateral control, balance and safety can be attained in wilderness settings by a bent knee combined with a probing footstep.

If you find racewalking counter-intuitive at first, Coach Tom says, "Think of this as Plan B." Compartmentalize this activity in your mind for a specific setting.

A beginner's perspective

After walking for thousands of miles on trails and roads, I am grateful for the opportunity to explore new avenues of walking for efficient movement, health, and vitality.

Racewalking can be a strenuous event of brief duration, nearly opposite to a long stroll taken for relaxation.

Coach Tom Eastler brings a contagious enthusiasm and exuberance to the sport, in addition to a helpful, discerning eye for detail. Thanks for your dedication to the good of others.

~ Charlie Duane

 

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Last Updated on Monday, 07 September 2009 10:03
 
 
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