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Walk the walk

It’s not quite walking or running either. With arms stuck out at odd angles, it even looks funny. But speed walking is a great exercise that’s easy on your knees, writes Sai Raje.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2009 00:42 IST
Sai Raje

At first glance, it seems like a bizarre cross between a duck’s waddle and the graceful gait of a fisherwoman in fast-forward. Don’t know what we are talking about? Think Billy Crystal wearing spandex and walking through Central Park with his best pal in that scene from When Harry Met Sally. Okay, maybe Billy Crystal in spandex is not a nice thought, but you get what we mean about speed walking.

Also known as race walking, power walking and health walking, speed walking has been an Olympic athletics event for decades now, though it hasn’t become as popular as walking and jogging for everyday exercise.

Simply put, speed walking is about walking fast without breaking into a jog or a run. But the strides you take have to follow a specific technique and there are rules to follow (like the fact that one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times).

Why walk or jog when you can speed walk?

If you consider the benefits speed walking offers over regular walking and even running, you wonder why it hasn’t taken off like it should have.

“Running involves you jumping off the ground mid-stride, which means your feet hit the ground with great impact on your knees, increasing injury risk,” says Gurdev Singh (32), national level speed walking champion and currently coach to 11 national level speed walking champions. Speed walking, on the other hand, says Singh, is low-impact and therefore poses a far lesser risk of injury to your knees. It’s the perfect exercise for those who’re weak in the knees.

It’s also fantastic for developing cardiovascular fitness or heart strength, adds Singh. “A seasoned speed walker strides with an intensity that has his pulse rate fluctuating between 140-160 beats per minute. This is the range you want to exercise in to ensure maximum fat burn,” he says.

Regular speed walking also keeps your blood sugar levels in check and is a good way for diabetics to stay fit as well.

Cardiovascular workout And flexibility aid too

Babubhai Panocha (31), the reigning national speed walking champion, who broke Gurdev Singh’s speed walking record (20 km in 1:25:21) by clocking in 1:23: 40 in 2007, says that speed walking has worked wonders for his body’s flexibility.

“Regular speed walking makes you as flexible as a gymnast. My body bends, twists and turns like rubber,” he says. Panocha also feels that speed walking offers more fitness benefits as a form of exercise than normal walking, and helps you burn almost as much energy as running.

It’s great exercise, but you STILL need to eat right

“As with any exercise, if you want to take up speed walking to lose weight, you have to lower your fat intake as much as you can. What’s the point of doing a 5 km speed walk in the morning and then gorging on buttered toasts and parathas?” says Panocha.

While competitive speed walking is done on both roads and synthetic racetracks, grassy surfaces are ideal for a novice learning to speed walk, at least for the first couple of months.

“It’s a softer surface that is even more low-impact than tarmac on your knees, which is useful when you are still perfecting your posture and stride technique,” says Singh.

There’s no denying that it looks hilarious, but if you overcome your hesitation, you’ll find that speed walking is better exercise than regular walking, and easier on your knees than running. And once you start reaping the benefits, others won’t be laughing any more!