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How to step up your fitness walking routine

Millions of people walk for fitness. Hooray for them. No matter how you do it - fast or slow, long or short, in malls or up mountains - walking burns calories, builds strength, tones muscles and helps you handle everyday stress in a healthy, life-affirming way.

One wonderful way to step up your walking routine is to learn to racewalk. Even if you don’t wind up a bona fide racewalker, following the rules and getting acquainted with the techniques of racewalking can go a long way toward taking your walking style to the next level.

What is racewalking? Racewalking is a more demanding workout than regular walking. Once you see it, it’s hard to forget. Racewalkers pump their arms and swivel their hips. Some waddle like a duck. Some rush like a chicken.

Though it may look a little goofy - even a lot goofy - this Olympic sport is actually a very efficient and effective way to move at high speeds - 5 to 12 mph - for relatively long periods of time. It involves coordinating your feet, legs, hips, torso, shoulders, arms, neck and head in a smooth and fluid motion, which is why you should learn the basics from an experienced teacher and not hope to master the technique from a book, or even a racewalking newspaper columnist.

It’s better than running. Of course, running vs. walking is a personal preference, but in my mind, for my body, racewalking beats running by a mile. Unlike running, which does little to tone your upper body, racewalking works the upper and lower body. There’s also much less body stress with racewalking and, therefore, a much lower risk of injury.

And ladies, listen to this: The rolling action of the hips and push-pull action of the legs do wonders to tighten the abdomen, trim the torso and eliminate the lumpy, cottage-cheese look that seems to develop around the thighs.

You can walk fast in any style and get fit, over time, but if you want to racewalk the correct way, you need to follow two basic rules:

  1. At least one foot must be on the ground at all times. This is how racewalking differs from running.
  2. Your knee must be straight as it passes underneath you body.

I urge you to find a coach, take a clinic or join a racewalkers’ group. And be patient when you’re first learning. Relax and enjoy the challenge of something new.

I’ve taught racewalking and I can tell you, some folks pick it up right away and others struggle for a long time.

Begin your workout at a slower pace, waking up your muscles and joints gradually. For greater hip flexibility, you might try walking a straight line, exaggerating the hip swing so that you’re walking crisscross over an imaginary line.

Remember: Racewalking is more strenuous and challenging than regular walking. Have fun with it, be patient, and even if you don’t master the technique, learning to incorporate more hip-and-arm action will help take your fitness walking routine to the next level. Enjoy.

Write Marilynn Preston in care of The Light, 565 Pearl St., Suite 300, La Jolla, 92037.