Technique > POSTURE AND HEAD

Figure 1. This version of Icabod,
drawn with a 5-degree lean, will
be redrawn to eliminate the lean.
 
The slow-motion animation of Icabod in Figure 1 illustrates the technical aspects of posture and head carriage covered on this page.
 

  POSTURE
 
Stand tall:  You should stand tall but not rigid; relaxed and not tense. This will help your breathing, and may give you a more "positive" attitude (versus slouching). It will proably also help you execute proper upper- and lower-body technique.
Forward lean:  There are clearly two schools of thought on having a forward lean to the body.
  • The "Yes" School:  You should lean forward from the ankles (and not the hips), but lean no more than about 5 degrees. This lean will enhance the forward propulsion created as you fall forward whenever the forefoot of the supporting leg is behind the body's center of mass. By keeping the lean to no more than about 5 degrees, you will not interfere with the recommended rotation of the hips.
     
  • The "No" School:  You should not lean forward because (1.) most people who try it wind up leaning forward from the hips or simply by bending their back and lowering their chin, (2.) the extra forward propulsion created as you fall forward with a few extra degrees lean is negligible, and (3.) you will probably interfere with the very important rotation of the hips. Some in this school do suggest that leaning forward does have value when you are starting from a stop, or when you want to put on a sudden burst of speed to pass (or shake) a competitor.
My review of photos of top race walkers suggests that most either do not have a forward lean to their torso or lean only a degree or two (see the video animation of Jefferson Perez on the Technique page). Some suggest a greater forward lean only because their chin is tilted down. I would also add that while top runners are advised to stand up straight, some do (top sprinter Michael Johnson was famous for his erect posture) and some don't (top marathoner Haile Gebrselassie exhibits a significant lean).
 
The best example I can think of where forward lean interfers with walking technique occurs when you walk up a hill. While climbing makes you work harder, the higher ground in front of you (which is what happens when you lean) makes you have to change the way you prepare for heel contact and makes it harder to have a straightened knee.

Figure 2.
leaning from the ankles?
 
 

Figure 3.
leaning from the hips?
 
 
 
I also find there to be quite a bit of confusion about what constitutes a "lean from the ankles." The literature suggests that it is measured when the axis of the torso (from chest to hips) is parallel to the line of the straightened support leg. Figure 2 shows that point in the walking gait cycle. Figure 3, however, is that same walker moments earlier when the supporting leg is at or near its vertical position. At this point, the walker appears to be bending from the hips. Besides, even a person who is truly "bending at the hips" (not slouching) will always pass through some point in the gait cycle when the axis of the torso will be parallel to the line of the supporting leg.
 
I personally tried to use a lean for some years, only to realize that I was simply slouching. I now try to stand erect and have seen no slowing of my speed. For now, I will side with the Dave McGoverns of the world who strongly argue against a lean. I am confident enough in this position that I will take the time to change the Icabod animation from having a 5-degree lean to having almost no lean at all.
 
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HEAD  
The head should be held erect, and you should use your eyes to look down at the ground 15± feet (5± meters) in front of your body. Tilting the head down may restrict your breathing somewhat. Beside, always looking down, whether by tilting your head or because of a low bill on your cap, may cause you to miss (or at least be late at) making important decisions--such as how to
  • approach and pass another walker,
  • position yourself for an upcoming turnaround or curve,
  • avoid an obstacle (or even a person) on the course,
  • avoid attracting the attention of judges you are about to pass,
  • respond to a caution from a judge,
  • respond to your number appearing on the warning posting board,
Always looking down has another downside. It has a greater tendency to cause you to lose focus on what you are trying to accomplish in a race. You may not actually be asleep, but you can lose track of your pace, of using good (or even legal) technique, of following your race strategy, and of the status of your surroundings (including unanticipated opportunities to gain a competitive advantage).
  1. Many new racewalkers tend to watch their feet, and do so by lowering their chin almost to their chest. There is no need to watch the feet, and holding the head down will make breathing more difficult as you close off the windpipe.  Hold your head up and use your eyes to look down at the walking surface some 15-20 feet ahead of you.
     
  2. If you are using good racewalking technique, your hips will compensate for the ups and downs caused by vaulting over a straight leg (which you do with every step), and your head will remain almost level (i.e., not bounce up and down).  This is important because, while they are supposed to judge your walking by your knees and your foot contact, some judges will take a bobbing head as a symptom that you might be lifting.  It is important not to unnecessarily attract such attention for, even though you may well be legal, such attention causes a judge to spend more time watching you than you would like.
     
  3. To see if your head is bobbing up and down, walk next to some object that has a horizontal line near the height of your eyes (such as a fence, or a brick or stone wall). As you walk along the object, see if the horizontal line seems to bob up and down. If it does, adjust your technique (mainly the use of your hips) to see if you can minimize the bobbing.
 
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