Technique > TERMINOLOGY
 
Every specialized subject has its system of terms.  Race walking is no different.  I will try to use the generally-accepted terms and phrases associated with race walking--with one caveat.  While I will ask you to learn a few new words, I will generally stick with items of common usage, with those words and phrases that most people understand.  I also want to briefly define some key terms and phrases at this point.
 
Terms Defining Parts of the Walking Process
  • "Step" is that period of time between the initial contact of one foot with the ground and the subsequent initial contact of the other foot with the ground.  It involves one foot moving from back to front while the other foot moves from front to back.
     
  • "Stride" means different things to different people and is not used in this Web site.  Some see it as one step; some see it as two.  Accordingly, "stride rate" and "stride length" are also not used.  (The dictionary primarily defines "stride" as walking with, or taking, long steps.  Only near the end of its various definitions, does it refer to the process of taking two steps.)
     
  • "Gait" refers to a manner of walking, stepping, or running. Walkers, race walkers, and runners all have different gaits.  Horses also display different gaits when they walk, trot, cantor, lope, or gallop.
     
  • Figure 1.
    Leg executing one gait cycle;
    blue while in its stance phase,
    green while in its swing phase.
    "Gait cycle" is that period of time between the initial contact of one foot with the ground and the subsequent initial contact of that same foot with the ground.  It covers two sequential steps, and is broken down into three phases defined by the function position of the leg: stance, swing, and flight (see Figure 1).
     
  • "Stance phase" refers to that period when the leg is supporting the weight of the body--from initial contact of its foot with the ground (usually at the heel) to the last moment of contact by that foot with the ground (usually by the toes) prior to liftoff--commonly referred to as "toe-off."  Accordingly, the "stance leg" (hip, thigh, knee, or foot) is the leg (hip, thigh, knee, or foot) that is in its stance phase.
     
  • "Swing phase" refers to that period when the leg is not supporting the body's weight--from toe-off to the last moment prior to subsequent contact of that foot with the ground (excluding any flight time when both feet are off the ground).  Accordingly, the "swing leg" (hip, thigh, knee, or foot) is the leg (hip, thigh, knee, or foot) that is in its swing phase.
     
  • "Flight phase" refers to the period of time, if any, during which both feet are off the ground.  While a race walker may have a very short flight phase--and is illegal if detected by the eyes of three different judges, top runners have a flight phase that might last up to 45% of their gait cycle.  While one leg may be advancing and the other retreating, "stance" and "swing" are never applied during flight phase.
Terms Defining Biomechanical Processes of the Legs
 
The standard, biomechanical terms for changing the angle between bones that form a hinge (such as the ankle, knee, and hip) are "flexion" and "extension." However, every time I read about flexing the foot or extending the thigh, I have to stop and think about what that means. I have tried "raise/lower the thigh," "bend/straighten the knee," "extend/raise the foot," and a dozen other alternatives. Unfortunately, all the alternatives are sometimes misleading. For example, you are not raising your foot when you bring it forward just after toe-off--unless you look at the situation sideways. You are not "lowering" the thigh when you extend your contact with the ground far behind the body--just as you are not "raising" the thigh when you start to bring it forward. As a compromise, I am going to use a shortened version of the standard terms, and I have added the animation in Figure 2 to help jog our collective memory. So, for now:

  • Figure 2.
    memory jogger
    "Flexing" decreases the angle between the bones (brings them closer together). Fully flexing the major leg hinges (hip, knee, and ankle) is represented by a person squatting. Accordingly, for example, "thigh flexing muscles" are those that bring the thigh closer to the chest, and "foot flexing muscles" are those that hold the toes high during, and just after, a foot's initial contact with the ground (and give many rookies "shin splints").
     
  • "Extending" increases the angle between the bones (moves them farther apart). Fully extending the major leg hinges (hip, knee, and ankle) is represented by a ballerina on point. Accordingly, for example, "knee extending muscles" are those used to bring the lower part of the leg forward during the middle of its swing phase, and "foot extending muscles" are those that "push" the walker forward just before toe-off.
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