Race Walking Rules

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This article has been reviewed by certified personal trainer Ronaldo Brito scientifically and practically.

Race walking is a long-distance event where the athletes walk instead of running. According to the “straight leg rule,” athletes are prohibited from bending their knees when the supporting foot contacts the ground and until the leg passes under the body’s center. Form and technique are essential in this sport, as athletes are penalized for bending their knees or passing their knees under their bodies.

This was called pedestrianism by the late 19th century and made its way to the United States as a spectacle sport. Participants walked nearly 1,000 kilometers in six days in packed indoor arenas. In England, it evolved from a hobby to a sport. Basic rules of race walking competitions were established, and race walking was soon perceived as a sport for professionals. Read on to learn more about race walking competitions rules.

The Field Event of Race Walking

Race walking event is a competitive sport covering distances ranging from 3,000 meters to 100K. As an Olympic sport, it involves a lot of speed. Runners who want to qualify for the Olympics must maintain a pace of at least six minutes per mile during either the 20K or 50K distances.

Many of the track and field events culminate in feats that require bursts of energy to perform. On the other hand, race walking places a high emphasis on precision and discipline.

History of race walking may have originated during the Victorian era (1837-1901), when noblemen used to wager on their footmen, who walked alongside their employer’s horse-driven coaches, to see who would win.

Progression of Steps

In comparison to other forms of walking, race walking involves the strict adherence to a few rules assessed by race walking judges along the way, including:

  • Runners must keep at least one foot on the ground at all times to avoid disqualification.
  • It is imperative to keep the leading leg straight once it meets the body until the body passes over it directly.
  • The roll of the hips is one of the distinctive qualities of race walkers due to these requirements. Keeping the arms low is customary, only rising to or just above the belly button. For the top level of competition, the steps need to be shorter and faster.

Speed Walking

Walking at a speed of about 15 minutes per mile or more is sometimes called speed walking. You can also describe walking quickly as “brisk walking” and “power walking.”

You can find a variety of fast-walking styles and techniques in this category, including Olympic race walking style, where you can go as fast as 6 minutes per mile. Improved cardiovascular health and a higher calorie burn are only some of the speed walking benefits. Power walking, race walking, and Olympic-style race walking are other types of speed walking.

Competitions in race walking use rules and a specific technique. Once the forward foot touches the ground, the knee must remain straight and unbent until it passes underneath the body. Race walkers always have one foot in contact with the ground, and they also use arm movements to enhance their race walking speed. The result is a distinctive rolling hip movement.

What Are the Race Walking Rules?

The sport’s name explains its objective, where participants sprint to the finish line. Despite its name, it is bound by strict rules regarding its technique. Differences between running and race walking come from where athletes often lift both feet during their strides in a sprint. It may sound simple enough to walk, but you’d be surprised at this event’s complexity.

The major differences between race walking techniques and other forms of walking relate to the strict adherence to rules assessed by judges along the course. If you want to watch the action from home, or if you’re going to get into the sport, here are the rules of race walking:

  • No Lifting Rule

To begin with, one foot must always remain on the ground – and race walking judges keep a close eye on their feet. Lifting is a significant violation.

  • Straight Leg Rule

The tricky bit is that contestants can’t bend their leading leg once it hits the ground, and the leg must remain straight until their body passes over it. Also, watch this Race Walking Rules For Beginners on YouTube.


Standard distances for race walking events are 3000m and 5000m for indoor competitions and 5000m, 10,000m, 20,000m, and 50,000m for outdoor matches. Metalled roads are used for the 10km, 20km, and 50km events, which are labeled separately.

Three race walking events are part of the 48 track and field events included in the Olympic games: the 20km race for men, the 20km race for women, and the 50km race for men.

Men will compete in race walks on August 5 and 6, and women will compete in a 20km walk on August 7. Hokkaido’s Sapporo Odori Park will be the venue for the competition.

The Penalty System in Major Championships

Major championships will feature nine-race walking judges dotted around a 2km course. In addition to the chief judge, who will be holding a red paddle, eight other judges will be watching the race walkers to ensure that they follow the rules.

The other eight qualified judges (not the chief) will give a yellow paddle to an athlete if they have questions about their technique and compliance with the rules, such as when a bent knee or loss of contact occurs. A yellow paddle does not disqualify a player.

Yellow and Red Cards

Five to nine race walking judges examine the race with their naked eyes, depending on the category of the event. There are paddles containing symbols indicating ‘loss of contact’ (~) and ‘bent knee’ (<).

If athletes receive a yellow paddle, they know that the judge will pay close attention to their technique. The judge will then award a red card if they are sure that the athlete is not following the rules.

If a race walker receives three warnings (paddles) from different qualified judges, including the chief judge, they are disqualified. The disqualified athlete is shown the red paddle. When judges give three penalties, a competitor is disqualified. It is also a case of three strikes and they’re out.

Team USA

Jefferson Perez, Jane Saville, and Robert Korzeniowski are race walking legends. Robert Korzeniowski believes that a red card in a race walking carding system is mainly about a lack of technique and control. The position is different than a tackle from behind in football. Yet the punishment is the same: a red card. Younger race walkers and the general public need to understand that this term (red card) is negative.

According to Jane Saville, the introduction of technology will enhance the legitimacy of the sport. There is something artistic about race walking and the pure element of first-past-the-post. Jefferson Perez stated that race walkers must only try to focus on the finish line rather than thinking about the cards.

Race Walking Benefits

Running and walking are both excellent cardiovascular exercises, also known as aerobics. It is not necessary to choose one over the other. It depends entirely on your fitness and health goals and which option is best for you. Running is a better aerobic exercise if you want to burn more calories or lose weight faster. Besides offering numerous health benefits, walking can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Here are a few reasons why cardio is good for your health:

  • Maintains a healthy weight or helps you lose weight
  • Increase stamina
  • Improve immune system
  • Prevent or manage chronic conditions
  • Strengthen heart
  • Extend your life

What To Keep in Mind

To avoid injury, you should always start slow and gradually increase your pace if you’re trying a new technique like brisk walking, power walking, or race walking. There are a few ways to deal with this.

  • Consider gradually increasing your race walking speed by incorporating it into your current workouts. For the first 10 minutes of your regular walk, walk at a comfortable pace.
  • After you warm up, walk at your faster pace for two five-minute blocks, taking a short break between each block. Then walk at your average pace for the remainder of the walk.
  • You can also try to increase your race walking speed by focusing on one or two walks per week. During an interval-type session, you may run for one to two minutes at your fastest pace and then rest for one to two minutes at a slower pace. You can incorporate more or longer fast-paced sessions into your routine as you develop fitness while maintaining the correct technique.

Mistakes To Avoid

For race walking to be possible, a specific technique must be employed to ensure that at least one foot remains on the ground while traveling very fast. To avoid disqualification, race walkers take special care not to commit two mistakes that violate the rules. However, they also make mistakes that cause them to perform worse. The following are some common mistakes you should be aware of:

  1. Lifting

The foot must be in visible contact with the ground at all times.

  1. Bent Knee

At the moment the leading foot touches the ground, the supporting leg’s knee must remain straight until it passes vertically under the body.

  1. Ineffective Arm Motion

Instead of rocking from side to side (like rocking a baby,) keep your elbows close to your body. As you reach for your wallet in your back pocket, your elbows rise so that your hand is at a suitable level.

  1. Overstrike

The act of overstriding, or overstriking, involves landing with your leading foot too far in front of your body. The mistake does not enhance racewalking speed.

  1. Leaning Forward

Race walking coaches used to teach a slight forward lean. However, they no longer teach this technique because many walkers bend forward more than was recommended. Their suggestion is an upright position.

  1. Leaning Back

It is common for race walkers to lean back on their hips. Backward leaning makes it more challenging to maintain a straight leg and slows the walker down. A race walker must keep a straight leg from when their forward foot contacts the ground until they pass underneath their bodies. A bending back must not exceed 30 degrees.

The First Olympic Gold Medal in Race Walking

At the 1908 London Games, British race walker George Larner won the first gold medal in race walking for men in the 10-mile category. Larner also was the leading in the gold-medal game in the 3500-meter event.

Tommy Green won the first Olympic gold in the 50km race walk in Los Angeles in 1932, while Leonid Spirin became the first winner in the 20km race walk in 1956.
In 1992, Chen Yueling of China won the first gold in the 10km women’s race, while Wang Liping of China was the gold-medal game winner in the 20km women’s race walk in 2000.
In 1980, Ranjit Singh became the first Indian to compete in Olympic race walking. In the 20km walk, he finished in 18th place..

Olympic Race Walking

When race walking first appeared at the Olympics in 1904 in St Louis, USA, it was incorporated into the ‘All-Around Championship’ – today’s equivalent of the decathlon. Featuring a 3500-meter race and a 10-mile race walking, it debuted as a standalone event at the 1908 Games in London.

In 1912, the Summer Olympics in Stockholm included a 10-km short-distance event, and in 1932, the Los Angeles Games introduced a 50-km long-distance event for the first time.

At the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, the 20km race was introduced as the second short distance category.1992 saw the addition of a 10km event for women at the Barcelona Games. In 2000, it became a 20km event. At present, women and men compete in the 20km category of the Olympic Games, while men compete in the 50km category.

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