Speed walking for fitness involves deliberately trying to walk as briskly as possible to elevate your heart rate and maximize the effectiveness of your aerobic workout.
There is even a competitive sport built around the premise of speed walking as fast as possible, called racewalking.
Racewalking is contested at the collegiate and masters level, with an increasing number of younger and older age groups having the opportunity to participate in racewalking competitions, and there is an entire racewalking discipline in the Olympics.
So, how fast is speed walking? What’s the difference between speed walking and racewalking? What is a typical Olympic speedwalker pace?
In this article, we will answer the question how fast is speed walking, and discuss racewalking technique, how fast racewalkers and speed walkers walk as well as how to racewalk.
We will cover:
- Racewalking vs. Speed Walking
- Racewalking Technique
- How to Become a Faster Speed Walker or Racewalker
- How Fast Is Speed Walking?
- Olympic Racewalking Pace
Let’s jump in!
Racewalking vs. Speed Walking
Racewalking is unique in that it is not just fast walking. There is a specific racewalking technique that is employed that gives racewalking a distinct form compared to speed walking.
The biggest technique difference between speed walking vs. racewalking is that speed walking is basically just walking with normal walking form but trying to move as briskly and quickly as possible. Your legs will be straight, and you will pump your arms vigorously to cover ground as fast as possible.
With racewalking, there is a lot of hip rotation to the technique, and the form is almost a hybrid of jogging and walking.
Unlike jogging, in which there is a “flight“ phase where there is a brief period of time in which both feet are off of the ground, with racewalking, like speed walking or even walking slowly, one foot is always in contact with the ground.
However, the racewalking technique involves more hip rotation than speed walking, and it is a competitive sport.
Let’s take a look at the proper racewalking technique.
When you racewalk, you should stand tall, with your torso upright, using good posture. You want to avoid leaning too far forward or too far backward with your torso, as this can compromise your power and stride efficiency.
Keep your core muscles tight enough, so they support a neutral spine. Failing to engage your core enough can allow for excessive lordosis or a sway back.
Head and Neck
Your head should be in a neutral position, with your neck relaxed. There should be no tension in your neck or jaw. Keep your gaze forward, with your eyes focusing about 15 meters in front of your body.
Your shoulders should be relaxed and down, away from your ears, and in a neutral position so that there is no tension heading up into your neck or down into your back and spine.
The arm position for racewalking is more similar to that of running rather than walking. With regular walking or even speed walking, the arms are fairly straight, with more of a subtle bend in the elbows.
With racewalking, your elbows should be bent at least 90°, if not closer to 85°, meaning that there is a very significant angle, verging on an acute angle, rather than straightness to your arm.
As with running, your arms should be swinging loosely but vigorously from the shoulders while the elbow stays relatively fixed in its angle, although you don’t want to hold your arms in a tense position. Try to remain relaxed yet powerful.
To improve the efficiency of your arm swing, ensure that your arms stay as close to the sides of your body as possible, with your hands almost grazing the sides of your torso at the top of your hips as they swing back and forth.
Your arms should not cross over the midline of your body. You really want to keep the arm movement focused on the forward and backward direction rather than having side-to-side rotation.
With that said, the racewalking technique employs a significant amount of hip rotation, so there will be some amount of trunk rotation relative to your hips with every stride.
This makes racewalking also look different than a normal running or jogging stride.
Although this hip-swinging motion will make it appear that your arms are swinging across your body relative to the forward direction of your legs, if you isolate your trunk from your lower body(essentially your body above your hips versus your body below your hips), your arms should not cross over a vertical line that runs down the torso through the belly button.
Your hands should remain relaxed at all times, in a loose fist as if cupping a delicate butterfly. Try not to clench your fists, as this can lead to excessive tension in the upper body and undue fatigue. Most racewalkers keep their thumb on top of the fist.
Perhaps the hardest piece of the racewalking form and technique to get accustomed to for beginner racewalkers is the hip movement.
When you racewalk, your hips essentially perform a twisting motion that is akin to the dance popular in the 1960s called the “Twist.”
This involves rotating your hips in a horizontal plane such that one hip comes forward towards where the midline of your body would have been when your hips were neutral and then is rotated backward.
This hip rotation motion is primarily controlled by the obliques, which are the ab muscles that run along the sides of your torso.
Although you do want the hips to twist forward and backward, you want to avoid excessive lateral movement of the hips out to either side and back.
The side-to-side hip motion will not help contribute to faster or more efficient forward progression as you walk and will increase the stress and strain on the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus muscles in the butt, which can increase your risk of injury.
To help avoid excessive lateral motion of your hips and to promote the proper forward and backward rotation as you race walk, think about driving your knees forward as quickly as possible with each successive step and rotating your pelvis from a bird’s eye view perspective.
There are a lot of specific racewalking rules that govern the racewalking technique you must use, most of which center around the legs and feet.
When your foot makes contact with the ground, the knee on that advancing leg must be straight. This is noticeably different than with jogging or running, in which there should be a bend to your knee as soon as you land because you are coming from an airborne position.
One of the key racewalking rules is that one foot must always be in contact with the ground. Therefore, the foot on the leading leg, or advancing leg, must make contact with the ground before the foot on the trailing leg can leave the ground.
Again, this is what characterizes any type of walking, speed walking, or racewalking and differentiates the walking movement pattern from that of jogging or running where, by definition, there will be a point in every gait cycle where both feet are briefly off of the ground.
Although with running, it is optimal to land on your midfoot, when racewalking, you should land on your heel with your ankle flexed.
As you move through the stride, you will roll from the heel to the toe for push-off.
You want to avoid overstriding, which occurs when your foot lands too far forward relative to your torso.
This is inefficient from an energy standpoint and can increase the risk of numerous injuries, such as injuries to the iliopsoas (hip flexor), adductors or other groin muscles, the popliteal muscle behind your knee, and, in the case of uphill walking in particular, your hamstrings and glutes.
How to Become a Faster Speed Walker or Racewalker
As with running, the best way to increase your racewalking speed is to take more steps per minute, or, increase your cadence, rather than trying to increase the length of your stride. Although the ideal running cadence is around 170-180 steps per minute, the racewalking cadence should be closer to 180 to 200 steps per minute, if not faster.
Of course, advanced racewalkers will tend to use a faster cadence, and beginners will have to gradually work up to increasing their cadence as they master the proper racewalking technique and make improvements in their fitness and strength to support a faster stride.
Taller racewalkers with naturally long legs may also walk with a slightly slower cadence, but the takeaway is that you want to keep your steps as quick as possible and focus most on taking more steps per minute rather than increasing the length of your steps as you train for racewalking.
How Fast Is Speed Walking?
So, how fast do speed walkers walk? There isn’t necessarily a set speed for speed walking or power walking; speed walking simply refers to walking at a more brisk pace than your comfortable walking pace.
One study of 997 middle-aged walkers (aged 45 years old) found that the average walking speeds were 1.30 m/s for usual walking gait and 1.99 m/s for maximum gait, which we can consider speed walking.
Because a mile is 1609 meters, we can convert these walking speeds to find miles per hour. At the average walking speed, it would take 20.6 minutes to walk a mile (2.91 mph or 4.68 kph), and the speed walking pace would be 13.48 minutes per mile or a speed of 4.45 mph or 7.164 kph.
Note that these speeds for speed walking are for middle-aged walkers, so younger athletes in their prime will likely walk faster.
Olympic Racewalking Pace
At the Olympic level, racewalkers are moving.
The Olympic racewalking records are 1:18:46, held by athlete Chen Ding for the men’s Olympic 20k racewalk (3.94 min/km or a speed of 9.46 mph or 15.23 kph) and 3:36:53 for the men’s 50k racewalk (4.34 min/km or a speed of 8.59 mph or 13.82 kph) held by Jared Tallent, and 1:25:16 for the women’s 20k racewalk (4.26 min/km or a speed of 8.75 mph or 14.08 kph), held by athlete Qieyang Shinji.
The racewalking technique can take some time to get used to, but if you would like to participate in the competitive side of the sport, it’s important to use the proper form, or you could get disqualified.
Additionally, racewalking, by nature, is intense and can put a lot of stress and strain on your muscles, tendons, bones, joints, and ligaments, so mastering the proper racewalking technique will also help reduce the risk of injuries.
However, if you are just looking to maximize the fitness benefits of brisk walking, speed walking is a great way to get a great cardiovascular workout and burn more calories than walking at a leisurely pace and employs a more familiar but exaggerated walking technique to help you walk as fast as possible.
Try both speed walking and racewalking and see which one you enjoy the most.
To take a look at the different average walking speeds distributed by age and sex, check out our guide here!