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Brisk, Speed, Power and Race Walking
What are the differences?

Do you know the difference between running and walking? Before you guess speed, that's wrong. It's not how fast you move.

When you run, during each stride, there are times when both feet are off the ground. If you're walking, at least one foot stays on the ground at all times.

But beyond that foot on the ground, how intense your walking workout is, depends on what type of walking you're doing. I'm going to break them down into four levels.

(Keep in mind these are the distinctions I use to help people understand the differences. If you're working with a coach, it's best to have them clarify in case they use different terms.)

Brisk Walking: Level 1. This helps you raise your heart rate into the moderate intensity zone. If you use a heart rate monitor, that's about 60% of your maximum heart rate.

If you're ready to burn more calories than a regular walk, increase your speed to brisk. You're not doing anything special, just moving quicker. The pace for a brisk walk is around 3.5 mph.

Speed Walking: Level 2. It burns a lot more calories because you're moving at the speed of a light jog. But it's better than running for people with joint injuries or problems because you're not coming down with each step and hitting the ground as hard.

If your focus is on moving faster and burning calories, speed walking is a great way to do it. Just like brisk walking, there are no particular ways to move; just move quicker than brisk walking. The pace for a speed walker is up to 5 mph.

Walking, Power Walking and Race Walking

Power Walking: Level 3. This is similar to Speed Walking, EXCEPT you're going to add arm motions. It's a better full-body workout because your arms are engaged.

As you walk, focus your eyes about 10 to 20 feet ahead of you. Walk with a posture that makes you as tall as possible. Keep your chin up and parallel to the ground.

With every step you take, your arms swing forward. If your arms are straight, they have to swing further and can slow down your pace. When you're power walking, your elbows should be bent at 90-degree angles and kept close to your body.

Punch your arms forward and back instead of across your body for a more intense cardio experience. Don't clench your fists because it can unnecessarily raise your blood pressure. Always move the opposite arm and foot forward together.

Don't waste energy pumping your arms up in the air any higher than your breastbone; it doesn't help move you forward. If your arms get tired, give them a rest and keep walking.

Power walking may be the best choice if your focus is more on improving posture and an all-body workout. The pace for a power walker is typically between 4.5 and 5.5 mph.

Race Walking: Level 4. This is the fastest option and burns the most calories, but the way you have to move isn't a natural motion. Just like power walking, you must maintain your posture and arm movements.

There are two more rules. Race walking requires your knee to be straight when your heel touches down. That leading leg must remain straight from when it hits the ground until your body passes directly over it.

If you watch a race walker, you'll notice they have a distinct rolling hip movement, front to back. Arms are also usually kept a little lower, raising only to the level of your belly button. That can cause stress and pain if you haven't properly trained for it.

If you're trying to move as fast as possible, without actually running, race walking is the way to do it. It also burns more calories than someone running at the same speed because of how you're forced to move your body. A fast race walker can reach speeds over 8 mph.

Unless you're in a competition, speed walking and power walking are the better options for someone trying to get in shape. There's less chance for injury, and they're easier to master. You shouldn't attempt race walking without some guidance and practice.

There are a couple additional things to consider, no matter which level you want to attempt.

  • Don't use ankle or wrist weights. They can rub, causing blisters, interfere with balance and adversely impact joints. Save weights for when you lift, not while doing cardio.
  • Don't lean forward; it can stress and cause pain in the lower back.
  • Don't try to take giant steps (overstride). It won't move you faster. Smaller steps are how you increase speed.

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8/25/2022