If your inner athlete isn’t challenged by your daily trek, kick it up a notch by incorporating elements from an Olympic sport: race walking. Known for its distinctive, hip-waggling step, race walking is the fastest, most intense way to walk. Not to be confused with power walking (regular walking, only faster), race walking has two rules: One foot must always be in contact with the ground, and the leading leg has to be straight. (Otherwise, competitors would be running, not walking). It’s easy on your joints and a great way to burn more calories, walk farther and firm up your hips, thighs and stomach. Beginners’ classes are available in most Canadian cities, but if you’d like to try it out first, here are five steps to get you started.
1. “In race walking, your engine is your pelvis. It moves you forward and keeps the focus on your core,” says Christine Prokop, a 17-year veteran race walker, teacher and coach with the Edmonton Racewalk Club. Get the sport’s hip-shaking movement down by race walking on the spot. Stand up, with feet hip-width apart. “Pretend you have a buddy on each side of you,” says Prokop. “Now bump the buddy on your right with your hip.” Then return to the centre, and bump the imaginary friend on your left. Then return to centre again. “You’ll notice that when you shift to one side, your knee will automatically straighten,” Prokop says. Practice shifting from hip to hip (you should feel it in your stomach muscles), gradually increasing your speed until you’ve got the movement down.
2. Still standing in place, get your hands moving with your hips. Start with both elbows bent at 90-degree angles, then walk. As one hip shifts, move the opposite arm’s hand to the centre of your body in front of your belly button. Practice moving your opposite hand to the centre, then back, as you shift your hips. “The centrifugal force between your hands and your stomach really works your abs,” says Prokop.
3. Feeling ready for some forward motion? Combine your routine with little steps; as you take a step forward, drive ahead with your corresponding hip. It may seem counterintuitive, but those petite paces allow you to move faster (and get a better workout). “A person that’s taking tiny steps can move faster than a person taking large steps because your foot is on the ground at all times, pushing you forward,” says Prokop.
4. As the movement becomes more comfortable, focus on flexing your ankles, putting your toe up as you step, and having your heel come down first, then rolling through the rest of your foot. This helps keep your front leg straight.
5. Finally, make like Johnny Cash and walk the line. Imagine there’s a straight line in front of you, and line up your steps accordingly—it’s a much more efficient way of walking than wagging from side to side. (It also keeps those hips moving.) Now you’re ready to hit the road.