Keen to keep fit but hate running? Try “race walking” – an easier alternative

Race walking explained: what it is and how to do it.

Why run when you can walk? If that sounds appealing, then allow me to introduce race walking. Its easy to do, and simple to include in your daily routine.

Theres less stress on your body compared to running, meaning less risk of injury. When your foot strikes the ground, the impact running produces can be equal to four times your body weight, while the same movement in race walking reduces that to just 1.4.

Its also every bit as good for you when it comes to reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even some types of cancer, along with boosting your oxygen carrying capacity. You’ll get all the benefits of walking, making it a real win, win when it comes to exercising. 

Close up of a man and woman race walking in a parkCredit: Shutterstock / – Yuri A
Race walking is an easy, but great way to get fit

The benefits of race walking

In addition to being a very effective way of increasing your aerobic capacity (how much oxygen your body can take in and use), race walking requires concentration, co-ordination, and upper body strength – with plenty of other benefits to boot.


The more you walk, the healthier you’ll be

Walking lowers the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also provides a great cardiovascular workout, raising the heart rate, increasing oxygen use, and burning calories.

In addition – and contrary to popular belief – neither running nor walking is bad for your knees. In fact, research suggests both can prevent such problems, as the movement brings more fluid to the joints to keep them lubricated. Using your knees creates more synovial fluid, which helps reduces friction.

Race walking doesn’t take too long

Striding out and raising your heart rate is a great way to meet the suggested guidelines of five 30-minute weekly activities of moderate exercise for adults and older adults. But just 10 minutes a day of walking at a brisk pace has also been proven to have major health benefits. Thats a quick stroll round the block, a rapid walk to the bus stop, or a few times up and down some stairs.   

Three mature women walking togetherCredit: Shutterstock / Kotoimages
Race walking is fun and friendly

It’s fun to set race walking goals

What goal setting does is make you more aware of the standard of what you can achieve,says Andy Lane, professor of sport psychology at the University of Wolverhampton. Goal setting is great because it activates your energy levels. 

Use the smart goal theory for this one: set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives as you explore, in this instance, the world of race walking.  

Fond memories

I still remember that 5km race, the fast start, a feeling of strength, co-ordination, and easy movement,” Rush recalls. It was the culmination of years of walking and running training. From hiking the Lakeland Fells to competing in the English Schools Race Walking Championships and then on to national titles, the simple act of walking more and then faster led me directly to the Olympics.”  


Race walking technique

Firstly, keep an upright posture when you walk. Stride out by pushing off your big toe, landing on your heel and rolling your foot and pushing off from your toes again. The aim should be to develop a smooth action.

Your arms should be held at right angles at the elbow, driving backwards and forwards in opposition to your legs (so when your left leg goes forward, the right arm goes forward).

Keep your shoulders low, with your arms moving in a relaxed manner at the shoulder joint. And that’s it – you are race walking! 

Race walking FAQs

What are the rules of race walking?

When running, you fly” – both feet are off the ground at the same time. But a race walker must always have one foot in contact with the ground, as visible to the human eye. 

These rules apply to local competitions, although obviously race walking on your own doesnt have to be quite so strict. 

In races on TV, you often see top walkers with both feet off the ground but staying in a race, as the judges on the course have not detected the infringement. 

What is a good race-walking speed?

A good strideout speed for walking would be 3mph (4.8km/h). Really push on and you should be able to achieve 4mph (6.4km/h). Train and develop a race-walking technique, and a real challenge would be to walk 5mph (8km/h and 12 minutes per mile). 

If you aim to do a 5km Parkrun (on a good, flat surface) in 36 minutes, you will be doing it at just over 8km/h. But you would need to train for a few months to be able to achieve that.   

What are the best shoes for race walking?

Because walking is low impact, you do not need the same amount of cushioning as in running. But the adage of what feels the most comfortable still applies.

In general, a relatively low-profile, midsole, flattraining shoe, with a small (around 4mm/0.1in) dropfrom heel to forefoot tends to be the most comfortable and will help with walking technique.

Is race walking an Olympic event?

Race walking was hugely popular in Victorian times, often drawing tens of thousands of spectators and, as a result, has been part of the Olympic Games since 1904.

How can I find a race walking club?

The sports governing bodies England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Irelandall offer online search tools to help find a club near you.  

Why I love race walking, by Olympian Martin Rush

Martin Rush competed in the 1992 Olympics as a race walker. He doesn’t hesitate when he says race walkers are among the fittest athletes in the world.

There is something about the technique of walking and the feeling of powerfully using your arms, torso and legs that goes beyond even running. The great comradery among the top race walkers and a recognition of the amount of tough training that goes into competing at the top level is what attracted me to the event,” says Rush. 

Success helped as well. Who doesnt like winning titles, setting records and making the Olympics?  

 Though I may be a little slower than my halcyon days and spend my time helping both runners and walkers enjoy their training, take on a new challenge and reach their goals, I now know the full value of the power of walking and running to raise the quality of life. “

Rush, who is now a running and walking coach, can recall completing 5km (3 miles 206 yards) the distance a lot of people run on a Saturday morning at 9am at their local Parkrun in a little over 19 minutes… while walking. 

I still remember that 5km race, the fast start, a feeling of strength, co-ordination, and easy movement,” Rush recalls.

It was the culmination of years of walking and running training. From hiking the Lakeland Fells to competing in the English Schools Race Walking Championships and then on to national titles, the simple act of walking more and then faster led me directly to the Olympics.”  

One other thing he loves about being a race walker? I never miss a bus either. 

Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins


Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors.

But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide. In fact, he’s still very competitive. In 2022 he ran in the World Masters’ Mountain Running Champs in the over-55 age group and is now looking forward to moving up a category and taking on the 60-year-olds.

He’s also part of the England Team Management set-up in road running as well as being an England team coach in the U18 age group for track and field athletics. Currently, he coaches a group of athletes ranging from 13 years old to 55 at his local club.

Outside of work, Paul loves cooking and driving classic cars. He’s owned everything from a 1966 Ford F-250 pickup to a clapped-out 1987 Porsche 944. He’s married to Elaine and they have a West Highland White Terrier named Benji, who’s not that keen on being timed for every run!