Technique > GAIT ANATOMY
While earlier pages have described technique from the vantage point of a particular part of the body, this set of pages looks at how the various parts of the body work together to produce good race walking technique. For the next few pages, we will look at the anatomy of the race walking gait cycle. As illustrated at right, the gait cycle is that interval of time from the heel strike of one foot until the next heel strike by that same foot. It is actually two steps (one supported by the right foot and one supported by the left foot), and gives a complete picture of race walking technique.
This analysis is quite detailed. Its value, however, is that it not only highlights the details of a race walking gait but also helps explain why certain techniques are used. Most of this section is devoted to a study of the hip, leg and foot activities. The shoulders, arms, and hands are mentioned, but they clearly play a supporting (thought important) role in race walking.
Gary Westerfield [see Note 1] argues for using standard biomechanical terms in discussing such matters. I agree, and will use his list of standard terms. He divides the race walking gait into three phases--defined by the position of the feet:
  • The Stance Phase refers to that period when the leg is supporting the weight of the body--from initial contact of its foot with the ground (usually at the heel) to the last moment of contact by that foot with the ground (usually by the toes) prior to liftoff--commonly referred to as "toeoff."
  • The Swing Phase refers to that period when the leg is not supporting the body's weight--from liftoff to the last moment prior to subsequent contact of that foot with the ground (excluding any flight time when both feet are off the ground).
  • The Flight Phase refers to the period of time, if any, during which both feet are off the ground.
The animation at right illustrates legs in the Stance Phase (in blue) and the Swing Phase (in green). You will note that each leg passes through both phases during a two-step, gait cycle; and that both phases occur at the same time. (The Flight Phase is not included in the animation because the race walker is on the ground at all times.)
Westerfield breaks down the Stance Phase into three subphases. One page of this section is devoted to each subphase.
  • The Contact Subphase begins with the initial foot strike, and ends just before the foot is flat on the ground. It assumes that the walker does not land flatfooted.
  • The Mid Stance Subphase begins when the foot is flat on the ground, and ends just before the heel begins to rise off the ground.
  • The Propulsion Subphase begins as the heel begins to lift off the ground, and ends just before the foot loses contact with the ground. It is so named because this is the period during which the walker can propel himself forward by flexing the ankle.
In this discussion of gait anatomy, I will be using the following terms.
  • "Stance hip," "stance leg," "stance knee," and "stance foot" refer to parts of the leg that is in its stance phase. Conversely, "swing hip," "swing leg," "swing knee," and "swing foot" refer to parts of the leg that is in its swing phase.
  • "Thigh" and "shank" are the standard terms for the upper and lower parts of the leg. The thigh is that part between the hip and the knee, and the shank is that part between the knee and the ankle. I am reluctant to use the word "shank" because I seldom see or hear it used. I have decided, for now, to simply stick with the phrase "lower leg."
  • Any discussion of biomechanics talks about the "flexion" and "extension" of muscles. While someone comfortable with the concepts of biomechanics has no problem visualizing these actions, I believe most readers will find them confusing. (For example, straightening the knee requires extension of the hamstrings and flexion of the quadricepts.) I will, therefore, simply refer to "extending" or "raising" the foot," to "bending" or "straightening" the knee or elbow, and to "rotating" the thigh or upper arm fore and aft.
It is important to remember that both sides of the body are involved in a single step--including both legs and both arms. And, it is not simply a matter of moving one arm and one leg forward while its the other arm and leg move backward, it is a matter of each appendage working with the others and the torso to achieve effective and efficient forward motion.
Let's begin at the beginning with the Contact subphase.
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Note 1 - "The Use of Biomechanics in the Judging of Race Walking" by Gary Westerfield (2007). Gary is one of USA's two IAAF race walking judges.
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