Technique > Lower Body > HIPS

Figure 1.
Marinelli Study
race walking in slow motion
Whenever the subject of race walking comes up in a conversation, non-walkers immediately mention the hips. They are the public face of race walking, and the butt of most jokes about it. From: "Doesn't it hurt your hips?" to their comedic, 10-meter demonstrations of how they think race walkers walk, we are the true "hippies" in their mind. But, the hips are very important in race walking; they simultaneously perform a wide variety of complex functions that, if done properly, do not look funny at all. In fact, they are quite amazing. The various motions of the hips (rotation, drop, sway, tilt, etc.) require dozens of different muscles in the back, abdomen, groin areas, and legs to:
  • stabilize the body (that's why you can stand on one or two legs),
  • swing the thighs back and forth so you can walk,
  • apply the rotational force (torque) to the legs so you can move forward,
  • keep the torso and head from bobbing up and down as you vault over a straightened leg (hip drop),
  • extend the step length by allowing the trailing foot to remain in contact with the ground longer, thereby allowing you to "push" forward longer (hip rotation),
  • move the thighs laterally so you can move one foot from directly behind the other to directly ahead of it,
  • rotate the legs so the feet can carry you smoothly around a curve, and
  • tilt the pelvis to minimize swayback and, thereby, allow a wider range of motions by the hips.
HIP LOCATION:  In order to fully execute the other motions of the hips, you should tilt your pelvis forward to minimize swayback. This amounts to moving the groin areas forward. While it is hard to define how far forward you should move them, a good starting point is that they should be about mid way between the farthest back and the farthest forward that you can move them.
HIP ROTATION:  Hip rotation refers to a rotation about the spine, and is the action used when are doing the "twist" (a dance familiar to those of you with some age).  It is used to different degrees by different race walkers, but all good race walkers do it. Hip rotation is primarily used to extend step length behind the body in order to delay toe off. Delaying toe off allows more time for the forefoot to push the body forward as the foot is extended downward by the calf muscles.
As you begin to incorporate hip rotation into your race walking technique, you (especially men) should work into it gradually. Just as you should only gradually increase step length or step rate, it takes time to fully condition the "rotation muscles" for this task. (I say "especially men" because, in most cultures, men are taught not to rotate their hips when they walk. They will have to condition their minds as well as their bodies.)
HIP DROP:  Hip drop can be illustrated by standing tall on two legs, then bending one knee and putting most of the weight on the other foot.  The hip tends to drop on the side of the bend knee--and remain high on the side with the straight leg.  Such a drop is used to compensate for the normal rise in the body as one pivots over the support leg with a straight knee.  Hip drop can best be learned by working with an instructor or experienced race walker.

Figure 2.
"hip sway"
HIP SWAY:  I have a lot of questions about "hip sway" (my term) for which I am seeking answers. The literature I have accessed does not agree with what I see in photos of some very fast race walkers (including world champions). As I get the answers to my questions, I will update this page as needed.
  • The literature says: Do not move the hips sideways. It is a waste of energy, does not provide any help in moving you forward, and can encourage you to swing the arms too far across the centerline of the torso.
  • The photos show a significant percentage of top walkers (especially outside the United States) forming an "S" curve mid step by moving the hips and shoulders sideways in opposite directions (see Figure 2). Their photos are so similar that I assume they are being taught to do so. Different walkers "sway" to different degrees; from the more extreme (as illustrated by Figure 2) to the rather mild (which, I understand, some of the top American walkers have been encouraged to use). My guess is that this movement is designed to help the race walker plant each foot directly in front of the other by allowing the trailing leg to move forward without having to arc around the supporting leg as it travels rearward.
I have several questions about this item, and hope that some knowledgeable viewer(s) will send me one or more of the answers via E-mail. (Please use the Contact Us page for such E-mails.)
   What is the common term for this motion?
   Why do race walkers do it?
   What are they generally taught about doing it?
   Can they do too much of it?
   Why do many (if not most) top race walkers not do it?
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