By current racewalking rules, the knee of the supporting leg must be straight from the moment of foot contact (normally the heel) until the leg passes under the body. If the knee is bent on contact or at any time during this period, the walker is using illegal technique and is subject to a caution or warning by the judges. Meeting the requirements of this rule is easy for some racewalkers, difficult for many, and even impossible for a few (primarily due to physical irregularities or limitations).
The following are guidelines are useful in helping to insure a straightened knee.
- The easiest way to help assure a straight knee on contact is to take a short stride (i.e., to plant the heel just in front of the center of the torso. The farther in front of the body the heel lands, the harder it is to insure a straight knee. Also, landing too far in front of the body puts such stresses on the leg that most racewalkers (even very good ones) can not keep the knee straight just after heel contact.
- Another way to help assure a straight knee is to regularly stretch the hamstrings (the large muscles on the back of the thighs) both after the muscles are warm and after a workout. Tight hamstrings will make it difficult to straighten the knee.
- The knee should be straightened more through the normal swinging action of the leg rather than through the use of the quadriceps (the large muscles on the front of the thighs). Normally the upper leg will swing forward farther than required, then begin backward to meet the lower leg (with the knee then straight) just as the heel makes contact with the ground.
- When all else fails to allow proper straightening of the knees, a racewalker should probably slow down. Trying to go too fast for your technical skills can be a major factor is getting you disqualified during races.
Gary Westerfield, an IAAF judge from New York, urges the use of the term "straightened knee" rather than "straigh knee." Race walkers with legitimately straightened knees do not necessarily have straight knees. Gary gives two examples: a person with knobby knees, and a person with bowed legs--such as world champion race walker Robert Korzeniowski who is shown in Figure 1. (See page 4 of Westerfield's "The Use of Biomechanics in the Judging of Race Walking" in the Articles section of the Other Resources page.)
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