Walking speed is the product of step length and step rate (speed = length x rate). Increase either, without a decrease the other, and you will go faster.

Figure 1.
  • Step length is usually measureed from the point of heel contact by one foot to the point of subsequent hell contact by the other foot. Step length can be directly measured by heel marks in a soft surface (e.g., soil) or by lightly dusting the road surface with flour, but it is usually measured by dividing a known distance (e.g., one lap of a track) by the number of steps taken to cover that distance. The latter procedure gives a more accurate measure because it averages the distance covered by a large number of steps. (When you measure a single step, you can not be sure that it was typical.)
  • Step rate is usually measured by the number of heel contacts made by both feet during a minute. While most top race walkers have a step rate in the range of 185 to 200, some walkers (most notably the Chinese) takes as many as 230 steps per minute. Because feet are flying so fast at high step rates, it is often easier to count the number of heel contacts made by one foot in the course of a minute and multiply the count by two.
As noted on the Terminology page, "stride" means different things to different people and is not used here. Some see it as one step; some see it as two. Accordingly, "stride rate" and "stride length" are also not used. (The dictionary primarily defines "stride" as walking with, or taking, long steps.)
  1. Most new race walkers, especially highly competitive ones, want to go as fast as they can as soon as they can.  You shouldn't!  It takes time to develop proper technique and you should never walk faster than your technique will allow. Walking too fast too soon will usually cause you to develop a bad technique -- a technique that will significantly limit your top speed later.  Be patient.  Focus on proper technique in the beginning, and speed will come of its own accord.  As you become more confortable with good technique, and find you can race walk without getting cautions or warnings from the judges. There will be plenty of time to test your speedometer later.
  2. While good results can be achieved by increasing either--and great results achieved by increasing both, most new race walkers should focus on increasing their step rate first.
  1. A high step rate (also referred to as quick turnover) can most easily be achieved by planting each heel no more than about a shoe length in front of the body's center of mass.  Some very-quick steppers plant their heels almost directly under the center of mass.
  2. The best way to develop a higher step rate is to use a higher step rate in training, beginning with short bursts in step rate
  1. When you begin to increase your step length, focus on increasing it behind your body rather than in front of it.  The heel plant should remain in roughly the same place but, by using greater hip rotation to delay toe off, you should be able to push forward from the trailing foot longer--thereby developing more power and speed, AND achieving a longer step length.
Calculating step length:  If you know a walker's average step rate (steps per minute) from observations during a race, and you know his or her finish time, you can estimate the average step length during that race by the following formula (using, as example, a 5000 meter race, a step rate of 180 s.p.m., a race time of 30:15 -- or 30.25 minutes, and 39.37 inches per meter):
                       (race length in meters)          5000          5000
 (step length) = ---------------------------------- = ----------------- = --------- = 0.918 meters = 36.14 inches
                       (step rate) x (race time)    180 x 30.25     5445
On a track, simply divide 400 meters by the number of steps required to complete one lap.
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