Robert Korzeniowski in the 50km race walk at the 2003 IAAF World Championships in Paris (© Getty Images)
The countdown to the IAAF Race Walking Team Championships Taicang 2018 continues with our series looking at the finer details of the discipline. In this latest instalment, race walking legends Jefferson Perez, Robert Korzeniowski and Jane Saville explain the leg straightened rule.
Can you explain the importance of the leg straightened rule?
Jane Saville: Essentially, it is what differentiates race walkers from running when you are looking at technique. The leg must be straightened when it makes first contact with the ground until it passes the vertical upright position under the body. If judges deem race walkers are not walking with a straightened leg, then they are penalised.
To be honest, I don’t know how anyone could walk with a bent knee – it is running. The straight leg is an important and integral part of race walking.
Robert Korzeniowski: It looks very simple and ergonomically it is wise for athletes to straighten the leg because it is a dynamic action. The energy transfer you get back allows for more forward body motion. If the knee is bent – like when running – the motion is up and down.
I try not to tell young race walkers about the straightened leg because for many it comes naturally anyway. However, about 10 to 15 per cent of people are not capable of straightening the leg because of a lack of elasticity in the hamstrings and glutes.
Is there any form of specific training which can be carried out to ensure a straightened leg?
Jefferson Perez: Yes, lots of stretching. During my career, I tried to do up to two hours of stretching every day. Another exercise I carried out was walking in a figure of eight. Because of the tight turns, this exercise helps works the hips and emphasises straightening the knee.
I personally never picked up a red card for a non-straightened leg, but I worked hard on stretching and many additional areas; on massage, body and mind. I normally stretch both before and after training.
What advice would you give younger race walkers about the leg straightened technique?
JS: I try to tell race walkers not to over-think the technique. Sometimes if you tell them the rules, they end up walking like a stick-leg man. The straightened leg is often a natural action and over time they will improve their speed.
Can the action create extra stresses on the leg?
RK: Race walking is all about hip balance. The important thing is to master the point of contact with the heel, gain the maximum forward motion and keep in contact with the ground. If this is carried out properly then there shouldn’t be too much stress on the leg or violent impact.
JS: It can impact on the back and hamstrings. Even today I can’t sit down for too long without my hamstring and back aching. Strengthening this area is key to avoiding any issues later in life.
Steve Landells for the IAAF