Most people think of walking for exercise as a great way to stay in shape and spend time outdoors with friends. However, many people don't realize that walking can be competitive, too and that the sport speedwalking has a rich, fascinating history.
Walking is a favorite pastime for many people, especially in recent years, with the spread of the Pandemic and the need to socialize outside. According to the CDC, at least 60 percent of Americans use walking as their main means of getting moving and keeping their bodies strong and fit. Walking for exercise also offers people an excellent opportunity to get their heart beating, soak up some Vitamin D in the sun and socialize with other people while they get healthier. Speedwalking does all of that, too—but ups the ante as a tough competitive sport.
While almost everyone associates walking for exercise as a good way to stay heart-healthy and limber, many people don't realize that walking isn't just a free and easy way for Americans to stay in shape. It's also at the heart of a very competitive, historic, global sport called speedwalking (or, sometimes, race-walking). While speedwalking doesn't look as leisurely or as graceful as some of the other competitive sports that attract our attention on TV or at the Olympic games, it's a very physically challenging activity with an interesting origin story. Read on to learn more about what it is and how it became the phenomenon it is today.
The History of Speedwalking
Speedwalking might be new to you. But in reality, it's an Olympic sport that offers three different medaled events at every Summer Olympic Games. Speedwalking's origins lie in the late 19th century American sport called "Pedestrianism." Pedestrianism was a competitive walking sport, and it had a huge following throughout the entire United States. Huge crowds gathered to watch these races, and eventually, the number of participants swelled and throngs of people got to be hundreds of miles long.
Over time, the sport was noticed in other parts of the world and was added to the Olympics in 1904. Speedwalking has continued to evolve as it has remained a part of the Olympics. It no longer draws gigantic crowds, especially as compared to other Olympic events. But, speedwalking has developed its own form and style: people participating don't just walk as if they are walking for exercise. Instead, they adhere to a very specific—and unmistakable—way of walking that looks somewhat silly to the unaccustomed. Why don't speedwalkers just walk normally? Because one of the rules of the sport is that one foot must be touching the ground at all times—and that has to be visible to the naked human eye. By pivoting their feet (and in turn, their hips), speedwalkers can take larger strides and go further faster.
Want to Be a Speedwalker? Try These Walking Challenges
If you're now intrigued by the very captivating sport that is speedwalking, you can test out your walking skills with some walking challenges. Try either of the following challenges to see if you have potential as a professional in the sport that is competitive walking. (Even if you don't feel like you have potential as a walking athlete, you may end up loving the chance to experience more walking for exercise.
• The No K to 5K Challenge: 5K races are popular events, but they might seem daunting if you're not used to speedwalking, running for exercise or even walking for exercise. However, luckily, there are plans you can follow—like the No K to 5K Challenge—which gets you from being a couch potato to being able to complete a 5K in a matter of weeks. At a 5K race, you can walk or run once you're fit enough to make it through the course. Or, if you're feeling bold, you can even do speedwalking the whole way through.
• 10,000 Steps per Day: everyone these days has a pedometer or a smart device that counts their steps somewhere on them (usually their smartphone, smartwatch or fitness tracking device). Set a goal of walking 10,000 steps every single day for a month. See if you can do it—rain or shine (try walking the stairs or halls of your house if it is unpleasant outside! Getting in 10,000 steps per day will improve your mood, help your heart health and boost energy—and you can accomplish this number easily by doing things like taking the stairs, walking to school or work instead of driving and spending more time with kids and pets outside, going on walks.