Proposal for an IAAF/USATF Walking Event Type

This proposal was written by:

Ms. Margo Schulter
5901 Newman Court #35
Sacramento, California, 95819-2618 USA
(916) 457-8935
July 25, 2013

Proposal for an IAAF/USATF Walking event type Defined by the 1949 IAAF Walking Rules

This documentation includes some notes on a few points that may be relevant to a proposal for a new walking event type, which might be named simply Walking (as race walker and Race walking judge Dave Gwyn has proposed), as defined by the 1949 IAAF walking rules.

Walking is progression by steps so taken that unbroken contact with the ground is maintained. At each step, the advancing foot of the walker must make contact with the ground before the rear foot leaves the ground.

The 1949 IAAF rules are noteworthy for their simplicity in defining continuous ground contact with a double support phase as the only constraint, leaving walkers free to adopt any style that maintains contact with at least an instant of double support. The subsequent Race walking rules taking effect by 1956, 1972, and 1996, of course, include increasingly strict form rules which additionally require leg-straightening as a constraint on the range of legal technique.

The following notes offer two approaches for sorting out the categories of Running (or General Footracing), Walking, and Race walking; plus some documentation showing that both Walking governed by the contact rule alone, and Race walking with an additional form rule restricting knee action, have histories going back 150 years to the very dawn of modern amateur athletics.

Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and today, much of the debate tends to rage over which approach — contact rule only, or contact plus knee-straightening — is obviously "correct" and should govern all walking events. Sadly, the common sense solution of having the event types of Walking and Race walking to represent these two historical approaches, with each perfectly "correct" within its own domain, has not so often been considered, although proposals and statements over the years by advocates such as Dave Gwyn have ably advanced this worthy solution.

Note 1 shows how Running, Walking, and Race walking may be defined and sorted out using an approach familiar to many athletes and judges where walking events involve "Running plus rules" or "Running with restrictions."

Note 2 explains a different approach in which Running, Swimming, and Walking are co-equal disciplines of the sport of athletics, with discipline limitations that make swimmers and walkers somewhat slower than the fastest runners. In "freestyle" events like Freestyle Swimming and Walking, only the discipline rule applies (locomotion through water rather than by land and air; or locomotion by land with a contact rule excluding a flight phase). In events such as Breaststroke Swimming and Race walking of a more highly technical nature, the athlete is limited not only by the overall discipline rules for swimming or walking, but by additional form rules excluding many techniques which would be legal in Freestyle Swimming or Walking.

Note 3 traces the Walking and Race walking rules back a full 150 years, and documents how the knee-straightening rule of the latter event-type was proposed in perhaps its earliest known version (Charles Westhall, 1863, 37-38) on the assumption that walking with bent knees "will invariably bring both feet off the ground at the same time." During subsequent decades, however, it became clear that those favoring the knee rule were additionally concerned with their concept of a "fair" style, regardless of whether a bent-knee walker managed to remain legal as judged by the contact rule.

Note 1: Running, Walking, and Race walking: "Running plus rules"

In the "running plus rules" or "running with restrictions" approach to walking events, an approach familiar to many race walkers and Race walking judges, we look at Race walking — and also Walking in general — as a special kind of running restricted or modified by rules beyond those applying in usual running events.

Apart from a small point mentioned below regarding versions of the contact rule, this familiar approach neatly sorts out running (or more precisely General Footracing), Walking, and Race walking into event types with increasingly restrictive conditions.

Running or General Footracing: The general footracing "rules of the road" apply: for example, the rules against false starts, cutting the course short, interfering with the progress of another competitor, covering part of the course by horse or subway rather than one’s own two feet, etc. These same rules also apply to Walking and Race walking. However, a Running race is otherwise "go-as-you-please": competitors may use any running or walking technique, with or without a flight phase.

Walking: In Walking, the general footracing rules apply plus the contact rule requiring "unbroken" or continuous contact with the ground, more specifically defined by the 1949 IAAF rules to mean a double support phase, however brief, where the leading foot contacts the ground while the rear foot still remains on the ground. Within the limits of this rule, any footracing technique is permissible, including styles identical to or closely resembling either everyday walking or grounded running (biomechanical running with a double support phase). Race walking with double support is one such permitted style.

Race walking: In Race walking, in addition to the general footracing rules plus a contact rule slightly more lenient than that of Walking (requiring no visible loss of contact as judged by the human eye in real time), there is a form rule severely limiting the range of legal techniques: "The advancing leg shall be straightened (i.e. not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until the vertical upright position." (See 1996 IAAF Race walking definition.) Both everyday walking and forms of bent-knee grounded running legal in Walking are thus illegal in Race walking.

In short, we have this overall scheme:

Proposal for an IAAFUSATF Walking event type 2

Thus a runner may do anything a walker or race walker may do. A walker may do anything a runner may do except break contact with the ground by a flight or aerial phase of any duration. A race walker, unlike a walker, may undergo brief flight phases not long enough to cross the threshold of clear visibility to the human eye in real time; but is otherwise far more technically restricted than a walker by the straightened-knee rule.

What both the Walking and Race walking rules seek to exclude is a technique combining the two elements which together may fairly define ordinary running: a flight phase plus an elastic or spring-mass type of propulsion involving knee flexion during early stance. Walking with its strict contact rule prohibits any flight phase, although knee flexion is freely permitted; while Race walking strictly excludes knee flexion during early stance, so that the slight flight phase which is permitted cannot be exploited to the athlete’s advantage by an elastic technique of propulsion.

This last point may be clearer if stated very concretely. In Walking, an athlete may have very much the stance and biomechanical technique of an endurance runner, with markedly bent knees and a crouched posture. However, the walker — unlike an ordinary runner — cannot use a flight phase to increase stride length; and, unlike an ordinary runner, must focus not only on going as fast as possible, but on maintaining continuous contact. These differences make the walker’s athletic endeavor not only distinct from that of a runner who exhibits a flight phase, but also psychologically distinct from that of a runner who happens to maintain continuous contact but need not do so as an intentional element of technique in order to remain legal!

In Race walking, an athlete may exhibit very brief flight phases (up to something on the order of 0.040 seconds, or 1/25 second) visible in photographic images or slow motion video replays, although not clearly perceived by the trained eye of a judge of walking.  However, the bent-knee rule prevents the walker from obtaining a substantial advantage from that flight phase of the kind available to an ordinary runner, whose often much more prolonged flight phases may vary substantially increase step length. Additionally, in Race walking, the simultaneous constraints of the contact rule and the bent-knee rule make the athlete’s technical and psychological situation far more constrained than in ordinary running. We may quickly appreciate this point by comparing the situation of a race walker in the final portion of a 50 km event who must comply with the knee rule until the finish line has safety been crossed, and that of a 50K runner who is free to negotiate those final kilometers using any "survival mode" of running or walking that may seem expedient.

Thus, from this point of view, either Walking or Race walking is "running with meaningful restrictions." The Walking rules exclude a flight phase, but embrace a vast range of techniques which may be identical to or synonymous with either everyday walking or grounded running. The Race walking rules limit athletes more dramatically to a single basic type of technique or style, albeit with many individual nuances and variations.

Note 2: Running, Swimming, and Walking: A disciplinary approach

Rather than look at Walking and Race walking as forms of running with additional rules or restrictions, we can look at Running, Swimming, and Walking as three distinct and co-equal disciplines of the sport of athletics. In this approach, Walking and Race walking are analogous to Freestyle Swimming and the Breaststroke.

In General Footracing or Running, the athlete is free to engage in the fastest known mode of human locomotion: ambulation on land and through the air, also known as ordinary running. A flight phase, although not required (except in the special technical event category of hurdling), is freely permitted, and is exhibited by the speediest competitors at all distances at least up to the marathon (42.195 km or 26.219 miles).

In Swimming, the discipline rule or restriction of locomotion through water results in a slower speed than in Running. "Rules of the aquatic course" such as the prohibition against walking on the bottom of the pool or springing up from it further emphasize the differences from either Running or Walking. Thus even the fastest swimming technique, the crawl stroke generally favored in Freestyle, does not permit the swimmer to attain the speed of the fastest runners.

In Walking, the discipline rule of continuous contact with the ground excludes a flight phase, again limiting the athlete to a slower speed than that exhibited by the fastest runners. Even the fastest known walking techniques, Race walking and bent-knee styles of grounded running or shuffling, cannot equal the speed of a sprinting runner, whose flight phases may supply about half the length of a step.
For either Swimming or Walking, the term "freestyle" may reasonably be understood to mean that only the discipline rule applies: locomotion through water; or by land while maintaining continuous contact with the ground. The discipline rule alone suffices to distinguish either of these modes of locomotion from Running.

However, within these disciplines, Freestyle Swimming and Walking are supplemented by more technical and restrictive events such as Breaststroke Swimming and Race walking where the athlete must not only stay within the discipline, but keep within form rules such as the definition of the breaststroke, or the 1996 IAAF Race walking definition with its leg-straightening rule.

One point which may often be lost in intramural and sometimes also near-internecine arguments among walkers is that both freestyle and highly technical events have value as arenas for a range of athletic virtues. The expert race walker must develop a precision and perfection of technique coupled with the endurance to maintain that technique, under the continual scrutiny of able judges, for up to 50 km. The freestyle walker, to be a well-rounded competitor, must master a variety of gaits, including Race walking or some closely allied technique, and also one or more sustainable styles of grounded running. Each event has its own merits and challenges, and also its own quirks which can be a topic of good sporting humor rather than mutual recrimination.

This "disciplinary approach" to Running, Swimming, and Walking might be crudely diagrammed about as follows:

Proposal for an IAAFUSATF Walking event type 1

An important aspect of a technical event such as Breaststroke Swimming or Race walking is that athletes, simply in order to complete the course, must develop both the skill needed consistently to meet the form rules and the fortitude to do so for the entire race. This demand to "stay in form" neatly explains why everyday walking is illegal in Race walking, even though it is hardly competitive with expert Race walking technique at 12 km/h (7.5 mph) or higher! The relentless imperative to keep within the form rules, even when the athlete might happily sacrifice speed at least momentarily for the comfort of a more relaxed mode of progression near the end of a 50 km event, is a central value of the Race walking ethos.

In contrast, Walking offers an arena for versatility and strategy: Race walking and grounded running may permit comparable speeds for the best athletes. This situation may be a bit different than in Freestyle Swimming, where the crawl is generally deemed faster than the breaststroke for equally matched athletes. Especially in longer races such as 50 km (the longest standard Race walking distance) or 100 km (proposed by French Race walking champion Alain Moulinet), competitors will likely seek out race strategies optimizing their efficient use of different gaits and muscle groups, while at the same time responding to the strategies of other contenders.

What knits Walking and Race walking together is the contact rule, a consideration which runners are free to ignore even when they happen to adopt a style maintaining continuous contact. Further, the two sister events share Race walking technique as a unifying common theme, even though Walking embraces various other techniques also. Whether one thinks of these two event types as "subdisciplines of walking," or as "related walking disciplines," their relationship should be constructive and mutually reinforcing

Note 3: Early History: Walking and Race walking rules

During the 18th and 19th centuries in the United Kingdom, and during the latter century also in the United States, professional pedestrianism (i.e. athletic walking) was a favorite sport, with wagers often laid on the outcome of a race between two walkers, or between a single walker and the clock. Early accounts indicate that a variety of walking gaits were used, as in this report of how "Glanville, a Shropshire man" set out on December 26, 1806, to walk 142 miles in 30 hours — with odds of "7 to 4 and 2 to 1 against him."

He went off at a brisk walk, and for two miles together he broke  into a shuffling walk, at the rate of six miles an hour.  ("Extraordinary Pedestrian Performance," _Sporting Magazine_, 1807, p. 205)

This successful athlete evidently used a style much favored in the later 19th century also — with much resulting controversy over the rules of "fair walking." One source (Stonehenge, 1859, 442-443) gives a typical set of rules for the kind of walking match in vogue shortly before the birth of modern amateur athletics and its walking events:

The conditions of walking-matches are generally in writing, specifying that the man or men shall start at the dropping of a handkerchief, or other signal agreed upon; and that the walker must keep to a fair "toe-and-heel walk" — that is to say, that either the toe of one foot or the heel of the other must always be in contact with the ground. An umpire on each side is appointed, who follow the men closely, and if either exceeds the "toe-and-heel" walk by running (in which case there is a moment when both feet are clear of the ground), the umpire named by his opponent calls to him to turn, and he must do so or lose the match, unless the order of the one umpire is disputed by the other, in which case the referee, who has also been appointed by the umpires, decides between them. On being called upon to turn, the walker must turn completely round, and also alter his mode of walking, or he is again called upon to turn, and thus equally loses the match by the necessity for constant turning. The distance and ground to be walked over are also fixed by the articles.

This description indicates that the test of "fair toe-and-heel" walking was continuous contact, with any observed flight phase the occasion for the penalty of "turning," somewhat analogous to the IAAF Pit Lane Rule for young race walkers now being tried in the UK and elsewhere. Later in the century, cautions followed by disqualification would become the rule in amateur walking competitions.
Five years after "Stonehenge," the correspondent "J. D. C." (1864, 382) explicated the rule of "fair toe and heel" in terms hard to improve upon 149 years later. Reporting on a seven mile walking race at Cambridge University, and praising the athletes for walking fairly, unlike those who "jump or hop along doubled up," this writer explains the meaning of fair walking:

`Fair toe and heel’ was the rule. If you watch twenty persons in the street, you will observe that in every case the heel of the first foot touches the ground before the toe of the last leaves it. That is the criterion of fair walking. Keep to that and go as fast as you can.

For Walking, this simple rule suffices, with the 1949 IAAF walking rules using much the same language to clarify the requirement of unbroken ground contact: "At each step, the advancing foot of the walker must make contact with the ground before the rear foot leaves the ground."

By 1863, however, the professional pedestrian Charles Westhall had already taken this same basic rule as the point of departure for the more exacting restrictions of what was to become modern Race walking. Westhall (1863, 37) begins with a very lucid summary of the discipline rule for all walkers:

Walking is a succession of steps, not leaps, and with one foot always on the ground. The term "fair toe and heel" was meant to infer that as the foot of the back leg left the ground, and before the toes had been lifted, that the heel of the foremost foot should be on the ground.

The continuation of his thought, however, marks an historical point of divergence between Walking and Race walking:

Even this apparently simple rule is broken almost daily, in consequence of the pedestrian performing with a bent and loose knee, in which case the swing of his whole frame when going at any pace will invariably bring both feet off the ground at the same time; and although he is going heel and toe, he is not taking the required succession of steps, but is infringing the great and principal one, of one foot being continually on the ground. (Westhall, 1863, 37-38)

In other words, bent-knee walkers, in Westhall’s view, will "invariably" lose contact with the ground, thus violating the generally agreed upon definition of the discipline. His views were very influential both in the UK and the USA, with the entry on "Athletic Sports" in _Nelson’s Encyclopaedia_ (1907, Vol. I, 434) referring to this technical fault by its familiar name of "lifting":

`Lifting’ generally occurs from fatigue, although it may be deliberate, and consists in getting one foot off the ground before the other has reached it. The vice is detected by watching if daylight can be seen beneath both feet at once, by the body leaning forward, and by bent knees.

If one shares Westhall’s assumption that a bent knee necessarily entails loss of contact, then indeed to observe a bent knee is to "detect" lifting. Of course, it would be quite possible for a judge to look at a bent-knee style merely as an indication that contact should be more closely scrutinized — much as judges routinely do with other signs of less than perfect style, such as overstriding or a "bouncy" motion, that are not themselves illegal, but help in deciding which walkers may merit closer observation.

At any rate, some judges of walking in the decades following Westhall’s warning against bent knees neither shared his assumption nor were adverse to a bent-knee style, as long as the walker was seen to obey the contact rule. Montague Shearman (1889, 122-138), in his memorable portrait of "Walking and Walkers," at once eloquently advocates the stricter norms of Race walking as a standard for judges, and colorfully documents some of the styles found inappropriate for that event but often quite at home in modern Walking. In lamenting the latitude shown by many later 19th-century judges of walking, Shearman (ibid., 129) quotes from a work about J. G. Chambers, the victor in what is often counted as the first amateur walking championship in 1866, where he won the seven mile race in 59:32.

It is, perhaps, worthy of note that the work from which we have studied the account of Chambers’ championship defines `fair walking’ as `having one leg on the ground at the time,’ and adds, `the straightness of the legs does not prove or alter fair walking.’

Shearman, while quoting (ibid. at 124) Westhall’s famous passage about lifting "invariably" resulting from "a bent and loose knee," makes it clear that he regards this type of style unbecoming of a proper athletic walker even if contact is maintained, as in this opinion of H. Webster, another distinguished amateur champion (ibid. at 135):

To this day controversy rages about the fairness of Webster’s walking, some averring that he never walked a yard in his life, and others that he never should have been disqualified. Our own opinion is that his gait was not the gait of a true walker in the sense in which it is understood by the public, although he probably knew how to keep upon the right side of the line drawn by judges, who only look to the requirement of both feet not being off the ground at the same time.

In other words, Webster was evidently at least for the most part a fair and legal competitor under the Walking rules, but outside the scope of Race walking as envisioned by Shearman and others. Shearman underscores his point of view in his remarks (ibid. at 136) about H. Whyatt, a champion walker "credited with having walked a mile at Birmingham, in 1883, in 6 min. 34 4/5 sec."

Whyatt was a tall, wiry man, who progressed with a very short stride; and we can only express an opinion of him that he never walked at all, but merely trotted on his heels, taking care upon such occasions never to have both feet off the ground at once. His action was very much like that of Webster in his later days, only `very much more so’; but as long as a man was considered to be walking because one foot reached the ground before the other quite left it, it became impossible to disqualify him. (Ibid. at 136)

Thus while Westhall in 1863 viewed bent-knee walking as illegal because it inevitably led to lifting, Shearman regarded it as properly illegal because it is not "the gait of a true walker" (ibid. at 135), and results in "ridiculous and contorted attitudes" (ibid. at 126). He thus, following in Westhall’s footsteps and with benefit of 25 years of further experience, proposes some clear rules for what will become the modern event type of Race walking:

To put it shortly, the judges must all see that each man is walking fairly, and not that he is not walking unfairly, by which dark saying we mean this: the three characteristics of walking which distinguish the exercise from running are these: (1) The weight of the body is on the heels when the step forward is taken; (2) One foot is always on the ground; (3) The knee is perfectly straight as the foremost foot reaches the ground. The judges should see that each of the three essentials is rigidly adhered to, and promptly disqualify the man who either gets on to his toes, bends his knees, or has both feet off the ground together.  Then, and not till then, we shall see none but fair walkers upon the path. (Ibid. at 126-127)

The current 1996 IAAF Race walking rules, although they do not directly address a heel strike (Westerfield, 2007, at 9-10, notes that the IAAF rulemakers in 1995 considered but declined to add a heel strike rule), do require maintaining contact as judged by the human eye, and straightening of the support leg from contact until "the vertical upright position." Thus Westhall and Shearman are germinal sources for the current rules. Additionally, whatever his own misgivings, Shearman has documented the very colorful early history of amateur Walking, which embraces not only Race walking and allied techniques, but the art of a well-grounded "shuffle" or "trot" (ibid. at 122) so carried off as to maintain good contact.

On the other side of the Atlantic, F. A. Ware (1889, 73-76) shared his experience on "How to Walk Well" as Ex-Intercollegiate Athletic Champion, showing much human understanding and wisdom in approaching the discipline and the question of rules. From his American perspective, he shows a reality not radically different from that we find some 120 years later (ibid. at 73-74):

Fast walking is universally recognized as one of the principal branches of athletics, but no sport engenders so much controversy or is so unsatisfactory to its votaries. It is, of course, an artificial gait, and therefore requires a judge, who is usually a superannuated walker, with decided ideas on the subject. If these judges could only be brought to believe that, as no two men are alike, so no two have an exactly similar style in walking, and that a walk may be fair and yet differ widely from their own ideal, walking would assume the rank in athletics to which it is entitled, but "to err is human," and a man may train conscientiously and honestly, endeavoring to cultivate an irreproachable style, only to be disqualified in his first race.

Setting down words as timely as ever, Ware adds that "in fact, in no other sport is there room for such wide variance of opinion among presumably honest and intelligent men." In explaining his own approach to rules, generally in agreement with that of Westhall and Shearman and leaning to the approach of modern Race walking, Ware nevertheless expresses a fascinating ambivalence (ibid. at 74):

The fundamental principle of fair walking is that one foot must be on the ground all the time; this is imperative, as can be easily demonstrated by trial. A violation of this rule must result in a run: another idea on which judges should lay great stress is that the knees must not be bent when the feet strike the ground and remain rigid until after they leave it. This is absolutely necessary, in fast walking, although a man can walk fairly with his knees bent if he tries to, but nothing can be more awkward or unnatural. This rule necessitates a third, which is that the heel of the forward foot strikes the ground simultaneously as the toe of the rear foot leaves it. This gives rise to the popular expression, "heel and toe walking." Anyone who observes the three foregoing rules will walk fairly.

This view, in contrast to Westhall’s that a bent-knee style will "invariably" result in lifting or Shearman’s that such a style is simply unfair whether or not loss of contact occurs, holds that "a man can walk fairly with his knees bent if he tries to, but nothing can be more awkward or unnatural." This strong but qualified language comports well with Ware’s philosophy "that a walk may be fair and yet differ widely" from a given ideal. His recognition of this fact, and also his empathy with the plight of the athlete who makes his or her best effort and yet is disqualified — whether because of some clear technical fault, or as a more disputable judgment call — lend a note of moderation one hopes may prevail in the 21st century.

Walter Kershaw (1890, 476), as part of a larger survey of "Athletics in and Around New York," enlarges on the idea that bent-knee walking can be fair, but a Race walking technique is the way to achieve truly impressive speeds:

Persons who have never been trained to walk fast generally quicken their gait by bending forward and lengthening the stride, at the same time bending the knees very much at each step. It is pretty safe to say that no one can possibly adopt this style and keep a fair walk at a faster gait than six miles an hour.

Kershaw then gives a portrait of efficient Race walking technique (ibid. at 476):

The fast walker must keep  himself erect, his shoulders back, and chest thrown out.  He must put down his forward foot heel first, and with  the leg  straight. He must  take strides so  quick that they look  short. He must,  if he expects  to get a  good stride, work his  hips considerably, overcoming the  sidewise tendency of the  hip movement  by a  compensatory swinging  of the  arms. The length of stride in fast walking is astonishing to those who look at it.

While Race walking adopts this general style "with the leg straight" as the only legal technique — a technique marked now, as then, by the distinctive hip motion to lengthen the stride — Walking welcomes both this and the bent-knee shuffle as legitimate gaits, inviting athletes to use their discretion in choosing either: "And may the best athlete and wisest choice of techniques win!"
From this same era, we have an explanation reported by Caspar W. Whitney (1891, 587) of why bent-knee techniques are not deemed from the viewpoint of Race walking to constitute a "fair athletic walk." He quotes R. F. Foster:

"The main points of a fair athletic walk are, briefly: _One foot must always be on the ground._ This prevents the walker overstepping himself, and converting a walk into a series of small jumps. In the spurts made by professionals to show off, this is the style adopted. Dan O’Leary used to take steps six feet in length in his spurts, which is impossible in a fair walk. A walker would have an exceptionally fine stride who could fairly go forty-four inches at a step, because he would have to stretch that distance between the toe of one foot and the heel of the other. Thirty inches is the ordinary step in every-day walking. _The knee-joint of the leg that touches the ground must be `locked’._ When the heel touches the ground in front of the walker, the knee-joint must be rigid, and the limb perfectly stiff, and it must be kept so until the moment of lifting at the end of the step. This is to prevent the walker stooping and reaching out with the forward foot more than his natural stride. The great requisite for a walker is rapidity of action and length of stride. The first is a natural gift, like fast sprinting; the other is acquired; and one who has not learned the `gait’ has no chance with the trained stepper."

Foster adds, "The length of stride is acquired by constant practice of two motions — a rolling and a sinking of the hips," and explains in detail how good hip action may effectively "add four inches to the length of your legs!" He concludes by cautioning about the limitations of human perception which make close judging "really nothing but guesswork; for all scientists agree that any motion quicker than one-tenth of a second cannot be followed by the eye. A lighted stick revolved faster than ten revolutions a second looks like a continuous wheel of fire." (Ibid. at 587)

Some 120 years later, Foster’s tenth of a second as the limit of time resolution for the human eye-brain system has been revised to the somewhat finer 1/30 of a second or so, but the dilemmas of how best to judge contact remain.

However, for our present purposes, it is Foster’s view on the bent knee that is of special interest: he views it, unlike artful hip rotation and also a "hip drop" seen as a part of optimal technique in some but not all current teaching, as an illicit means for extending the length of a step. Possibly it can be seen as a crude and inelegant technique, at least from the perspective of Race walking, which would be incongruous to the aesthetics of the competition — somewhat like the elementary backstroke used in a breaststroke race.

From the perspective of Walking, however, either bending the knees (and often also the hips) to obtain a greater step length, or using leg-straightening plus hip rotations to achieve this same goal, are legitimate choices — as long as the walker maintains contact!
Foster, like Ware, defines "fair walking" by a contact rule plus a knee rule requiring that the support leg be straightened from contact "until the moment of lifting at the end of the step," Whitney (1891, 587). This regulatory approach is very close to that taken in the 1996 IAAF definition of Race walking, which states the less exacting but still stringent rule that the support leg shall be straightened from contact "until the vertical upright position."

This basic scheme of a contact rule plus a knee rule — sometimes supplemented by rules requiring a heel strike and upright posture — has served since Westhall and Shearman as a framework for what we should term fair Race walking. However, race walker Fred Cohen in the UK (1898, 433) observes that the untrained observer’s sense of "fair walking" does not always coincide with that of the initiated athlete or judge:

The average spectator, it is to be feared, is far from the best judge in this connection, though never slow to appreciate a really good style. Still in many cases the fact that a man is going along on the path at double the pace which he would show on the road is proof positive to them that the foot racer is not walking fairly. Yet I will undertake to say that men do quite frequently walk unfairly at a slow pace. The bent knee and the shuffle, neither of which can be considered consistent with fair walking, may often be seen in ordinary city men as they hurry across London Bridge at the alarming pace of four-and-a-half  miles an hour, whilst if I show a friend what seven-and-a-half miles an hour is, going with the most scrupulous fairness, the chances are much in favour of his remarking, "But you don’t call that walking?"

From the perspective of Walking, either the untrained bent-knee shuffler across London Bridge, or the expert race walker like Cohen, is walking fairly, as long as ground contact is maintained. In Race walking, however, only the second technique is admissible.
In the first years of the 20th century, while the straightened leg rule enjoys very wide acceptance in the literature of athletic walking, we still encounter opinions in the UK and USA in favor of the contact rule alone as a guide to legality and fairness. Albert Whitehouse (1902, 11) presents an American view to this effect:

The average man should be able to walk a mile in ten minutes, and to keep the pace for several miles at the rate of a mile in twelve minutes. Professional walkers and champion amateurs have covered a mile in about six minutes and a half. This speed is faster than most men can run. But professional or competitive walking is far different in gait to ordinary correct walking. In competition, speed is the paramount consideration, and so long as the main regulation is adhered to, which is that at least one foot must be on the ground all the time, any gait is allowed. The toe of one foot must not lift before the heel of the other is brought to the ground. This constitutes fair heel and toe walking. There is a peculiar hip motion adopted by competitive walkers and it requires considerable practice and endurance.

In order to clarify that "fair heel and toe walking" means simply that some part of one foot or the other is always on the ground, with the walker exhibiting at least an instant of double contact or support, the Olympian George E. Larner (1909), provides some amusing and illuminating examples. In the London Olympics of 1908, he won the gold medals for the UK in the 3500 Meter Walk and the 10 Mile Walk.

The usual description of Walking as being "fair heel and toe" is by no means accurate. A man may comply with the rules of "heel and toe" Walking and yet be really running all the time; while on the other hand a man might actually cover a considerable distance without touching the ground with one of his heels at all, and yet be Walking all the time. Try for yourself and see. A man can Walk on his toes only, for some distance, comparatively slowly it is true, but he will still be free from any accusation of running. < walking/message/5341>

Having cautioned against a literal reading of "heel and toe" that would require any specific portion of the foot to be the first to touch the ground or the last to leave it, Larner then comes to a main point of controversy (ibid.):

Another test which I have heard some authorities advocate is to my mind even less sound than the "heel and toe" ruling. This is, that the perfectly fair walker should always preserve a straight knee. A very fallacious test this.
For first of all a man may run, or perhaps I should say "jump" along with perfectly straight, stiff legs. I have seen some very fast work done in this manner. The walker, as he styles himself, and as some judges occasionally style him, leaping along from heel to heel, only occasionally bringing his toes to the ground.

Secondly, a man may walk with a scrupulously fair action and yet bend his front leg throughout the whole of his stride. He may also bent his front leg as he touches the ground with his heel and straighten it in the course of the stride. Both actions are fair.

In making continuous ground contact the test of fairness, Larner also focuses on the "double contact" or double support phase (ibid.):

The surest and most certain method of testing a walker is to watch his feet. If one or other of these is always in contact with the ground, that is to say, if on no single occasion does he lift BOTH feet clear, then is that man walking beyond any possibility of cavil.

The period of double contact with a really fast walker is naturally almost infinitesimal. Equally, of course, the faster the walker travels the shorter still will be the duration of double contact. But this is the essential point. The hind foot must not leave the ground until the front one touches it. The judges have to decide that, and further discussion of the subject may, I fancy, be left to the chapter in which I propose dealing with these functions.

As early as the 1860’s, during the formative years of walking as a discipline of modern amateur athletics, there were views favoring either the contact rule alone, or the contact rule plus a leg rule (plus possibly other technical constraints on footstrike and posture), as the proper test for "fair walking." As of 1910, views still differed.

A century later, the same state of affairs still holds. Is it not time to recognize the athletic and artistic merits of both approaches, and to recognize two sister events: Walking limited by the contract rule alone with its requirement for double support, perfectly defined by the 1949 IAAF rules; and Race walking as currently defined by the 1996 IAAF rules, with a contact rule and a leg-straightening rule as the governing criteria?

Historical perspective can serve as a sound foundation for present action. The time for such action has come.


_________, 1807. "Extraordinary Pedestrian Performance," _The Sporting Magazine; or Monthly Calendar of the Transactions of the Turf, the Chase, And every other DIVERSION interesting to the Man of Pleasure, Enterprise, Spirit_ (January, 1807, 205).

_________, 1907. "Athletic Sports," _Nelson’s Encyclopaedia, In Ten Volumes, containing 50.000 Articles, Profusely Illustrated_, (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons), Volume I, 432-436.

Cohen, Fred A. 1898. "Walking," in _The "House" on Sport: By Members of the London Stock Exchange_ (ed. W. A. Morgan, London: Gale & Polden, Ltd.), 432-437.

"J. D. C." 1864. "Young England’s College Sports: A Day with the Champion Athletes of the Universities," _London Society_ (April 1864), 375-384.

Kershaw, Walter. 1890. "Athletics in and Around New York," _Harper’s Weekly_ (June 21, 1890, 473-490). A shorter version including the relevant text appears as "The Art of Fast Walking," _Ballou’s Monthly Magazine_ (November 1890, 433).

Larner, C. E. [George E. Larner], 1909. _Larner’s Text Book on Walking. Exercise – Pleasure – Sport_. (London: Heath and Strength). Excerpt quoted from post by Raymond Smith (2001),
< walking/message/5341>.

Shearman, Montague, 1889. _Athletics and Football, With a Contribution on Paper-Chasing by W. Rye and an Introduction by Sir Richard Webster, Q.C., M.P._ (3rd ed., London: Longmans, Green, and Co.).

Stonehenge, 1859. _Manual of British Rural Sports: Comprising Shooting, Hunting, Coursing, Fishing, Hawking, Racing, Boating, Pedestrianism, and, The Various Rural Games and Amusements of Great Britain (4th ed., London: Routledge, Warnes, & Routledge).
Ware, F.A. 1889. "How to Walk Well," in _Brawn and Brain, Considered by Noted Athletes and Thinkers_ (ed. Arthur F. Aldridge, New York:John B. Alden), 73-76.

Westerfield, Gary A. 2007. _The Use of Biomechanics in the Judging of Race Walking_. <>

Westhall, Charles. 1863. _The Modern Method of Training for Running, Walking, Rowing, & Boxing. Including Hints on Exercise, Diet, Clothing, and Advice to Trainers (London: S. O. Beeton).

Whitehouse, Albert. 1902. "Physical Culture," in _Suggestion: A Monthly Magazine_ (July 1, 1902), 10-14.

Whitney, Caspar W. 1891. "Amateur Sport," _Harper’s Weekly_ (August 1, 1891), 586-587.

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee

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