2 bad places for lifting. In response to Ron's 10/9 post.


There are 2 bad places for lifting in a race:

1. On a very steep uphill (the energy cost may outweight the speed
benefit);

2. When a judge is viewing from the side.

At all other times, loss of contact is advantageous (but not
something to consciously strive for, as you'll see if you read the
last two sentences of this post).  At higher speeds, say sub 5:00
kilometers, there is a huge energy cost associated with maintaining
contact because it requires the very unnatural and arbitrary,
straight-legged, sinking-low-into-the-hips technique that allows one
to stay legal. Anything the walker can do to provide even a
millisecond of relief from that technique during each stride helps
one maintain the appearance of contact for longer distances at any
given speed. The very fastest walkers have always lost contact on
most strides but they use their fitness, flexibility and trunk
strength to dampen the eccentric forces of the lower body and
maintain a smooth, low-shouldered, no-head-bobbing upper body.  Now,
having said that, some walkers with freakish knee flexibility like
Tim Lewis and Allen James are able to stay legal at higher speeds
because their extremely hyperextended knees allow the ankle-flexion
forces to push them forward and down instead of forward and up, but
when Tim walked in the 1:22-1:23 range he would bring the feet
through a little higher and lose contact.  He still looked more legal
that most of his competitors at such speeds.

Walking speed, as with running sans hurdles, is the product of stride
rate and stride length.  The distance you travel forward while
lifting makes you go faster, and without much energy cost because,
remember this, at high walking speeds you have energy costs
associated with maintaining the unnatural gait and by lessening those
costs and freeing up your technique a little, you basically get your
extra distance on each stride for free.  This is not a violation of
physics.  The extra energy needed to maintain that greater forward
velocity is mostly offset by the reduction in energy from not doing
the crazy gyrations of super-legal walking.

Now, as for the often-cited and fallacious theory that legal walking
is faster because the high hurdler is coached to snap the lead leg
down fast. LISTEN CLOSELY.  In the hurdles, the only factor in speed
is stride rate.  All competitors have the same average stride length
until after the last hurdle.  Why?  Because the hurdles are at fixed
intervals, and each racer goes left, right, left, jump, left, right,
left, jump, etc for 10 hurdles.  In fact, there is an optimum range
for leg length in hurdling, and if you are too tall you have to chop
unnaturally between the hurdles and it is difficult to keep your
tempo up.  Most elite hurdlers are about 6' to 6'2'' for the men and
5'7'' to 5'9'' for the women (women's hurdles are closer together). 
That's why some of the event's all-time great technicians, like Rod
Milburn, Renaldo Nehemiah and Gail Devers, were shorter than their
chief rivals.

So, to repeat, hurdlers need to get the heel down fast.  So do
walkers.  But stride length is a factor in walking speed.  Therefore,
loss of contact, when done smoothly with flexibility and without a
lot of wasted vertical component, can enhance speed and save a little
energy.  Most fast walkers know this instinctively and do it well,
even if it still feels to them like they are maintaining contact. 
And that's where you need to be in a race-- at the point where it
still feels like you're not lifting.  When you get to the speed where
you can feel that you're lifting, the judges can see it, too.

Ray Sharp

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