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Training Walkers and Coaches

Walking is a natural activity, but many of us want to learn how to do it better.  Some want to coach others in walking.  The American Walking Association trains both walkers and walking coaches.  I caught up with Viisha Sedlak, director of the AWA.  See below also for links to other walking coach certification and walker workshops.

Walking Guide: You were ranked #1 in the World 1986-92 as Masters Female Walker and undefeated in international competition for seven years. What led you to take up racewalking as a sport?

Viisha: I was a runner who wanted to improve by using the straight-leg walk technique; I improved my fitness so much straight-leg walking that I stayed with walk workouts, then qualified for the USA Track and Field Team in racing, then found myself in a few years at the 1988 Olympic Trials and was ecstatic at all walking was bringing to me.

Walking Guide:  You are now involved with the American Walking Association. What is the purpose of the AWA and what does it do?

Viisha:  AWA exists to teach straight-leg walking correctly to people who care about fitness, wellness, and the joy of competitive sport. AWA encourages people of ALL ages and ALL abilities to straight-leg walk and provides camps and clinics to train them. We also certify instructors.

Walking Guide: The AWA certifies walking coaches. What can a walker expect from an AWA certified coach?

Viisha: An AWA Certified walk coach has Safety as a first priority; every AWA coach is also CPR and Red Cross Certfied. An AWA walk coach teaches walking for enjoyment, even if the client is aiming at the Olympic Games; our focus is personal development through walking more than winning medals. Yet we train our coaches to work with even the highest level of athlete.

Walking Guide: How does someone get certified as an AWA walking coach?

Viisha: To become AWA walk coach Certified, you complete a two and a half day training camp, currently held in Boulder CO each year. You must also pass a verbal exam, a written exam, and approval by three members of the Certification board. There are three levels of AWA Coach: Bronze (to teach beginners and to correct any level of walker who has not mastered the basics of form and training), Silver (like a Bronze PLUS trained to conduct corporate clinics), and Gold (like a Silver PLUS trained to train racers of any level and to certifiy AWA Coaches).

Walking Guide:  What can a walker expect at the yearly Colorado Walkers' Camp?

Viisha: The annual Colorado Camp is often a life-changing experience for our participants. We not only teach you how to walk better, faster. and with more delight, but to enhance all aspects of your self-care. You meet professionals in other wellness fields, and we always have a great athlete on staff, usually an Olympian, to teach you a life-changing outlook or wellness skill. We have had an 82 year old attend, a blind walker, several 8 year olds who came on scholarship, and the widest array of people you can imagine!

Walking Guide: What challenges face the AWA?

Viisha: The business aspects of AWA are the most challenging right now; the company grew very fast from 1988 to 1995 and the stress was eventually unmanageable. I have almost started over in the sense of rebuilding a business plan, minimizing travel, and training others to teach so I can work on new product.

Walking Guide:  What is the future of walking - is interest in walking and walk coaching increasing? In racewalking? We seem to have a lot of interest in Oregon due to the Portland-to-Coast Relay.

Viisha:  Participation in walking for fitness is growing every day, especially amongst the middle-aged, young mothers, and the elderly. The USA Track and Field side of walking has diminished, in funding, participation, and disgruntled feelings created by confusion about and inconsistency in judging. Many of our members have quit competing in USAT&F events because they prefer to focus on fun, openess of the events to all participants, and understandable rules. We are flooded with requests to train coaches and are adding two training camps in the East and Central US next year to meet the demand. AWA is very pleased that fitness professionals have recognized that the technical aspects of coaching a walker are critical for safety, training, and racing success. Walking is very easy to do, and very challenging to learn to do well, so it appeals to every level of athlete.

Walking Guide: What is the most common question walkers ask you?

Viisha: The most common question our coaches are asked is "What shoes should I wear for walking?" The best shoes for a walker are
a)the ones that fit comfortably, with a snug heel and a roomy toebox
b) the ones that have a very flexible sole at the ball of the foot, where the foot bends when walking, not just at the toes
c) ones that have a beveled heel, so a heel plant in front of the body is secure against the ground, not on a square or, worse yet, a flared edge of heel
d) a very secure feeling of support from the shoe upper, which comes from good leather or leather-mesh combination of materials, adequate height of instep so the laces are not more than an inch wide across the top of the foot when tied, and good fit through the mid foot, neither baggy nor constricted.
Many "running" shoes are good for walkers, and some "walking" shoes are not good for walkers. Judge each product on the above criteria, not on the marketing lingo.

Other Certification Programs

Dynamic Walking Trainer  Send requests for instructor applications (or for information about the Dynamic Walking Programs or audiotapes) with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the Dynamic Walking Institute, 17 Blue Rock Ct., Corte Madera, CA, 94925. Or call 1-415-924-4013.

WalkSmart program for cardiac rehabilitation from The American Running and Fitness Organization..   For more information about how to develop WalkSmart programs contact Allan Besselink, P.T., at Smart Sport International, 6808 Old Quarry Lane, Austin, TX 78731

Fitness Walking Instructor  Body Management, P.O. Box 14507, Santa Barbara, CA 93107 or email bodymanagement@utech.net

American Council on Exercise   ACE certifies personal trainers.

American College of Sports Medicine   Certificate programs for exercise and health and fitness instructors.

American Fitness Professionals Association doesn't certify anyone for only walking, but has certificates in training various populations for many aspects of fitness.

Walking Workshops and Coaching

Coaching and Workshops:  List of walking coaches and workshops nationwide, both live and "virtual."

Dave McGovern's Racewalking Clinics
Dave McGovern, United States National Team member hosts racewalk clinics around the USA. Dave's clinics are great for any level of walker - absolute beginner through serious competitor.  Dave's website also has many articles on every aspect of racewalking and training, plus a chance to buy his excellent book.  I attended his workshops and it was absolutely great for both beginners and advanced students.  His coaching style was precisely what I needed and could understand.  I came away with a wealth of knowledge about racewalking, training, conditioning, and had built a camaraderie with the other walkers.

Judy Heller trains walkers in exercise, racewalking, overall body conditioning and fitness in the Portland, Oregon area.  Yearly racewalk retreat weekend workshop.   Judy Heller is a co-director of the Portland-to-Coast Relay Walk and director of the Portland Marathon Racewalk Division.  One-on-one coaching as well as group sessions.  I attended the racewalk retreat weekend and found it to be very valuable, it improved my form greatly.


Walking Techniques and Training
Racewalking Techniques and Training

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