Nordic walking

🕔Apr 07, 2009

Also called urban poling, exerstriding, or pole walking, this walking style uses two specially designed poles to work the upper body while walking. Like cross-country skiing, the poles are used to match each step a person takes. Nordic Walking increases your heart rate without increasing your perceived rate of exertion. In other words, you get a better workout without feeling like you are working any harder. While you can get a similar heart rate effect by walking faster, there are many people who do not want to walk faster, or cannot walk fast.

Consider adding Nordic walking to your shape-up for summer. Not only is it a great way to spice up your regular walking workout, the three main components needed for a complete fitness program—stretching, aerobic exercise and resistance training—can all be achieved simultaneously! It combines the aerobic and strength-building benefits of cross-country skiing and walking. This full-body, cardio-muscular exercise engages the arms, back, stomach and legs. The combination promotes circulation, correct breathing, burns more calories than regular walking, and develops total body coordination and improved posture—all in a dynamic way that is conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

Are there other benefits that make it attractive to the average person and athlete alike? Nordic walking is one of the safest physical activities (the poles provide stability and encourage good posture) with minimal training before beginning. There is an exceptionally easy, low-effort entry into the exercise, and lots of room for growth. This is why a 70 year-old arthritic grandmother and an Olympic athlete can both participate in and get something from Nordic walking.

To see it, you wouldn’t think that something so simple can be so effective—but it is! It’s a year-round activity designed for urban settings (sidewalks and street surfaces), but can also be done in snow or off-road surroundings. Don’t be fooled—just because anyone can do it doesn’t mean it’s not good exercise. This is the primary dry-land training method for elite competitive skiers—it’s a good workout!

Getting started

Step 1 – Choose the correct poles for Nordic walking. A Nordic pole should be 70 percent of the user’s height. The poles should also have both a durable metal tip (used on soft surfaces) and a removable rubber tip or foot (used on pavement and other hard surfaces). Some poles have straps, some don’t. The theory behind the strapless poles is quite sound: if a pole gets caught, it can be released without throwing you off balance and causing a fall.

Step 2 – Take a class on Nordic walking or find an instructor that can give you a basic lesson (often complimentary with the purchase of the poles). You can also read guides online, buy a DVD or find books at the library that will help you.

Step 3 – Start with good walking technique. Your heel should strike the ground first; your foot rolls forward and you push off with the ball of your foot and toes. Move your opposite arm and leg together. Most people do this naturally when walking.

Step 4 – Grab the poles and hold the handles loosely in your hands with your arms hanging relaxed at your sides. The tips of the poles should rest on the ground behind you. Be sure that your arms are straight with your fingers wrapped around the handles. With your arms hanging at your sides, walk and drag the poles behind you. Feel your arms naturally swing slightly in front and behind your body with each stride. You won’t need anyone to tell you when you’ve found a normal walking stride; you’ll recognize it—you’ve been doing it for years. As your right foot steps forward, notice that your left arm swings forward. As your left foot steps forward, your right arm does the same.

Step 5 – Now swing your arms a little higher in front with each stride. This is called the ‘handshake position.’ The arm should extend forward as though you are offering a friendly, straight-armed handshake. Don’t lock the elbow but keep the arm straight (the handshake position is the first key to maximizing the benefits of the technique). At this point, you will feel the tips of the poles catching the ground behind you with each step.

Step 6 – Press the outside edge of your hand onto the base of the handle. Remember that the arm is actually a lever that transfers the major work of the pole to the large muscles of the trunk. The arm should remain in a fixed position, with just a slight bend in the elbow; all of the action should be from the shoulder. As in cross-country skiing, the arms and legs should move with a smooth, rhythmic cadence. Your stride should be just like your normal, relaxed walking stride. As you push with your upper body to help you move forward, pay special attention to maintaining a normal stride length. Make your motions as fluid as possible. With proper arm action, the large muscles in the trunk will do most of the work.

Walking with poles will result in a rapid improvement of your physical condition in a relatively short time. The transition from regular walking to Nordic walking takes a bit of practice to get used to, but the benefits make it worth the effort. So grab some poles and get walking!