Thanks to a growing well of impressive research, Nordic walking is increasingly getting a thumbs up from both health care professionals and media.
What is Nordic walking?
A hybrid of walking and cross country-skiing, Nordic walking is a fluid movement experience that uses almost every muscle in your body. Nordic walking poles aren’t hiking or ski poles: they’re poles designed to use when walking or hiking that, when combined with the proper form, can instantly rev up the intensity of your movement and also challenge your upper body and core muscles.
Who should practice Nordic walking?
Before you jump to any hasty conclusions, let me quickly clarify that Nordic walking is an ideal activity for a huge and varied demographic–not just older adults. Though thoroughly embraced by the older crowd (who appreciate the poles for their help with balance and stability), other groups adding poles to their workouts include:
- Power walkers looking for a more challenging walking workout
- Runners (or former runners) with achy knees and hips interested in an alternative
- Pre-hab and post-rehab clients referred by their therapists for full-body fitness conditioning and core and upper body strengthening
Don’t use just any poles
Nordic walking poles and hiking poles might look similar at first glance. But each type of pole is designed to fit a specific purpose:
- Hiking poles are designed to minimize energy expenditure by creating stability and taking stress off the hips and knees while walking on rough and uneven terrain. The thin handles often have finger-grooves and a loop strap to help prevent dropping the poles. There is no specific walking technique to learn; the poles are typically held with the elbows bent at 90 degrees and in front of the body.
- Nordic walking poles are designed to maximize energy expenditure by actively engaging the upper body with a full arm swing and a “plant, push, propel” action. The poles are held at a 45 degree angle and are always angled behind the body. Nordic walkers are looking for a workout that will give them more benefits than standard walking.
Some brand’s handles are strapless and have a large ledge on the base of a thick ergonomic handle where users exert pressure to propel themselves forward. Other styles have loop straps (that are often like mini-gloves) where pressure is exerted. Both strapless and strap-style Nordic walking poles have detachable rubber boot-shaped tips that absorb shock when walking on hard surfaces, such as asphalt. On softer surfaces, such as sand and grass, the carbide tip under the rubber tip provides excellent traction.
It’s not just walking with poles!
The Nordic walking technique can be mastered relatively quickly by most.
To experience the true Nordic walking workout, it’s important that your arms swing like long pendulums from the shoulders (not the elbows) with the tip of the front pole landing roughly beside the heel of the foot on the opposite side. Pressure is exerted on the base of the handle or on the wrist strap (depending on the style of pole) of the front pole and the hand drives down to the thigh to propel the body forward.
While it’s possible to pick up the technique from online videos and written instruction, many people find that taking a one-time clinic or a series of classes is the most efficient way to learn.
A certified instructor can help with:
- choosing the right poles
- set up of telescoping-style poles
- coordination, rhythm and technique
- proper posture
- and much more
Instructors are also great motivators who often help participants to walk a little further, a little faster and/or with better style than they would if they were on their own.
Barb Gormley is a Toronto-based personal trainer and Nordic walking master trainer. She is also author of The Urban Poling Ultimate Guide to Nordic Walking. Contact her at www.barbgormley.com or @barbgorm. For Nordic walking technique videos and access to 90+ Nordic walking studies, visit www.urbanpoling.com.
The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) represents physiotherapists, physiotherapist assistants and physiotherapist students across Canada. CPA members are rehabilitation professionals dedicated to the health, mobility and fitness of Canadians.
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