If your encounter someone – or a group of people – striding along with a pair of slim poles, you’ve probably come across participants in a new exercise and fitness technique that is sweeping across the world which is called Nordic Walking.
Those used to tramping with poles may find it a little more difficult to get the new technique, it certainly take some concentration to get the feet, legs, arms, shoulders and pole working in sync, but with a few practice runs up and down most get the basics of propelling the body forward with the poles, which always remain facing diagonally backwards, unlike trekking poles.
Actually, it’s a natural cross-walking technique that most of us have forgotten, but with poles as extensions to the arms Nordic walking is said to be able to create a meditative and calming effect, and I can say that once the technique becomes second nature it does.
However, most of the time concentrating on getting the left arm and right leg forward at the same time, pushing through on the poles which lengthens the stride, rolling the feet from heel to toe, letting go of the poles at the end of the swing, bringing it forward and grasping it before placing it back on the ground level with the opposite leg.
Nordic walking poles, unlike normal trekking poles, have a glove attached so they remain in position even though you are not gripping them.
These Poles were made for walking
Nordic walking is like engaging four-wheel drive instead of two, the car uses more fuel in four-wheel drive (with us its more calories) but it seems easier because the engine can transfer the power better with four wheels. Not only do the poles used give more stability, the technique can reduse impact on the joints and can be used in rehabilitation. At the other end of the scale, many athletes include Nordic walking in their training, because it can make you work very hard.
Cross-country skiers use it for summer training, and they are some of the fittest people in the world, for other people, the great benefit is that it works both the upper and lower body, using about 90% of the body’s muscles, as opposed to about 35% to 45% in normal walking. As a result it burns more calories but actually seems easier to do.
In Germany national health insurance pays for Nordic walking classes from accredited trainers because of the health benefits. Like other forms of exercise, it’s worth taking a class or two to begin with, because you won’t get the full benefits unless you have the right technique.
Some people just “carry their poles”, and if you do this with the shoulders high it can lead to neck and shoulder tension, whereas a proper Nordic walking technique can actually release neck and shoulder tension and help with back issues. Surprisingly, 80% to 90% of Nordic walkers are women. “I think its that walking aspect. Men, if they want to exercise, want to go running – they want to feel it. But everyone who does Nordic walking say, ‘I didn’t know it was that hard’. In the beginning, when you learn the technique, you feel the muscles a bit sore afterwards, especially in the triceps and the lats at the back – they are the muscles you usually done use when walking”.
Nordic walking developed from cross-country skiing in Scandinavian countries back in the 1930’s, it is strong in German speaking countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Germany and has started to grow in the UK and other parts of Europe.
There will be a number of Nordic walking groups and instructors in your area, most instructors have Nordic Poles you can hire to get you started and then as you get hooked you will want to have your own poles and walk in your own time…
By Mervyn S Foster INWA Nordic Walking Instructor
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