Have you ever been on a trail or walking/running around your town and seen people walking with poles? Maybe you thought they needed them for balance or are just wishing they were skiing. In fact, they were probably nordic walking. Nordic walking is nothing new, in fact it’s been around for decades.
Nordic walking is an increasingly popular trend as we look for ways to amp up the calorie burn with low impact activities. Right now it’s become very big in Europe, but I see it transitioning to the US already. There it’s become an incredible social event and even as a runner, I honestly prefer walks where I can really chat with my friends.
So what is nordic walking? How is it different than fitness walking? What benefits does it offer and what do you need to know or have to pursue it as a form of exercise? I’ll tackle all these questions and more. Keep reading!
What is Nordic Walking?
Nordic walking originated in Scandinavia, specifically Finland in the 1930’s. I was originally used as an off-season fitness activity for skiers in the summer.
Nordic walking is an outdoor fitness activity that combines walking with the use of poles. It’s similar to cross-country skiing, except that the poles are used to propel the walker forward instead of skis.
Nordic walking is a great way to get a full body workout, as it engages the upper body as well as the legs.
The use of poles allows the walker to work their arms, chest, back, and core muscles, while still getting a good cardio workout. Nordic walking is also a low–impact exercise that is easy on the joints, making it a great option for anyone looking for a safe, effective way to stay active.
Nordic walking has gone from an off-season activity for ski racers to a mode of fitness for just about anyone of any age. It’s a highly accessible sport offering benefits to children through older adults, and beginners to elite athletes.
What Kind of Poles are Used in Nordic Walking?
While at the beginning, participants simply used their ski poles or hiking poles, eventually sticks specific to the sport of nordic walking were designed and marketed.
Not that you can’t use your ski poles, but there are some unique differences when it comes to poles for nordic walking.
Nordic poles are supposed to be shorter than the poles you’d use for skiing. Like ski poles, nordic poles can come in one piece or what’s called telescoping. The one-piece poles come in a variety of lengths so you can get a pair that fits to your height.
Telescoping poles are 2-3 pieces and are adjustable.
Getting the right height will ensure maximum comfort and efficiency while walking.
One piece poles tend to be lighter and stronger, while the benefits of a telescoping pole include that they’re one size fits all and since they collapse to a smaller size they’re easy to transport.
- Leki Poles are on the high end based on their specific design for nordic walking ($100+)
- FitLife poles are going to be a bit heavier, maybe not as comfortable on the grip, but cheaper to see if you even like this workout ($29)
A few other key differences between ski poles and nordic poles involve the grips and the tips. Ski poles (and trekking poles) have a wrist strap, while nordic poles have an attachment similar to a glove.
The tips, the part of the pole that comes in contact with the ground, is also different from ski poles. You’ll see rubber tips for use on hard surfaces and metal tips that are great for trails, sand, snow, and ice.
The grip of the pole should be comfortable and fit your hand size.
The material of the pole should be strong and durable. It should also be rust–resistant and able to withstand various weather conditions.
You’ll find a variety of options, which are going to impact the price and the weight. So it’s always finding that balance of what feels good and what you really want to spend.
Do I Need Other Equipment?
The beauty of nordic walking is that other than the poles, you don’t really a lot of specialized gear.
Walking Shoes: A good pair of walking shoes is essential for nordic walking as it will provide extra cushioning and help to reduce the impact on your joints. A good pair of walking shoes is always a good idea to prevent blisters, black toenails and other issues.
Walking Socks: Walking socks made of breathable, moisture–wicking fabric will help to keep your feet cool and dry while nordic walking. Again the goal is to prevent issues like blisters or chafing.
Fitness Tracker: You’ll need a sport watch with a built–in pedometer to track your distance and speed while nordic walking. Because it’s fun to challenge yourself and see how you’re progressing.
Water Bottle: If you’re going long distance, you may want to have a backpack with some fuel and water. But if you’re just doing a few miles around the neighborhood, you should be good to go with just your poles and shoes.
5 Benefits of Nordic Walking
As alluded to earlier, nordic walking offers numerous benefits because it engages the entire body. I’ll get into the technique here shortly, but let’s go through various benefits.
1. Reduced Stress on Joints
As you may know from previous articles on walking, walking is an excellent low impact activity that’s easy on your joints. Nordic walking is no exception. The use of poles reduces the load on your knees and hips, which may result in greater comfort when exercising.
Nordic Walking puts less strain on joints, particularly the knees and hips, compared to other forms of exercise. A study in the “European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine” (2011) found that Nordic Walking resulted in significantly less impact on knee joints compared to running.
2. Increased Muscle Activation
While walking generally engages your lower body, adding poles into the mix adds an upper body component engaging the muscles in your shoulders, arms, and core, in addition to your legs.
According to the American Nordic Walking Association, you recruit 80-90% of your muscles in nordic walking compared to less than 50% when walking and running.
You can look at this as more of a full-body workout!
3. Enhanced Weight Loss
A 2018 study looking at walkers using 4 different techniques with poles found that while all techniques resulted in higher heart rates, greater oxygen use and increased energy expenditure over regular walking without poles, nordic walking had the highest boost of the four.
Nordic Walking burns up to 46% more calories compared to regular walking, making it an effective way to lose weight.
Thus, it’s also linked to weight loss. The more muscles you engage, generally the greater the calorie burn. In one study looking at young adults, nordic walking showed to be an effective physical activity for weight loss.
Another study looking at middle-aged adults had results suggesting nordic walking was linked to a decrease in both waist circumference and in body fat.
4. Increased Stability
The use of poles during Nordic Walking helps improve balance and stability, reducing the risk of falls, particularly in older adults. A study published in the “Geriatrics and Gerontology International” (2013) found that Nordic Walking improved balance and reduced the risk of falls in older adults.
5. Improved Cardiovascular Health
Finally, studies show that nordic walking is excellent for improved cardiovascular fitness.
According to a Canadian study, individuals with coronary heart disease saw greater improvements in their ability to carry out daily activities when participating in nordic walking. In fact, nordic walking beat out HIIT workouts for this group of people!
Nordic Walking Vs Fitness Walking Technique
While it may be easy to assume that nordic walking is just walking with poles, there’s actually a specific technique. Think of a cross between walking and cross country skiing.
Don’t worry though if you’ve never skied cross country before. It is much easier to master the walking technique than the skiing version.
The basics of nordic walking are very similar to regular walking. Your right arm naturally swings forward in tandem with your left leg stepping forward and vice versa with your left arm and right leg.
Apparently there are both European and American techniques for nordic walking. There is also the single pole technique, which mimics the natural movement of walking, vs. the double pole technique where you reach both poles in front of you and then walk a few steps to them and repeat.
In general though, nordic walking has you stepping forward with your heel landing first and your foot rolling through to the ball and toe where you push off.
The hands, aided by the gloves attached at the grips, should alternate between gripping and letting go, gripping when the pole hits the ground and then letting go as the arm swings back.
While I won’t get into them here, there are ways to progress nordic walking into running and skating.
Looking for more tips to progress your workouts:
- Best trail running shoes that will provide more stability for nature walks
- How to find trails near me
- Best Treadmill Walking Workouts – can’t get outside? Some options!
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