Are you looking for a fantastic workout that burns a significant amount of calories in a short amount of time? Then Nordic walking may just be the thing for you. Nordic walking is the exercise you can undertake using modified ski poles and is a great all year round sport.
What Is Nordic Walking?
Nordic walking evolved from evolved from another type of exercise more commonly known as ski-striding, which was an off-season activity that enabled people to become more accustomed to the skis.
This was first popularized as a year-round activity in Finland by cross-country skiers who use it for off-season training. However Nordic Walking can be done in any weather conditioners really and has become a sport in it’s own right. You can Nordic walk in the streets, hills, beach or snow – there are no limitations.
Nordic Walking Fitness Benefits
Nordic walking provides additional benefits in upper-body muscular strength compared to conventional walking. Nordic walking is an effective and efficient mode of exercise to improve overall fitness in older adults.
When you walk with poles you will engage a larger group of muscles including upper body and arm muscles.
Although initially this fitness activity did not spread so quickly, the first official Nordic walker ski poles were introduced to the public in 1997. After that time it has become the fastest growing recreational fitness sports in the world. By the end of 2005, the estimated number of Nordic walkers has been estimated at 5 million.
Nordic walking makes the upper body do its work as well as the lower, it take regular walking or running (we’ll cover this in another article) to a whole new level – allowing the body to burn up to 50% more calories without having to walk faster or longer distances.
Nordic walking includes several other benefits, such as:
Heart rate (HR) is roughly 13% or 5-17 beats higher compared to regular walking.
Burns about 400 calories per hour, beating regular walking which only burns about 280 calories
Poles help with traction on slippery surfaces.
Aids in climbing hills and other elevated areas more easily
Improved balance and stability. Increases your overall endurance too.
Reduces the changes of injury because less stress applied on back and lower joints.
Lateral mobility of neck and spine is increased significantly, thus releasing muscle tension in these specific areas.
Engages more muscles compared to regular walking.
Nordic walking, with the specific modified poles, is proving to be an overall bodily workout that caters to people of all levels, whether it’s for rehabilitation or relaxing, weight management or increasing aerobic capacity.
What Muscles Are Used In Nordic Walking?
Compared to regular walking, Nordic walking activates more muscles overall and targets pretty much all the main muscles. Regular walking mostly only activates the lower body while your upper body is kind of just there for the ride.
When walking with walking poles you apply force with the poles to the ground with every stride, incorporating most of your upper body to the activity as well activating in total, up to 90% of all muscles. Compare this to walking, where you will use less than 50% of muscles.
You will basically get an additional upper body workout at no extra cost since Nordic walking doesn’t really affect the perceived stress of walking compared to walking without walking poles.
Shoulders and Neck: After all the hunching over desks most of us do daily, do your shoulders a favor for a change and get them moving. Stretching and mobility exercises will also be more effective and safer after your upper body is warmed up thoroughly after a Nordic Walking session.
Chest: Pushing with the poles for longer strides maximizes the range of motion of your arms, activating also the chest and giving it a good stretch. This feels especially good for me since tight shoulder muscles and hunched forward posture also means shortened and tight chest muscles in my case.
Triceps: Pretty much all of the arm muscles will be engaged when you walk with poles. Be careful not to squeeze the handle too hard. Actually, you don’t really squeeze at all. With the correct pole technique, you kind of let go of the handle. Especially at the end of the arm movement.
Back: When all the arm muscles are engaged as well as the abs your back is sure to work too. Nordic Walking targets both the upper and lower back muscles.
Glutes: With longer strides also comes better glute activation. Always take good care of your glutes. Along with leg and back muscles, glutes are some of the most important muscles in terms of keeping your quality of life as high as possible when aging.
Abs and Obliques: Your upper body will ever so slightly lean forward which will activate all the core muscles, including abs. When you push yourself forward with the poles your core rotates slightly. You can really feel how you need to activate your obliques with the motion to stabilize your core.
Nordic Walking Technique
A correct basic Nordic Walking technique will ensure that the most benefit from Nordic Walking is obtained from each exercise session. A correct technique will move and work the whole body comfortably and rhythmically.
The Nordic Walking technique is a simple enhancement of normal arm swing when walking. The poles remain behind the body and pointing diagonally backward at all times.
Shoulders are relaxed and down.
Poles are held close to the body.
The hands are opened slightly to allow the poles to swing forward – the poles are not gripped but swing from the wrist straps.
The leading foot strikes the ground.
The opposite arm swings forward to waist height.
The opposite pole strikes the ground level with the heel of the opposite foot.
The poles remain pointing diagonally backward, they are never in front of the body.
Push the pole as far back as possible, the arm straightening to form a continuous line with the fully extended arm, the hand opening off the grip by the end of the arm swing.
The foot rolls through the step to push off with the toe. This lengthens the stride behind the body, getting the most out of each stride.
The arm motion is loose and relaxed.
Once a sound basic technique is achieved, variations like up and downhill, striding, skating, jogging and double pole actions can be learnt to give interest and extra challenge to any Nordic walking session.
Nordic Walking Poles
With Nordic Walking it is important to choose not just any poles for any Nordic walking activity. Here are some tips to choosing the best Nordic poles for your specific needs.
It must be sturdy and light enough to be able to bring anywhere.
The grips should be comfortable and interchangeable.
Asphalt paws are more efficient at absorbing shock and gripping.
Straps must be specifically designed allowing for easier transfer of power and weight. When deciding the height or length of these poles, the elbows are just perpendicular to the poles when held by the grip with the tip on the ground.
Nordic walking will need some getting used to, therefore specific training is advised. You can find plenty of videos on youtube, practice your technique at a slow pace to begin with. As your technique improve you can pick up the pace.
With Nordic walking gaining more and more walkers every day, looking for an instructor is not hard to find. There is an organization on this sport called International Nordic Walking Association which aims to unite all Nordic walkers out there. If your country is a participant, you can probably find a Nordic walking session somewhere.