5 Reasons to Try Nordic Walking – Cleveland Clinic
Want to take your daily walk to the next level? Then put a pair of walking sticks in your hands and enter the world of Nordic walking.
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The exercise can turn a basic hike into a full-body workout by mimicking the moves used by cross-country skiers. (Hence the poles.) In Nordic walking, each step includes a pole-planting motion that works your upper body muscles.
So what difference can anything that touches the ground make? Let’s find out with exercise specialist Ben Kuharik.
What is Nordic walking?
In the world of cross-country skiing, Finland is considered a powerhouse. Winter activity is part of the national culture. It makes sense considering the landscape looks like a tundra for so many months each year.
But it doesn’t ALWAYS snow there, which explains the origin of Nordic walking. Basically, it was off-season training for cross-country skiing.
In Nordic walking, you use the hand poles to propel you forward. (More on that below.) “It’s basically the same move that cross-country skiers use,” says Kuharik. “You just don’t need snow for this activity.”
Benefits of Nordic walking
Walking is a fabulous type of exercise. But when it comes to working your core, it doesn’t exactly target the muscles north of your waistline. Your legs do the heavy lifting to carry you around.
Nordic walking, on the other hand, increases the level of intensity by bringing your upper body into the activity. Here’s what it does:
1. Better overall workout
Nordic walking engages over 90% of your body’s muscles through the use of poles. “It’s really going to give you a full body workout using the muscles up and down your body,” says Kuharik.
In particular, expect to work these upper body areas:
- Back muscles, especially your lats (latissimus dorsi) and traps (trapezius). It can also help improve your posture.
- Chest muscles, like your pecs (pectoralis majors).
- shoulder musclesincluding your deltoids.
- arm musclesfocusing on your forearms and triceps.
An additional bonus? With more muscles in action, your heart will work a little harder to pump blood throughout your body. “It will definitely do a little more to help strengthen your core,” notes Kuharik.
In fact, a recent study shows that Nordic walking can improve heart function and quality of life in people with coronary heart disease.
2. calorie burn
Do you know what happens when you put more strain on your muscles? You burn a lot more calories.
Various studies estimate that Nordic walking burns between 18% and 67% more calories than traditional walking. “It’s quite a large amount,” says Kuharik. “You get the most out of your exercise time.”
3. Less stress on your legs
Each single-pole plant with a Nordic walking stride takes the strain off your legs a bit. The cumulative effect of this is less wear and tear on your ankles, knees and hips as you rack up the miles.
This also makes Nordic walking a great option for anyone with leg pain or injury.
“In terms of the care and longevity of your lower joints, Nordic walking is definitely preferred,” says Kuharik.
4. Better Balance
Nordic walking poles also provide added stability while you train. “It’s super important, especially when you start to age,” says Kuharik. “The risk of falling increases with age. Poles can help you keep your balance.
The strength you develop through Nordic walking will also help. Researchers working with people in a cardiac rehab group found that a three-week Nordic walking program resulted in increased coordination.
5. Go faster and further
The efficiency of the movement that comes from being propelled forward with Nordic walking poles leads to a faster pace, Kuharik says. According to some estimates, you can navigate up to 25% faster than regular walking.
“You should be able to cover more distance before you tire,” he adds. “Going further means seeing more…so be sure to enjoy the scenery.”
How to start Nordic walking
Your first step to start Nordic walking is to go shopping. You will need a pair of specialized sticks, which include wrist straps. (“You really can’t just use a walking stick out of the woods,” Kuharik says.)
The good news? It is possible to find adjustable poles in the $20 range at various retailers. High end poles are around $100.
Look for a stick with a pointed tip if you will be walking on trails or dirt surfaces. If you’re more of a sidewalk explorer, get a pole with a duller rubber end. (Some posts allow you to change the tip for either surface.)
Don’t forget to also invest in a good pair of shoes, as if you were starting a regular walking program.
Perfecting your Nordic walking form
Let’s start with the good news: Nordic walking basically uses your normal walking motion. There’s no funky body movement or wild arm swing that needs to be added.
Of course, there’s still a bit more to exercise than just carrying two poles.
Many scientific studies of Nordic walking use a 10-step technique developed by the International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA). The focus is on building a “natural, biomechanically correct” walking form.
How-to videos are available online, but here are some highlights on the form:
- In Nordic walking, you don’t extend the poles forward (like what you would if you were sticking a hiking pole into the ground in front of you). Instead, the poles will stay at your side and angled back.
- Your Nordic walking poles will touch the ground on the side of your leg halfway between your two feet as you walk. The idea is to use the soft sole of the pole to push or propel you forward. “It’s just a little propulsion,” says Kuharik.
- In the most common form of Nordic walking, your arms and legs move alternately. This means that your right arm swings forward as you step forward with your left foot, and vice versa.
- Take longer than normal strides and try to roll your feet from heel to toe with each step.
- Focus on good posture with your chin up, shoulders back, and chest out.
- There’s no need to put a deadly grip on the walking stick, so relax your hand when it’s not being pushed down. (The wrist strap will help you maintain control of the stick.)
Who should try Nordic walking?
The activity is ideal for just about everyone, although there are a few exceptions. Kuharik says Nordic walking is not recommended for someone recovering from an upper body injury given the stress it could put on the wrist, shoulder and elbow joints.
“But overall, it’s worth a try if you’re looking to add something extra to your walking routine,” he reassures. “You’re definitely going to get a more complete workout with it.”