Bored with your walking regimen? Invigorate your step with Nordic walking poles, and you’ll burn an average of 20 percent more calories than during a regular walk and get all the benefits of an upper body workout, with less stress on your knees.
Nordic walking originated and was developed in Finland (hence the name) as a summer training method for cross-country skiers; the cross-body motion of the arms used in Nordic walking is similar to that used in cross-country skiing. The International Nordic Walking Association (INWA, inwa.nordicwalking.com) estimates that millions of people are Nordic walking in Europe, and the sport is catching on quickly in North America.
As with any sport you haven’t tried before, there are a few things you’ll need to know about equipment and technique before you get started, but the learning curve isn’t steep and the rewards are great! An instructor experienced with Nordic walking poles can help you get off on the, er, right foot.
Pick Your Poles
The lightweight poles are adjustable for height and for different walking surfaces. The poles are topped with an ergonomically designed grip handle and a strap. Removable rubber tips or “booties” (recommended for walking on asphalt) will wear out and can easily and inexpensively be replaced. Removable trekking baskets can be used for walking in sand or snow. No other specialized equipment is needed, other than the gear you’d wear (good walking shoes, nylon jacket, etc.) while walking in all weathers.
How do you know the poles are the right length for you? The INWA recommends you multiply your height in centimetres by 0.68. For example, if you’re 165 cm (about 5′ 4″), a pole of about 112 cm is right for you.
“Walking with your poles as little as thirty minutes a day, three times a week, can help lower your blood pressure [and] reduce your cholesterol,” according to the American Nordic Walking Association website. Researchers at the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications at The Cooper Institute, Dallas, Texas, found that Nordic walking resulted in “a significant increase in oxygen use and caloric expenditure compared to regular walking, without significantly increasing perceived exertion.” Participants in this small study (11 people) burned between 20 and 46 percent more calories when walking with the poles than when walking without them.
A study published in Integrative Cancer Therapies (December 2005) reported that eight weeks of using walking poles improved upper body muscular endurance in a group of breast cancer survivors. Researchers at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago monitored a small group of patients with Parkinson’s disease who were using the poles for eight weeks; the patients showed “statistically significant improvement” in motor function, cognitive ability, and ability to perform tasks of daily living.
- Your elbows should be at a maximum 90-degree angle when lightly gripping the pole with its tip on the ground.
- Plant the pole angled back about 45 degrees to the ground, then push off with the pole just behind your pelvis.
- As your left foot moves forward, your right arm and pole move forward in unison (this is the “cross-crawl” movement).
- For best results, walk for 60 to 90 minutes at a time.