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Nordic Walking

Not your standard stroll

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Nordic Walking

My wife and I love to take a walk after dinner every evening, usually along the shores of Vancouver’s False Creek inlet with mugs of tea in hand. Perhaps tonight we’ll set down our tea and instead pick up a pair of lightweight Nordic walking poles for our stroll.

My wife and I love to take a walk after dinner every evening, usually along the shores of Vancouver’s False Creek inlet with mugs of tea in hand. Perhaps tonight we’ll set down our tea and instead pick up a pair of lightweight Nordic walking poles for our stroll.

Nordic walking originated in Finland, where in the 1930s cross-country skiers began using poles for summer training exercises. Clinical studies conducted by sports medicine researchers have since shown that using poles in the Nordic walking style increases both cardiovascular and muscular fitness.

As a sport that requires specific training equipment, Nordic walking was launched in 1997 by a Finnish sports equipment manufacturer and has since spread throughout Europe. There are an estimated 3.5 million participants in Europe and 3,000 trained instructors.

Getting started

Nordic walking poles are light and have rubber-capped carbide tips that can grip rough surfaces, as well as ice and snow. They range from $60 to $100 and come with adjustable wrist straps that allow participants to use the special “grip-n-go” technique that Nordic walking is famous for.

The technique, however, can take some getting used to, as the poles’ tips are planted behind the body rather than in front like a walking staff. Many pole brands are telescopic, meaning the length can be easily adjusted.

Walking 101

Every step should start with a participant’s grounded heel rolling toward the ball and toe of his or her foot. Participants should then use their toes to push themselves into the next step.

The poles should be gripped firmly when striking the ground, and as they are drawn back, the walker’s closed hands should open slightly. To work mid-torso muscles, participants must swing their torso and hips counter to the motion of their arms and poles.

Common mistakes to watch for include holding the poles too far apart or planting them ahead of your feet. They should be held at a 45-degree angle and the tips should never be planted in front of your body.

Participants should also ensure they’re not planting their feet and poles on the same side, which neutralizes the counter-swinging motion of the hips that is crucial to exercising the body’s upper core.

Health benefits

Running works 60 percent of a person’s muscles, while Nordic walking exercises 90 percent. Moreover, the sport’s full aerobic workout allows participants to burn up to 400 calories per hour— 40 percent more than with regular walking. Best of all, these substantial benefits are achieved without participants feeling like they are overexerting themselves.

In an interview with the Victoria Times Colonist, Paula Artley, a Nordic walking master trainer, claims that “if you’re in an office all day, [Nordic] is good for loosening the area around your shoulders and neck.” Artley says that Nordic walking tones your upper body and the poles take pressure off the knees, which makes Nordic walking ideal for people suffering from joint soreness and other arthritic conditions.

“You’re getting almost a double workout,” she says.

Another nice aspect of Nordic walking is that it may be adapted to a person’s needs. It can provide a high-intensity, full-body workout for serious athletes, or it can be practised by the physically challenged or for rehabilitation purposes. This sort of resistance training can also increase bone density in postmenopausal women.

Walking is the most basic form of transportation and exercise, and it can also be a great way for computer-chained professionals to escape the office. It may not feel like the same level of workout you’d get at the gym, but that’s one of its main benefits. You don’t need that expensive membership at a gym to stay in shape.

And it might just allow you to get some of that fresh air you’ve been missing.

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