Nordic Pole Walking
Joe Fleming provides an overview of the origins and benefits of Nordic Pole Walking.
Origins of Nordic Pole Walking
The International Nordic Walking Federation cites the first evidence of Nordic Pole Walking as dating back to 1966 when a physical education teacher in Finland started incorporating "walking with ski poles" into her lesson plans for students. University teachers and coaches in Finland caught onto the trend in the 1970s and developed off-season training methods for cross-country skiers that involved walking and exercising with poles.
The late 20th century saw a wider spread of Nordic pole walking to general populations outside of Scandinavia including in the UK and US. Official Nordic walking poles were also trademarked and manufactured to promote correct implementation along with educational programs and instructor networks. Today, Nordic pole walking is a favoured fitness activity for both older adults as well as high-impact athletes looking for full-body cross-training modalities.
Benefits of Nordic Pole Walking
Greater muscle recruitment
It is believed that you engage upwards of 80% of your body's muscles when you utilize poles during walking. While leg muscles like the hamstring, quads, and gluteus maximus naturally get a workout with a good walk, it is the upper body muscle groups that also receive beneficial fitness including the forearm flexors, deltoids, pecs, triceps, and core.
Despite the large muscle recruitment, Nordic pole walking is still considered low-impact and therefore a great cross-training alternative for high-impact athletes like runners and soccer players. Low-impact fitness is uniquely less stressful on critical joints like the ankles and knees while still providing positive cardio and strength-training benefits.
Higher energy expenditure
When compared to regular walking, Nordic pole walking has been shown to activate more muscles, elicit higher metabolic processing, and increase oxygen absorption, all of which culminate in a higher calorie burn, or energy expenditure. Research has also shown this type of fitness activity can play an important role in managing obesity and improving exercise adherence by maintaining a low perception of effort despite an increase in exercise intensity.
Unlike many gym-specific training activities, Nordic pole walking can be done pretty much anywhere you can go walking - on the road, on hiking trails, through parks, and more. The broader range of walking environments may make Nordic pole walking more accessible to adults of all ages and potentially provide greater motivation to exercise regularly.
In addition to being able to take part in Nordic pole walking in a variety of locations, it has also been shown to be a more cost-effective fitness modality than treadmill training which often requires either a gym membership or much more expensive equipment.
Improved cardiovascular health
Blood pressure, resting heart rate, and maximal oxygen consumption can all be positively impacted by Nordic pole walking and it is categorically more effective than just brisk walking on its own and in some cases even jogging. Researchers have found for both managing and chronic lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease, Nordic pole walking is a powerful asset.
For older adults especially, Nordic pole walking also assists with enhancing postural stability, balance, coordination, and flexibility.
You cannot just grab a couple of poles, start walking, and think you will reap the benefits true Nordic pole walking has to offer. On the flip side, however, getting started is not super difficult. Start by getting the right gear.
Pole Walking Equipment
Nordic walking poles are specially-designed equipment in themselves and recommended over using fixed-length ski poles, however, there are off-brand trekking poles and walking sticks that also support Nordic pole walking. To get started, you want to find an appropriate pole for your height and preferred walking environment.
Most poles will come in either a fixed-length single shaft or adjustable, telescoping versions that twist and lock into place. Non-adjustable poles are often lighter but must be matched to your height upon purchasing. Adjustable poles, on the other hand, are more transportable and can be made to fit a variety of heights for different users.
No matter the length and type of poles you get, they will have a solid, pointed tip, often made of metal, that physically sticks into the ground when you thrust the pole down during walking over dirt, sand, or grass terrains, i.e. on a hiking trail or at the beach. A rubber topper that comes with the poles can go over the tip when walking on a road or a sidewalk. The types of hand grips and wrist straps that accompany your poles to reinforce your greatest exercise capacity may vary.
Time for Technique
Once you find your perfect walking pole, you will want to nail the right technique. With your arms close to your side and bent at 90-degree angles, you will want to lightly grip your walking poles with the wrist straps securely over your wrists.
Your arms and legs will move opposite one another when pole walking; that is, as your right foot strides forward, your left arm will rise with the pole and then plant in the ground. As you move forward past your pole with your next step, the pole itself should remain planted as your arm straightens backward to about a 45-degree angle.
Practice this repeatedly and as you get used to this cadence, remain aware of your stride and gait. This planting portion of pole walking will then be followed by a pushing action as you add pressure to your plant and effectively push yourself forward with the pole. Over time, you can implement fuller, wider arm swings when pole walking to increase your stride and energy expenditure. A 2018 study published in the journal PLOS One found that planting the walking pole more forcefully into the ground for longer periods at a time during Nordic pole walking increases the overall effectiveness of the exercise itself.
Nordic pole walking is a great exercise to do with a group, so if you are unsure of your form or looking for pole walking partners, find a local Nordic pole walking group you can join.
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About the Author
Joe Fleming is the President of ViveHealth.com. Passionate about healthy lifestyles and living a full life, he enjoys sharing and expressing these interests through his writing. To inspire others and fight ageism, Joe writes to help people of all backgrounds and ages overcome life's challenges. His work ranges from articles on wellness, holistic health, and ageing to social narratives, motivational pieces, and news stories. For Joe, helping others is vital.