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We’re all looking for ways to stay in shape and boost our fitness levels and they say that walking is one of the best forms of exercise. But if you want something a little more versatile than a stroll in the park, Nordic walking might be for you. It’ll give you a full-body workout and allows you to explore the great outdoors!
What is Nordic Walking?
Many enthusiasts call Nordic walking an advanced type of walking, and that’s a pretty adept way of describing it. This full-body workout involves the use of poles which you use to exercise the upper body while your legs get a workout from the walk itself.
What’s great about Nordic walking is that it’s an exercise that is accessible to almost anyone. You don’t need to have a specific level of fitness to take part, and while it will work out up to 90% of your muscles, it’s relatively low impact.
Nordic walking first became popular in Finland and quickly spread to the United Kingdom. A lot of people compare the technique to that of cross country skiing, and while there are some clear differences between the two, cross country skiers may turn to Nordic walking during the summer to keep up their skills.
Sometimes, the poles used for Nordic walking are confused with trekking poles, but it’s important to realize that these are not the same thing. The poles normally come as a single piece and are not adjustable like trekking or skiing poles. This means that you must find a set that matches your height, and while this may be considered a drawback, the benefit is that these one-piece poles tend to be much more robust. Moreover, this is the only special equipment you’ll need, so it’s pretty easy to get started.
What are the Health Benefits of Nordic Walking?
The great thing about Nordic walking is that almost anyone of any fitness level can take part and the benefit to your health is significant. Even the simple act of using the poles will open the chest and allow you to get more oxygen as you work out, and that’s just one advantage!
Whether you choose this as your main form of exercise or do it as part of a wider workout routine, your body will thank you.
Usually doing a full-body workout isn’t easy, but Nordic walking provides up to 90% of your muscles with a workout. Usually, when we walk, we only use the muscles in the lower body, but with the addition of the walking poles, this form of exercise gives the upper body muscles a boost too.
What’s interesting is that research has shown that owing to this, Nordic walking could be an effective treatment for those undergoing physical rehabilitation. Moreover, since this is a low-impact exercise, especially when compared to things like jogging, more people can take advantage of the benefits.
Burns More Calories than Regular Walking
For many people, a good exercise program is there to aid in the loss of weight or to maintain a healthy weight. To do this, one must burn calories, and while regular walking will aid in this, Nordic walking appears to be much more effective.
According to Harvard Health, doing Nordic walking can boost the number of calories you burn in a session by as much as 50% when compared to normal walking. This is because of the combination of cardiovascular exercise and your muscles working.
Less Strain on the Joints than Running
Many of us wanting to work out find it difficult because of the pressure or strain on the joints. This may be because of existing conditions such as arthritis or things like age and general fitness levels. But whatever the reason, other similar activities like running could worsen joint pain or initiate it.
Owing to this, researchers recommend Nordic walking as a workout for a much wider range of people regardless of various diseases.
Much of the reason that Nordic walking seems to be less stressful on the joints is the use of the poles. Walkers are able to put an amount of their body weight into the poles, taking pressure off of the joints. Specifically, scientists have discovered that the use of the poles takes a significant amount of pressure from the lumbar region.
Helps with Cardiovascular Fitness
Part of staying healthy includes regular cardiovascular workouts. This ensures a healthy heart and lungs and can provide results such as lower blood pressure, boosted circulation, and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
There has been evidence to suggest that Nordic walking is a far more beneficial form of exercise compared to regular walking for patients who are recovering from cardiovascular problems. Not only this, but further research has noted improvements in the amount of oxygen received during the exercise as well as an overall improved quality of life.
Good for Mental Wellbeing
There has never been a more intense focus on mental health and wellbeing than there is today, and that’s certainly a good thing. The stigma of poor mental health has been removed and healthcare professionals are working with patients to find new and effective ways of boosting mental health.
There is evidence to show that spending time outdoors is extremely positive for your mental wellbeing, and Nordic walking will certainly get you into the great outdoors. It doesn’t matter whether you go exploring a remote wilderness or walk around your local area, the fresh air will, as your mother once told you, ‘will do you good’.
What’s more, Nordic walking can be done as a social activity. You might join a local club or get a few friends together to enjoy a walk. Either way, you’ll benefit from social time which has been shown to be advantageous to your mental health.
As well as improving your overall mental wellbeing, being outdoors can help to lower your stress levels. You can use this time to take a deep breath and remove yourself from the strains of modern life and destress. Experts recommend spending at least 120 minutes a week outdoors. That might sound like a lot, but it could be achieved with just four half an hour sessions each week on your lunch break!
Nordic Walking vs. Walking with Trekking Poles – What are the Differences?
It’s not uncommon for people to confuse Nordic walking with trekking with poles, but there are some clear differences between the two activities.
Difference between Nordic Walking and Trekking With Poles
To look at them, both of these types of walking look very similar. However, Nordic walking differs in that it is designed specifically to help work out the upper body. The way that the poles are placed will encourage the use of the upper muscles.
On the other hand, trekking with poles sees the poles being placed slightly in front of the walker to aid them in balance and stability when walking over uneven or rugged terrain.
Differences between the Poles
Again, taking a quick look at Nordic walking poles and trekking poles, you could be forgiven for thinking they were the same things. Below you’ll find some key differences.
- Nordic walking poles have a strap that is similar to a glove, whereas trekking poles simply have a loop to keep them attached to your wrist.
- Trekking poles have grooved grips to allow the user to hold onto them better for support. Nordic walking poles do not have this, and the grip is more akin to that of a skiing pole.
- Nordic walking poles cannot be folded and come as one piece, although there are some telescopic poles out there. On the other hand, trekking poles are usually adjustable, which means one pole can be used on several terrain types.
- Trekking poles usually have a metal tip that can be driven into the ground for better support and propulsion. However, Nordic walking poles have something called a paw at the base, which makes them more comfortable.
- Trekking poles almost always come with a shock absorber as you’ll be using them on rough terrain. Nordic walking poles do not have a need for this feature and so do not have shock absorption.
What is the Correct Nordic Walking Technique?
To make the most out of Nordic walking and give your body the best workout, you must ensure to follow the correct technique.
Adjusting Your Poles
One of the most important things about Nordic walking is making sure that your equipment suits you. Never underestimate the importance of adjusting your poles to the correct height. This will ensure that your posture remains as straight as possible.
To find the right height, you simply need to calculate 65% of your height and set the poles to this height. When set correctly, your elbows should form a 90º angle.
Choosing the Right Tip
Nordic walking poles come with tips, but these don’t always need to be used. You will need to think about the type of terrain you’ll be walking on to make the right decision.
If you’re going to be walking on harder surfaces such as tarmac or concrete, then you will need to apply a rubber tip. This will improve your traction and allow the poles to grip better.
However, if you are walking on soft ground like sand or grass, for example, then you would need to use a skewed tip. This will stop the pole from slipping as it makes contact with the ground. That said, there are now some all-terrain poles that allow you to move from hard to soft ground without the need to change tips.
As we have mentioned, your back needs to be as straight as possible when doing Nordic walking. But there are things you can do to further enhance your posture other than simply adjusting your poles to the correct height.
Ensure that you keep the poles behind your back and keep your shoulders down with the arms relaxed. Focus on a point on the horizon and when walking try to keep yourself in this upright position.
To begin with, the movement of the poles with your legs may feel a little strange, but it’ll soon become second nature. Start by taking a firm but light grip on your poles and as you walk, move them with the opposite legs. For example, as the right foot goes forward as does the left pole.
Try to keep your elbows at that 45º angle we talked about and keep them as close to your body as possible while remaining relaxed.
If you’re struggling to get the angle right, you can drag the poles behind you while you practice. Then, when you are comfortable like this, you can plant the poles in front of you.
When you become more familiar with the technique, you might begin to push the poles as you move through each step. There should be a degree of force on your wrist strap, which will result in a more intense workout.
How to Choose the Right Size Nordic Poles
We cannot stress enough the importance of choosing the right sized pole for your height, but when you’re just getting started, it can be difficult to know how to find the right size.
The most basic technique for finding the right height pole for you involves a simple equation. You’ll need to multiply your height in centimeters by 0.68. For example, if you are 170 cm you’d need to do the following sum:
170 x 0.68 = 115.6
This tells you that you would need your poles to be 115.6 cm. However, this isn’t the most reliable method as the way that you walk may also impact the most suitable pole height. That said, it’s a good place to start.
If you choose to buy a fixed-length pole then you may not be able to get the exact length as they normally come in sizes that go up by 5 cm. Choosing an adjustable pole will allow you to get a more precise length. What’s more, as you develop your technique, you may find that you need to adjust the pole again, and being able to do this with the pole you already have is far simpler than having to buy a new one.
You might also determine the correct pole height by measuring the distance between the ground and your elbow when it is at a 90º angle. Holding an adjustable pole while doing this may make it easier, but be sure to remove any tips or paws. Once you know the height, simply adjust the pole, and you’re ready to go.
Essential Equipment for Nordic Walking
Nordic walking requires the use of walking poles, but these aren’t the only things you’ll need. It’s important to have the correct walking shoes and clothing to remain comfortable and safe while on your adventures. Moreover, you should always pay attention to the weather wearing a sun hat and carrying a water bottle on hot days to ensure protection and hydration!
One of the most essential pieces of equipment for Nordic walking is the poles. You simply cannot do the activity without them. However, you will notice that, while they are all designed with the same end goal in mind, there are some subtle differences between poles. Understanding these differences will help you to choose the right pair for you.
To start, you will need to choose the right type of Nordic walking pole. As we have already learned, there are fixed length and adjustable, but it is also possible to buy travel poles if you’re heading further afield.
Fixed-length poles are very sturdy and reliable, so are good for Nordic walking on more rugged terrain. The downside of these poles, however, is that you must know your exact height requirements as there’s no way to adjust them.
An adjustable pole, on the other hand, can be altered to any height and this is good for beginners, as you may find your requirements change with your technique. What’s more, they can be collapsed, so are much easier to transport. That said, you’ll find that they aren’t quite as sturdy, and so for heavier users, could pose a safety issue.
Where adjustable poles are concerned, we particularly like these from LEKI. They lock easily, are made from robust aluminum, and have a high traction tip. While some adjustable poles might let you down in this respect, the LEKI Spin Shark is in another league and definitely worth a mention.
LEKI Spin Shark SL Nordic Walking Poles
These walking poles are a good choice for those looking for adjustable but highly durable Nordic poles that can handle all types of terrains. Constructed from high-strength aluminum, they are very lightweight, weighing only 0.46 pounds each. Featuring an easy-to-use lever-lock system, these poles can quickly be adjusted in length anywhere between 100 – 130 cm. The natural cork grips provide good comfort, and they are also sweat-absorbing.
Finally, travel poles are the best choice if you need to regularly transport your equipment. They usually come as a three-piece pole and will fold up to be very compact. What’s more, they’re lightweight, so won’t weigh you down. The downside of these poles is much the same as the adjustable pole in that they don’t offer the same sturdiness.
You should also never underestimate the importance of choosing the right material for your poles. They’re almost always made from either aluminum, carbon, or a combination of both. But what’s the difference?
Carbon poles are much lighter and far better at absorbing shock. Moreover, this is one of the most durable and reliable materials, so it’s great if you’re going to spend a lot of time doing Nordic walking. On the other hand, aluminum is better suited to occasional use, and while still reliable and strong, they don’t have quite the same properties as carbon. The plus side is that they’re much more affordable.
When doing any type of walking, it is vital to have the correct footwear. Failing to do this could cause pain, discomfort, and even long-term foot problems.
There are three main things that you would expect from a good Nordic walking shoe; flexibility, traction, and protection.
When choosing a Nordic walking shoe, one of the first things you should look at is whether the shoe has a good fit and is comfortable. It may seem like an obvious point but imagine being in the middle of a walk only to find that your shoes have chafed, feel too tight, or are causing discomfort some other way.
However, one thing you should keep in mind is that different people have different needs when it comes to cushioning. If you have a foot condition, you might need something more or less firm, so it’s important to factor this in and buy something that suits your needs.
Flexibility is important as it will allow the shoe to move with your foot as you take each stride. But don’t go for something so flexible that it becomes flimsy as you’ll need good support, especially on longer walks.
Taking the weather into consideration is also a good idea as this will impact the type of shoes you need. For example, if you’re walking in wet weather, you’ll want something waterproof. Gore-Tex is one of the best materials for this and what’s great is that it’s also super breathable, so there’s no chance of moisture building up inside the shoe.
Naturally, the type of clothing you wear when Nordic walking will depend on the current conditions. You should avoid wearing tight clothing, and it is always best to opt for layers so that you can adapt if the weather changes and keep in more body heat when it’s cold.
The most important thing to think about when choosing your base layer is whether it will wick away moisture. If it doesn’t, it simply isn’t worth it. Cotton is one of the worst offenders, but if you want a natural material, Merino wool is particularly good. That said, there are plenty of man-made moisture-wicking materials too, if you prefer.
Natural materials tend to be better at regulating heat, so are usually the best choice, but you’ll normally pay more for these. It’s also worth considering that the weight of these base layers can impact how warm you are, but this doesn’t matter too much as their primary job is to wick away sweat.
Similarly to your base layer, an insulating mid-layer can come in a variety of weights so it’s worth thinking about this according to the weather. In spring, when there’s a mild breeze, you’ll only want something lightweight whereas, in the winter, a heavier insulating layer may be preferable.
Fleece is an excellent choice for insulating layers as it’s very adept at keeping warm air in but doesn’t make you sweat, thanks to its breathable nature.
Waterproof Jacket (Outer Layer)
The weather isn’t always reliable, but there should be nothing stopping you from enjoying Nordic walking, even if it’s raining. But you will need to make sure that you have a waterproof outer layer to keep you dry. It’s also essential to make sure this material is breathable. If you’re walking in the summer and there’s a shower, it may still be warm, so the last thing you want is to build up a sweat.
Your outer layer should be lightweight and should also offer protection from the wind. One of the best materials is Gore-Tex which offers excellent breathability and effective waterproofing as well as being lightweight. It’s used in a whole host of outdoor gear.
It’s also worth considering making an investment into your outer layer as many of the cheaper products don’t always perform as well. If you’re planning on spending a lot of time outdoors, you’ll get your money’s worth.
We all pay a lot of attention to what we wear on our feet in terms of shoes, but our socks are often forgotten. It’s important to choose socks that are moisture-wicking and breathable as your feet are prone to sweating. This is thanks to the 125,000 sweat glands in each foot!
Try to avoid cotton socks as these won’t provide the traction you need. It’s better to choose socks with a complex yarn, and that are cushioned.
If you choose socks with a waterproof membrane, do keep in mind that this could be easily snagged by a rogue toenail, so try to keep everything trimmed and filed.
You want to have good freedom of movement when doing Nordic walking, so make sure that the pants you choose are not so tight that they restrict your movement. Comfort should be the main priority here but also think about buying pants that wick away moisture, because you’re going to sweat while working out.
Depending on the time of year and conditions, it is possible to buy waterproof pants which will protect you from the elements. There are also some that are lined for added warmth in the winter months.