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What is Nordic Walking?

A while ago, we wrote an article about how to get more out of your walks, sharing a few tips on how you can make your walks more effective and healthy. What if we told you that you could go for walks and exercise your entire body but without it being a high impact workout? Today, we’re going to talk about Nordic Walking, a new fitness trend that has been all the rage this year, and for good reason.

What is Nordic Walking?

Nordic walking was created as a way for cross-country skiers to maintain their fitness during the summer months. As the name implies, it was invented in Scandinavia, specifically Finland. It wasn’t until the 1990s that it really began to take off in popularity when specialty Nordic walking poles became commercially available. This is generally the only equipment you’ll need to set Nordic walking apart from regular walking, but it’s also where many of the special benefits come from (more on those later).

While we’ll discuss the specifics of Nordic walking technique later in this article, the basics are that as you walk, you’ll push off the ground with your poles. This mimics the technique of a cross-country skier and adds a new fitness element to your walk. This does mean that buying Nordic walking poles is necessary, but once you learn the benefits and the fact that there is a range of prices for the poles, you’ll see it’s likely worth the cost to you if you’re looking to get fitter.

What are the Benefits?

By adding the poles into your walk, it’s turning walking into a full body exercise. Literally, experts say that you’ll be engaging anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the muscles in your body. The same experts linked Nordic walking with increased caloric burn and reductions in “fat mass, ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and waist circumference, and increases in ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, endurance, muscle strength and flexibility, walking distance, cardiovascular fitness, and quality of life.”

This isn’t a one-off statement, either. One 2017 study found that participants who took part in Nordic walking for 12 weeks experienced greater shoulder mobility and less pain in their trapezius muscles. Since the poles shift the weight from your lower body to your entire body, it’s also a low-impact workout. The poles also increase your balance and stability, making it less likely you’ll fall. It has even been suggested as a possibly safe exercise fit for people with Parkinson’s disease. With the aid of the poles, you’re able to walk faster and farther, multiplying the benefits of regular walking. This is only a sampling of the studies that have examined the benefits of Nordic walking. It’s a low-impact, balance-boosting, stability-safe, and benefit-rich workout option for seniors and people who are looking to restart a fitness journey.

How Do I Get Started?

Knowing the benefits of Nordic walking are all well and good, but how do you actually do it? First, you’ll need the equipment. You should have some comfy but stable walking shoes, which is true of anyone who plans to walk for exercise. The right footwear is critical to preventing injuries when exercising. The most important piece of equipment, though, are the walking poles. You can find a good set of poles for under $100, though some high-end sets exist around the $200 mark. You’ll also find sets that are collapsible for ease of transporting and have adjustable grips and switchable footers for different terrains.

Now to the technique of Nordic walking, which is fairly easy to grasp but difficult to master. When getting started, we suggest watching videos like the one above and practicing a bit before heading out on your first walk. The basic technique is:

For ease of explanation, we’ll refer to your right foot as your lead foot, the pole in your right hand as your lead pole, your left foot as your alternate foot, and the pole in your left hand as your alternate pole. You don’t have to lead with your right if that’s not comfortable to you. This is just for clarity.

  1. Take a step with your lead foot.
  2. As you step, bring the alternate pole forward.
  3. Plant the footer of the pole about halfway between your lead foot and your alternate foot.
  4. Grip the alternate pole and push as you step with your alternate foot.
  5. As you step with your alternate foot, bring your lead poll forward so that its footer is about halfway between your feet.
  6. Repeat until you’re at your destination!

Depending on how fast you’re going or what’s more comfortable for you, you may have the pole footers land closer to your back foot as you step instead of in between your feet. What’s important is that you’re planting the poles with each step and pushing off as you step. If you’re having trouble getting the rhythm down, there are many videos, resources, and groups online to help you!

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Nordic walking isn’t necessarily new (it’s over 60 years old!), but it’s been getting new attention, especially in the United States. This media coverage is entirely warranted since it takes one of the most basic and fundamental forms of exercise, walking, and improves it. Not only is it making the exercise more effective, but it’s also safer for anyone with stability or balance issues. With all that in mind, it certainly seems like Nordic walking is worth trying this year!

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