Like with healthy diets, fitness too has trends that pop up from time to time, with every wave claiming to be the best new workout for weight loss in the market. Nordic walking is one such trend that seems to have taken over the walking/running community by storm. Proponents of this new workout style claim that it takes plain old walking to a whole new level that boosts your endurance, as well as how many calories you burn per session.
However, is this true, or is Nordic walking basically just walking only with sticks? Read on to find if there are any benefits of Nordic walking, disadvantages, and risks – if any and if you are interested in trying out this form of exercise, how to use Nordic walking sticks safely.
What Does Nordic Walking Mean?
Originating from Finland, Nordic walking is an enhanced walking technique that was initially designed as a summer training routine for cross-country skiers. This workout uses poles, aka Nordic walking sticks, to help give your upper body a workout as you walk around on a trail, track, or just the sidewalk.
To understand what Nordic walking is, think about what cross-country skiing athletes do on the ice during the Olympics, only this time, instead of running and sliding up and down on the snow, you are walking normally but with these walking sticks in hand.
How To Start Nordic Walking: Proper Tips For Beginners
While this type of exercise might seem like normal walking while holding some sticks, the truth is that it is not. For you to do this exercise safely and get an actual lower and upper body workout, you need to have proper accessories and tools and learn the proper technique for Nordic walking.
Not all shoes are made the same, and having the right shoe can either make or break your Nordic walking experience. The proper shoe for this exercise should have ticked all of the following:
- It must be comfortable. Unlike other types of shoes or sneakers, walking shoes are made specifically for this purpose and often have a cushion to keep your feet and joints safe after hours of trampling around. This cushioning is most likely the last barrier between you and knee or hip pain.
- It should fit your leg type. Do you have high arches, or are your feet more on the flat side? Failure to figure this out could lead to discomfort while exercising and complications such as back pain, bunions, or even tendon damage.
- It should have enough space in the toe box area. Your shoe should have some wiggle room at the front to help prevent potential blisters, as well as any numbness or tingling in the feet.
- It should be breathable. This helps keep your feet cooler and allows your sweat to evaporate more quickly, which can decrease your risk of blisters.
- Your shoe of choice should also offer support and stability during your walk.
Proper Workout Clothes
You do not need any fancy name-brand clothing for walking. Just make sure that whatever clothes you choose are breathable to allow sweat to quickly evaporate from the skin, not stay and soak, leaving you feeling sweaty and uncomfortable.
Replacement Nordic Walking Pole Tips
These are not a necessity, but it would be a good idea to have them at hand. These tips come in different designs all made to make it easier to walk on different kinds of terrain from asphalt, concrete, normal soil, etc. These tips also help keep the actual tip of your Nordic walking stick from being roughed up and getting ruined. If you want, you can also get some pole guards, which help keep your sticks from sinking into gravel or snow.
Nordic Walking Sticks
Without these poles, the exercise does not qualify as Nordic walking. Choose poles that work best for you as they are what you will use to train on the proper technique needed for this workout.
The Proper Nordic Walking Technique
Here is a simple routine that every beginner can follow:
- Begin by standing tall with your shoulders relaxed, chest down, and eyes looking ahead.
- Hold the poles in each hand and close to your body.
- As you take a step forward with your right foot, swing (don’t flick) the pole in your left hand forward. The pole should land on the ground at level with your right heel.
- Take note of the position of this front pole. It should be pointing diagonally backward and not be in front of your body.
- Push the pole into the ground behind you as you take a step with your left foot. Slightly loosen your grip on the pole (this is why straps are important). It prevents injury to the wrist.
- Push the pole as far back as possible, the arm straightening to form a continuous line with the fully extended arm.
- As this occurs, bring your left foot and right pole forward. Be sure to close your grip as the pole lands to push it off of the ground and continue the motion.
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What Are Some Nordic Walking Benefits?
Like every other cardio workout, Nordic walking has several health benefits. Here are some:
Offers A Good Upper Body Workout
While walking is considered one of the best and easiest full-body workouts, it doesn’t necessarily utilize all the muscles in your body. Walking mostly utilizes the muscles in your lower body in the glutes, calves, hamstrings, etc. For you to get an upper-body workout while walking, the easiest and most obvious choice would be to hold some weights as you walk around. This, however, is frowned upon as experts state that this action puts strain and stress on your arm muscles and joints, which can lead to injury or damage.
Nordic walking is a safer way to have your lower and upper bodywork as you stroll around your neighborhood. An article by the Harvard School of Publishing stresses this fact by stating that walking normally engages about 50 percent of all your muscles, while Nordic walking engages 80 to 90 percent of the same.
A study published in 2017 found that office workers who participated in Nordic walking achieved greater shoulder mobility but also ended up with increased PPT (pain pressure threshold) in the muscles in their upper and mid trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and in the infraspinatus. They also had significant improvement in their upper body flexibility (14).
The above statements were echoed in a study published a year later by the PLOS One journal. The participants in this study were made to undergo several variations of Nordic walking, all compared side-by-side with normal walking. At the end of the study, researchers established that this Finland originating exercise provided a greater workout to the latissimus dorsi, trapezii, forearm flexors, pectoralis majors, deltoids, triceps, and even your core (5).
Safer For Your Back Than Traditional Walking
Walking or standing adds increased pressure on your spine can make the lower back muscles tighten and spasm, leading to pain – especially if you are doing any of these activities for long periods. If you suffer from lower back pain/tension, then Nordic walking should be your preferred form of exercise. According to a study published in 2015, this European originating exercise does not activate the erector spinae (lower back) muscles as much as traditional walking and thus is a much preferable option (2).
Improves Balance, Mobility, Muscle Strength, And Aerobic Endurance (Especially In Older Adults)
The elderly often have problems with their balance due to multiple issues like vision and neurological problems, low blood pressure, dehydration, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other health and mental issues. If your parents or grandparents tend to fall over a lot, then you should get them to try adding this workout to their routine.
These facts were proven by a study published in 2015 by The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. In the study, researchers took 41 older adults, all above 60 years old, and had them do Nordic walking for 35 weeks (ten (10) weeks were supervised while 25 weeks were not). At the end of the study, the seniors who completed the Nordic walking study had significant improvements, not only in their balance but also in their functional mobility and aerobic endurance (10). These statements were echoed in a recent review by the Rejuvenation Research Journal (7).
Please note that these benefits are not only limited to the elderly alone. Anyone could do it with better mobility, muscle strength, and aerobic endurance. A study published earlier this year (2021) revealed that when compared to moderate-to-vigorous intensity and high-intensity interval training, Nordic walking showed greater improvements in their functional capacity (the capability of performing tasks and activities that people find necessary or desirable in their lives(13)).
Leads To Faster Weight Loss
If you are looking to lose weight through a relatively easy workout routine, it might be time to invest in some poles and try Nordic walking. A study published in 2020 revealed that using poles while walking can increase your calorie-burning by up to 18 percent. Harvard School of Publishing states that this percentage can increase to up to 67 percent (6). Multiple other studies have shown that this workout works great for weight loss (9, 1, 12).
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What Are Some Nordic Walking Disadvantages?
For the most part, Nordic walking is relatively easy to do a workout that can not only be done by anyone young or old, sick or healthy, but it also has some incredible benefits. That being said, it has some disadvantages that could deter some people from attempting it.
- It can be expensive. The most important part of this exercise is the walking poles as, without them, the workout does not qualify as Nordic walking. You need good walking poles, and they do not come cheap. Prices start from about $70 and can go as high as $200 for good quality Nordic walking sticks.
- It takes a while to learn and master. Unlike basic walking that we all learned early on in life and is a mindless thing now, this exercise requires training for you to master it and have a full-body routine. The thought of having to re-learn how to walk just to work out can seem odd to some.
Factors To Consider When Choosing Nordic Walking Sticks
According to The New York Times, the best poles will not only improve your balance, prevent injuries in your legs, especially the knees, but will also make sure that you are involving your upper body in the workout to give you a well-rounded session (11).
To make sure that your Nordic walking sticks are the best for you, here are some things to consider:
- Budget. Some poles can go for as much as $200, so be sure to have a specific amount before you start picking out poles.
- Preferred Material. Nordic walking sticks come in either aluminum, carbon fiber, or a mixture of these two materials. While carbon fiber poles can support a higher load, they are also stiffer and absorb less of the effort of the user. They also do not have a very long service life.
- Pole Tips. As previously mentioned, these walking pole tips help prevent wear and tear of your stick and also help keep the pole (and you) stable in all kinds of terrain. Choose your tips depending on where you wish to exercise.
- Length Of The Pole. You can either choose from a fixed or variable length. Fixed lengths are said to offer more uncompromised performance to the user and are more suitable for regular and experienced users. They are also lighter, do not vibrate when they hit the ground, and are less likely to slip regardless of your terrain or walking speed.
Adjustable poles are better since they can be easily adjusted to suit the height of the user and are also easier and more compact to pack and carry around. Some say that the adjustable ones are also multi-purpose as they can be used for other activities such as hiking, trekking, mountaineering, and climbing.
- Anti-shock Technology. This may help reduce the impact on your muscles, joints, and ligaments.
- Handle-grip Material. You can either choose a rubber grip that is softer and absorbs shocks more or a foam grip that is more breathable and more lightweight.
- A Quick-release Strap
The Bottom Line
The proponents of Nordic walking have clearly stumbled upon a great new workout that delivers on its promises. It is indeed a low-impact workout that can not only be done by anyone but also provides a myriad of health benefits. To lose weight with this exercise, be sure to also eat a calorie deficit healthy diet and make sure to always walk in well-lit areas.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Efficacy of Nordic Walking in Obesity Management (2011, researchgate.net)
- Exploring Muscle Activation during Nordic Walking: A Comparison between Conventional and Uphill Walking (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health benefits of Nordic walking: a systematic review (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- In hip osteoarthritis, Nordic Walking is superior to strength training and home-based exercise for improving function (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Muscular and metabolic responses to different Nordic walking techniques, when style matters (2018, journals.plos.org)
- Nordic Walking as an effective physical activity for weight loss among overweight young adults in high schools (2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nordic Walking Can Be Incorporated in the Exercise Prescription to Increase Aerobic Capacity, Strength, and Quality of Life for Elderly: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nordic walking for individuals with cardiovascular disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nordic Walking Promoted Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese People: A Systematic Review for Future Exercise Prescription (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Short-term and long-term effects of nordic walking training on balance, functional mobility, muscle strength and aerobic endurance among Hungarian community-living older people: a feasibility study (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Best Trekking Poles (2021, nytimes.com)
- The effects of exercise and diet program in overweight people – Nordic walking versus walking (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effects of high-intensity interval training, Nordic walking and moderate-to-vigorous intensity continuous training on functional capacity, depression and quality of life in patients with coronary artery disease enrolled in cardiac rehabilitation: A randomized controlled trial (CRX study) (2021, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effects of Nordic Walking training on selected upper-body muscle groups in female-office workers: A randomized trial (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)