Wednesday, August 24, 2005


How Hard Should I Exercise ?

The Golden Rule:

"Always listen to your body - It tends to know best ! Ignore your body and suffer the consequences".

I promote 3 levels of Nordic Walking:

Level 1: Health:
Level 2: Fitness
Level 3: Sport

Level 1: Health walkers are by far the largest user group. These are people who are not interested in training, racing, running, bounding etc - They just want to enjoy the general health benefits associated with walking with their poles. It is to Health Level walkers that this posting will be of particular interest.

So, for all you 'Health level' people out there, here is a simple way to monitor your walking intensity.

Talk Test

As a Health Level Nordic walker - If you can hold a conversation without struggling for breath then fine. This is referred to as a 'positive talk test' - This is good. If you can't, or are struggling to hold a conversation then this is referred to as a 'negative talk test' - This is not good. If you are struggling to talk then your body is struggling - Remember the 'Golden Rule' ?

"Always listen to your body - It tends to know best ! Ignore your body and suffer the consequences".

As you become fitter you will find that it becomes easier to talk for longer and you will find you can walk harder / faster and still be able to talk.

In addition to the 'Talk Test' use this simplified 'scale of perceived exertion' (effort):

Level of Effort

1) Very Easy
2) Fairly Easy
3) Moderate
4) Slightly Hard
5) Hard

As a Health Level walker when you start out on a walk, walk for a while at level 1 (very easy). After a while pick up the pace a little to level 2 (fairly easy) before upping again to level 3 (moderate).

For health benefits, newcomers to exercise should 'work towards' being able to sustain a 'moderate' walking pace for 30 minutes, 5 times a week . However, if walking for 30 minutes is too much for you, don't worry. Instead break this down to 3 x 10 minute walks or 2 x 15 minute walks.

* Remember - "Always listen to your body" ! Eg - If it is telling you to rest - then rest !

Generally speaking and until your fitness levels are up, as a Health Level walker I would not advise going above level 4 (slightly hard) and to spend most of your time at no higher than level 3 (moderate).

Note: This will often involve careful route choice. If your fitness level is currently low please don't try and walk up a gradient such as 'Heart Attack Hill' (see previous posting), as on a scale of 1 - 5 you will probably be 'off the scale' at 10+ !

So in summary; as a 'Health Level' walker use both the 'Talk Test' and the 'Scale of Perceived Exertion' to ensure you are walking at a safe and effective intensity.

Note: 'Scale of Perceived Exertion' is personal to the individual. If you are not used to exercise and you tried to keep up with me at my 'Level 1' (very easy), it might be your 'Level 5' (Hard)

One final Tip:

Use the 'Scale of Enjoyment'

Level of Enjoyment

1) Very Unpleasant
2) Unpleasant
3) Neutral
4) Enjoyable
5) Very Enjoyable

You should be looking to score enjoyment at level; 4 or 5. If this is not happening it is important to identify the reason why and put a plan in place to remedy this. If you continue to score low in enjoyment you will quit. If you are working with a instructor / coach, please seek their professional advice if you are not then I would recommend that you consult with one.

Note: in addition to being an INWA Qualified Nordic Walking Instructor, David has been a qualified exercise / sports professional for nearly 25 years. He is also a qualified Life Coach.

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