Monday, February 13, 2006


Nordic Walking & Cross-Country Skiing - Part 1

With thanks to Stuart Montgomery for writing this article. Stuart is a Director of XCuk - a UK based company that specializes in Cross Country Skiing & Nordic Walking Holidays. Stuart is also an INWA Certified Nordic Walking Instructor offering classes in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.

As a nordic walking instructor I often have enquiries from people who want to know if nordic walking will help them prepare for cross-country skiing. My answer is, emphatically, yes. Firstly it is good physical preparation, in terms of both stamina and muscle endurance.

Nordic walking has evolved out of cross-country skiing and the physical requirements are similar. But secondly – and this is not so obvious – the technical demands are also very similar.

In this article I look at how beginners can use nordic walking to prepare themselves for cross-country skiing. In a later article I will show how experienced skiers can use nordic walking to reinforce and develop their skiing technique.

Let’s start with the beginners.

Think back to the first time you went nordic walking. As you took your first strides with poles you probably had some initial difficulty with the arm-leg coordination. Many people do, and I’ve grown used to seeing beginners walk along with furrowed brow, concentrating intensely on some inner mantra – "Left leg, right arm. Left leg, right arm".

But after a while on that first session it will have started to come together, and you will have felt that you were getting the hang of things. However at just that point your instructor will have said "That’s very good. Now I would like you to push back a little harder on the poles." And that will have messed everything up! Your hard-earned coordination was lost. And you will have realised that your technique had to change. You needed to lengthen and slow down your stride in order to accommodate the new poling action.

It probably took a few minutes to figure out the new coordination and get happy with it. And then, at just about the point when you felt you were again getting the hang of things, your instructor will have said "That’s really very good. Now let’s work on rolling the foot as we walk."...And that will have messed everything up again!!

It was complicated, wasn’t it? You not only had to learn a new kind of coordination of arms and legs. But you also had to learn that if you change what you do with your arms, you have to change what you do with your legs. And vice-versa. It was a valuable lesson in body-awareness. But it took a bit of thought.

Now imagine how newcomers to cross-country skiing must feel. They have to learn the same fundamental lessons, for the basic stride in cross-country skiing is similar to the basic stride in nordic walking. And they have to learn to change their leg action whenever they vary the intensity of their poling.

...But – as if that wasn’t enough - they have to cope with the additional complications of slippery snow, skis that seem terrifically impatient to go speeding off across the slippery snow, and intimidatingly long poles, typically about 20cm longer than nordic walking poles. These beginners have an enormously steep learning curve, and some of them will find the experience very challenging.

They could make it very much easier for themselves by investing a few hours in learning nordic walking before travelling to the snow. In doing so they would learn valuable basic skills. Of course when they did get on to snow they would need to alter those skills to make them suitable to the skiing environment. But it is a great deal easier to fine-tune existing skills than to learn new ones from scratch.

So – how should budding cross-country skiers approach nordic walking? Their first priority must be to get used to the basic stride in nordic walking. The idea is simply to get to the stage where walking with poles feels like second nature.

Next, they should experiment - playing with different stride lengths and different speeds, and testing themselves on different kinds of terrain, hills as well as flat ground. The idea now is simply to get used to variation per se – so that it feels like second nature to change technique and speed at will. This will help them – when they do arrive on snow – to make the transition from walking to skiing, from striding to gliding.

In nordic walking a single walking stride will take you a distance of three or four feet. But in cross-country skiing a single gliding stride will carry you twice that distance even if you are a beginner, and several times as far once you know what you are doing.

...In order to cope with this new "stride length" a novice skier has to learn to slow down the body tempo, to take extra long strides, and to match poling intensity very carefully to stride length (which is to say, if you pole just a little bit harder, you need to let your skis glide quite a lot further). All this is quite tricky, and the excusable tendency for the inexperienced skier is to panic and fall over.

The experienced nordic walker, however, should be able to face the challenge more calmly – to say "In principle I know what is happening here. I just need to experiment a little to get the details right."

Stuart Montgomery

Great article submitted by Stuart Montgomery!

Cross country skiing is my #1 favorite activity. We have been xc skiing everyday since Nov.17th here in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

During ski season I'm busy coaching skiers, skiing with my family and teaching Nordic Walking Classes - what a great (FUN) combination!

Nordic Walking is my favorite activity when we can't find snow.

Ski walking and hill bounding with poles has been a training secret for elite cross country skiers for decades. Nordic Walking has allowed ALL ages and ALL fitness levels to benefit from walking with poles - no snow and no skis required.

Nordic Walking is a great way to get ready for ski season - both downhill and cross country (Nordic and Alpine). Nordic Walking is also a great cross trainer for runners and other athletes. And believe it or not Nordic Walking Poles are helping to make walking comfortable again - even those with balance issues, knee issues or new knees, hip issues or new hips, back issues (including those with rods in their back), multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's (PD), neuropathy, arthritis, bursitis, scoliosis, post polio, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, post polio, stroke recovery and other limitations to walking.

At the American Nordic Walking System we developed three basic levels. Low impact Level 1 - casually walking with poles (but walking correctly with poles) and burning about 20% more calories than regular walking + Level 2 with a full arm extension and burning about 30% more calories than regular walking + Level 3 with its full arm extension and pressure into the Nordic Walking Straps - burning up to 40% more calories than regular walking. Level 3 is a lot like trying to cross country ski on sand paper and I tell my classes that everyday.

More info can be found at WWW.SKIWALKING.COM

Walking with poles is the best!
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