Sunday, February 19, 2006


Nordic Walking & Cross-Country Skiing - Part 2

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.

In part 1 of this article (last week), I looked at how newcomers to cross-country skiing could use nordic walking as technical preparation for their first outing on snow. This second article is mainly for people who have done some cross-country skiing and now want to use nordic walking to help develop their skiing technique. But I hope it is also of interest to experienced nordic walkers who are ready for a bit of variety. It is always good to play with techniques, to try new things and discover what works for you.

Using the upper body - poling

The poling action in cross-country skiing is like the poling action in nordic walking - only more so! It consists of a pull down, then a strong push that extends back, well behind the hip, as you extend your straightened arm back as far you can. Finally, you release the grip with a flick of the wrist and the fingers, almost as if you were trying to throw the pole away behind you.

Standard nordic walking technique simulates this fairly closely, but if you are a skier looking for maximum benefit from nordic walking you should try to open your arms out even more than in standard technique – the leading arm should reach well in front, and the other arm extend well behind. To keep arms and legs in sync you will need to lengthen your stride considerably – and it also helps if you put a spring in your step by pushing firmly off the ball of each foot.

As with any change of technique, it’s best to go slowly until you get the hang of things. But when you do have the hang of things – just go for it! You should find that the extra oomph in your poling, combined with the accentuated foot-roll, sends you flying along.

Some nordic walking instructors recommend keeping the leading arm straight while poling, while others insist that the arm should be bent. There is a similar division in cross-country skiing. The current official British instructors’ manual says that the elbow of the forward arm should be "flexed to 90 degrees". ..

But some instructors prefer just a slight bend in the arm (and they point out that the previous edition of the manual recommended just that!) For the great mass of skiers, however, this is rather an esoteric squabble, and most people bend or straighten their arm as the mood takes them. Personally I think the main thing is to be aware that you have the choice. And I always urge people to try both.

In standard nordic walking you should roll your shoulders from side to side, swagger a little. You're John Wayne, and you've come for your boy. The idea is to set up a rotation of the shoulder girdle that works in opposition to the rotation of your pelvic girdle. (Your shoulders go left-right while your hips go right-left.) This causes a repeated gentle twisting of the upper body - which brings great benefits to muscles and joints.

Unfortunately, it promotes lousy ski technique. The problem is that the swagger tends to bring your leading hand across the centre of your body. And that makes you push your pole back at an angle to your direction of travel. Do this while skiing and all the other skiers will overtake you – it is inefficient propulsion. It is much better to keep your poles moving in a straight line backwards and forwards - i.e. parallel to your direction of travel.

Using the lower body - striding

In standard nordic walking, the foot strike starts with the heel, then you unroll your foot as you come forward and push off with the ball of your foot.
With skis on, you just can’t do that. Athletic skiers lead with their hips, accentuating the rotation of the pelvis in order to force a little more drive into the ski-stride. You can get a feel for this in nordic walking. Make a deliberate attempt to swing those hips, trying to push yourself forward from the hips. You should feel yourself going faster.

Double poling

Cross-country skiers use double-poling to move fast over easy terrain. The skier plants both poles at the same time, then bends strongly and deeply forward at the waist. This allows abdominal and lower back muscles to contribute most of the propulsive force.

In nordic walking - without skis to glide on - we simply can’t bend forward at the waist. But we can still reach an approximation of the skiing technique. The first challenge is to sort out the timing: when nordic walking I take four strides between each double pole plant, but many people take two, and I’ve seen some take three. Find out what works for you. Then you need to be careful to avoid muscle strain – double poling while nordic walking is hard work, so be careful not to overdo it.

When you have gotten the hang of things it is fun to mix double poling in with normal alternate striding. Try this:

Double-pole once (taking as many steps as you need to complete the move). Then take four normal alternate strides, poling on each stride
Then double pole once. Then take another four normal alternate strides, poling on each stride and keep it going.

You will be pleased to know that you are well on the way to mastering the "Swedish five-phase" – a technique used by ski racers to help vary their muscle workout – and keep their interest up. Even elite competitors would find it tedious to use the same technique for an entire race.

Going uphill

When face with a short climb, standard nordic walking technique would be: lean into the hill a little and lengthen your stride.

However if you are trying to develop skiing technique you should shorten your stride and jog up the hill. And put a spring in your step. As you jog, concentrate on transferring your body weight from one foot to the other – you will rock a little from side to side. And don’t lean so far forward.
(What you are simulating is the action of flattening your skis down on to the snow).

If you lay a cross-country ski base-down on the snow you will see that the front third (the tip) and the rear third (the tail) are flat. But the middle third is slightly arched, and rises up above the snow. When skiing you apply wax to this middle third. The wax grips into the snow, and lets you climb the hill. In order to make the wax grip, you have to flatten the ski on to the snow.)

What goes up must come down, and a skier who has reached the top of a hill can usually look forward to an adrenaline charged schuss down the other side. Alas, nordic walking can offer no such thrills!

Stuart Montgomery

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