Thursday, August 10, 2006


NORDIC WALKING - Why Just Walk When You Can Nordic Walk... by David Downer

It looks like cross-country skiing but without the snow or skis. It’s regularly described as ‘Fitness Walking with poles’, a concept first developed back in 1985 by American pole walking pioneer, Tom Rutlin. It’s called ‘Nordic Walking’, a name created by Finnish ski pole manufacturer Exel Oyj in 1997, to coincide with the launch of their new line in Fitness Walking poles with specially designed wrist straps. Nordic Walking is now growing in popularity on the worldwide stage as the ‘new’ gentle ‘total body’ way to exercise, that puts your whole body to ‘use’ without ‘abuse’.

There are currently estimated to be over 5 million Nordic Walkers in Europe alone, including two million in Germany, one and a half million in Finland, eight hundred thousand in Austria, with countries including Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Holland and the United Kingdom contributing more than a million participants. Popularity is fast spreading to other parts of the world too. The last 12 months has seen an upsurge of interest in the US, where world famous sports apparel company ‘Reebok’ have recently formed a strategic alliance with pole manufacturers ‘Exel Oyj’ to promote the activity.

An impressive list of benefits is reported for Nordic Walking:

1) Research has shown (Cooper Institute, Dallas, Texas, 2000) that Nordic Walking can burn up to 46% more energy and therefore calories than walking without poles at the same speed; although interestingly your perceived level of effort tends not to increase.

2) Nordic Walking reduces the stress on joints such as the hip and the knee by up to 30%.

3) Nordic Walking activates approximately 90% of your body’s skeletal muscles versus 80% for cycling, 70% for running and 30% for swimming (figures based on average performance for a 12-stone person).

4) It’s regularly reported that Nordic Walking can reduce the pain experienced by back pain sufferers while walking with their poles, as well as reduce tension in the neck and shoulder region.

5) Walking uphill is a breeze because as a ‘quadruped’ the workload is spread, so you no longer have to rely on your legs to do all the work. Walking downhill is a lot easier too.

6) Nordic Walking is the perfect rehabilitation exercise following illness, surgery or injury, which is why many physiotherapists and other medical professionals are now recommending Nordic Walking to their patients.

7) For anyone unsteady on their feet eg due to balance instability, Nordic Walking poles can give added security and confidence

8) Nordic Walking is great ‘weight bearing’ exercise and therefore helps to keep your bones strong and healthy.

9) Participants often report improvements in their posture as the poles tend to stop you from slumping as you walk.

10) The use of the poles in ‘Nordic Running’, ‘Plyometrics’ (leaping and bounding exercises) and other ‘athletic style training techniques’ can offer the toughest of workouts to sports enthusiasts and competitive athletes.

Nordic Walking poles differ from skiing and hiking poles, in that they have specially designed wrist straps which you slip your hands into, in much the same way as if you were putting on gloves. Proper use of the straps is an integral part of the recommended technique. The poles are designed to be used on all surfaces and come with removable ‘asphalt’ rubber tips. The poles fall into several ‘type’ categories including, one-piece, two piece, semi-adjustable and telescopic. Pole shafts are usually made from carbon fiber, composite (a mix of fiberglass and resin, or fiberglass, resin and carbon fiber) or aluminum.

When Nordic Walking you ‘plant’ your poles alternately just behind each hip. In fact the poling action is very similar to that used by cross-county skiers (classic style). Eg: As you push off with your right pole your left leg is forward. Then as your left arm swings to the front, you step forward onto your right foot and you plant your left pole just behind your left hip and so on. In the full technique you open your hand to release the pole handle each time your arm swings behind your hip. As your arm swings forward again you catch the pole handle in preparation for the next ‘plant’ (don’t worry about dropping your poles, remember they have wrist straps).

To see a moving graphic of the correct technique visit:

The ability for Nordic Walking to boost fitness levels has been recognized by business and politicians. In Switzerland two health insurance companies offer financial bonuses to policy holders who attend Nordic Walking lessons. While in Germany the cost of attending a certified course for hospital outpatients is refunded by the government.

Like with any sport the best way to learn is via proper instruction. Nordic Walking instructors offer group or one-to-one personal tuition. INWA (International Nordic Walking Association) have instructors in 18 countries visit: and select ‘Your Country’. A search on the Internet will find additional instructors listings.

As the popularity of Nordic Walking continues to gather momentum across the world, don’t be surprised to hear a new ‘catchword’ phrase… “Why Just Walk When You Can Nordic Walk?”


Note: Please include the contents of this resource box if you wish to use / reproduce this article.

David Downer is the Editor of ‘Nordic Walking News’ - subscribe FREE at: and author of ‘Nordic Walking Step by Step’, the first book to be published on the subject in the English language. Download your complimentary 4 chapter excerpt at

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