Saturday, October 14, 2006


Big Strides, or Fast, Little Steps?

Following my recent appeal for writers, I am delighted to present this very interesting article by Marek Zalewski of that offers food for thought to every Nordic Walker - Please feel free to post your comments and feedback.... David

Those interested in Nordic Walking, or for that matter just walking as fast as possible, endlessly debate whether it can be done faster, by taking long - almost at maximum extension - steps, or faster, shorter ones.

Aristotle has said a long time ago, that: "The person who walks with short and slow steps is a person who starts his business sluggishly and does not pursue a goal". I do not necessarily agree with the famous philosopher, mainly because it does seem to me that taking shorter, faster steps is not only, well...faster, but there's also less of a danger of injuring oneself, by overstretching the stride.

I can only assume that Aristotle was not too concerned about the actual speed of walking, but rather with one's personality. He also talks about "slow" steps and that's not what we are interested in here.

About a year ago, trying to catch up with a woman, who passed me on the trail around Burke Lake, Virginia, appeared to be totally impossible. Very quickly I realized that my super-long steps simply were not the way to win races.

She did admit (probably to make me feel better, as she was passing me) that she used to be on the U.S. race walking Olympic team...

Anyway, after struggling for about half a mile and at the same time seeing the woman steadily pulling further and further ahead of me, taking very fast, but relatively short (by the standard of my longer legs) steps, I decided to try to emulate her technique.

It didn't come naturally, particularly in view of the fact that I had to exponentially increase not only the cadence of my legs, but also of my arms and Nordic Walking poles, but lo and behold! I did start to slowly gain on her!

I was not able to catch her before the end of the lake circuit, but the slightly shorter, but much faster steps almost brought me within striking distance!

I suppose that the optimal combination would be achieved by taking long and very fast steps. Unfortunately, most of us are limited to a certain effort and in order to maintain a very fast cadence, the stride has to be shortened at least to a certain degree.

Most of the time, when I do not try to race someone, or attempt to beat a personal best time, I usually Nordic Walk with my longer, slower steps, which seem more natural than a really fast tempo. When doing that, I usually am able to push harder with the arms. There is simply more time to do so.

Shortening the step by 5, to 10 cm (2-4 inches) will not affect the distance walked nearly as much, as increasing the frequency of the steps from 90-92 steps per minute (my long step average), to 130 + steps per minute (again-my average).

Losing let’s say, three inches out of every stride would translate into 180 inches, or 15 feet (about 5 meters) per minute, or only 300 meters (900 feet) per hour. On the other hand...considering that my steps are around 1 meter-long (3.3 feet), the 40-step per minute increase translates into 40 extra meters for every minute, or 2,400 meters (1.5 miles) additional distance covered every hour!

Do the math yourself, substituting your figures for mine.

Once again, regardless of the tempo, cadence, stride length, proper form should be maintained. If you cannot maintain the form, try slowing down the pace, to the point where both speed and form can happily co-exist.

Faster cadence might be easier to manage with slightly shorter poles. I haven't been doing it, but you are all welcome to try, if your regular size becomes too cumbersome at 130+ strides per minute.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a better upper body workout, slightly longer poles might help. Once again, all I do is simply concentrate on pushing harder and/or doing some hill climbs, but using longer, or adjustable poles may be a very good idea here.

Marek Zalewski lives in Vienna, Virginia. He is a journalist with the Voice of America and Editor of Nordic Walking US.
email: marek @

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