Saturday, August 30, 2008



A few weeks ago both David Downer and I were asked to collaborate on the drafting of new “race rules” for the Nordic Walking categories in the forthcoming Marathon at Portland, Oregon.

We are now working closely with Judy Heller of Wonders of Walking LLC of Portland. Judy is the coordinator for both the Nordic Walk and Racewalk division of the event.

David and I have put together a draft protocol which is currently posted on the Nordic Walking eCommunity (forum) with a view to starting a ten day period of consultation. This protocol is also published here and any comments are very welcome.

The underlying thrust of the protocol is to emphasise safety considerations but to keep the Nordic Walking “rules” to an absolute minimum. In fact, we have asserted that there should be no control over walking technique whatsoever and that reliance be placed upon the Nordic Walker’s integrity. See what you think and let us know, either here or over on the forum at:-
This is the draft:


The Nordic Walking Protocol is constructed in two parts: Safety Rules/ Nordic Walking Etiquette and Guiding Principles.

Criteria concerning safety are given the status of rules, as safe walking must have primacy. However, how a competitor walks, and the technique he or she adopts is a matter of personal choice, and this is intentionally left open. The underlying ethos of these principles is to be inclusive and they are therefore designed to allow any viable form of “fitness walking with purpose made poles”.

Safety Rules and Nordic Walking Etiquette

1.Show consideration to your fellow competitors and act as ambassadors for Nordic Walking.
2.Poles should have purpose made rubber “asphalt paws” attached throughout the event and participants should carry a spare pair. (reason – to avoid injury and to aid walking on hard surfaces)
3.Please remember to keep your poles pointing downwards at all times.
4.Except in an emergency, please do not lay your poles on the ground during the event.
5.If there is a need to change or replace asphalt paws, please move to the side of the course, and take great care when working on your poles.
6.When taking fluids, or food, by all means free one pole but carry it close to the body.
7.Poles can be of any type or manufacture provided that they are fit for purpose, and may be of one piece, or adjustable design. Home made poles may not be safe, or effective, and are therefore not acceptable.

Guiding principles

1.WALKING This special event category is primarily a walking category, so each participant must maintain one foot in contact with the ground throughout. (reason – to prevent running)
2.WALKING This event category does not envisage the use of roller blades, as in Nordic Blading. (reason – it’s a walking event)
3.POLES Participants are expected to use two poles continuously throughout the event, except when taking fluids or refreshments or in an emergency. (reason – it’s a Nordic Walking event)
4.POLES Poles can either have demi gloves (straps) or be strapless (reason – to allow the adoption of any pole walking technique)
5.TECHNIQUE The competitor is asked to adopt a viable Nordic Walking style. However, there is NO control over the style actually adopted; wall call upon your sense of fairness!


Q - I have a pair of poles where, by design, the end spike protrudes slightly through the asphalt paw. Is this acceptable?

A – Yes. However, modifying paws by inserting screws, studs or the like, is not acceptable.

Q - Race walking – is this an acceptable approach?

A – Yes, race walkers are welcome provided they use their poles as an integral and effective part of a viable Nordic Walking style.

Malcolm Jarvis, Nordic Walker Leeds UK in Collaboration with David Downer, owner of Nordic Walking News

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Water, water, everywhere.......

On longer Nordic Walks we are encouraged to take a supply of fluid with us, particularly during the warmer months. Some walkers may opt for “isotonic” drinks, either commercially made or homemade to a personal recipe. However, I’m sure most of us will carry good old plain water.

In recent years, the plastic bottle of water has become ubiquitous and is now seen as an essential accessory of modern life. Whilst drinking water is a good habit, we have been sold a seductive image of bottled water being a key to health and well being. As a consequence, it is estimated that worldwide 154 billion litres of bottled water is consumed annually which generates revenue amounting to about £58 billion.

Given that most of the developed world has good quality water, this is yet another product we do not need. Furthermore, it is “environmental insanity”.

The energy and resources required to produce the millions of plastic bottles needed, plus the energy used in transporting bottled water around the world, gives us one of the most wasteful commodities we have. Furthermore, whilst the recycling of plastic waste is growing, it is still pitifully small with only 7% of plastic recycled in the UK and 5% in the US. Most goes to landfill, or ends up in the environment, and being non-biodegradable, it will persist for centuries.

Furthermore, doubt has been cast on the quality of the water product itself and there have been numerous reports which identify possible health risks. Phthalates, brominated flame retardants, bisephonol A and dioxins are just a few of the chemicals which have caused concern. Phthalates, for example, is a hazardous toxin often used in PVC and may be released when the plastic comes into contact with saliva. There are also a number of well documented cases of a number of manufacturers having to withdraw a product following the discovery of carcinogens in the drink. Remember Coca Cola’s ‘Dasani’ which was withdrawn in 2004.

So, I make a point of taking tap water on my Nordic Walks, rather than buying the bottled variety. I simply put a jug of water in the fridge, first thing in the morning, and a much cheaper and better option is available compared with the stuff which comes in plastic. As a matter of interest, I looked at the cost of plastic bottled water in the store attached to my local petrol station. The median price was £1.20 per litre, which is 6p more per litre than the unleaded petrol they sell! (this equates to 2.36 US Dollars per litre, or 1.52 Euros).

My own practice is to take tap water in my old reliable Swiss “Sigg” bottle (a good example above!). Granted, these are made from aluminium, but they are very long life and are readily recycled, if ever they do become punctured. It is my understanding that the internal surface is lined with a coating which is resistant to fruit acids or isotonic drinks and my own experience bears out the claim that the taste of water is not impaired. The only maintenance I have given mine is the occasional clean using a sterilising fluid (as for baby bottles) in order to keep things “sweet”. A further bonus is that Sigg is a member of the 1% For the Planet scheme where they give 1% of their annual net revenue to a variety of environmental organisations.

So, it makes good environmental and economic sense to “bottle your own”.
Malcolm Jarvis Nordic Walker Leeds UK

Saturday, August 09, 2008



You might have read my somewhat emotive introductory chapter on environmental issues and sustainable action (Our Planet’s Future, July 24). In this next episode I aim to offer some positive suggestions and recommendations that you might consider both as “ordinary” citizens, but more especially as Nordic Walking citizens. And I stress… might consider… is not my intention to “preach”.

What is sustainability?

Having been defined in the 1987 Bruntland Report the concept of sustainability is key to global environmental management:

"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

The report (also called “Our Common Future”) highlighted three fundamental components to sustainable development, which are: social equity, economic growth and environmental protection. Whilst there is some disagreement about how the term translates into practice most will accept that it revolves around the idea that economic development must go hand in hand with a healthy planet and social justice.

Healthy Humans

Whilst poor health is often linked to poverty, it has become the case that it is also linked to affluence, and in particular “affluent inactivity”. Here in England the Government’s Department of Health has estimated the financial cost of inactivity as being £8.2 billion annually! (That’s just in England, not the whole of the UK!) This figure includes the mounting costs of treating chronic disease, the cost of absenteeism and loss of production. It is mind boggling to try to imagine the quantity of resources wrapped up in this level of expenditure, and the size of the “carbon footprint” is inestimable!

Additionally, the above figure does not account for dealing with the consequences of obesity which is estimated to cost the nation a further £2.5 billion each year. Of course, none of these figures can demonstrate the levels of human misery associated with failing health.

In response to the accrual of kilos some have attended their local gym and have attempted to right the balance by using powered treadmills operating at over 1kW electric power. Even when trying to lose weight, many do so in energy-inefficient ways. Furthermore, thirty minutes of frenzied action is often followed by many hours of inaction and thus no improvement is obtained. People lose heart in more ways than one.

However, as Nordic Walkers, and therefore as active outdoor people, you might take pride that you are already endeavouring to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Whilst exercise is no absolute guarantee against disease, the participation in regular moderate exercise gives excellent odds in your favour.

As far as the maintenance of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle is concerned, you are already taking the right steps. Of course, there is still an expenditure of resources associated with our form of recreation, plus a carbon footprint, (eg. you have to be fuelled) so it makes sense to audit how we “manage” our walking and to consolidate our actions.

CO2 emissions - what’s my share of the challenge?

As far as the UK is concerned, if you divide greenhouse gas emissions by the population you get an average figure of about 12.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per annum. About half of this – around 6 tonnes – is created by each individual in running a home, driving a car and using other forms of transport. The other half is generated by all of those additional social, commercial and industrial activities which go to make up our national living. The overall figure of 12.5 tonnes needs to fall to a total of no more than 3 tonnes if we are to meet any of our long term climate change control measures.

Both as a citizen, and as a Nordic Walking citizen, there is much that we can do.

Your car

Considerable savings are possible when it comes to personalised transport, but it does mean we would have to modify our behaviour. When you next change your car, you might want to consider the purchase of a small diesel vehicle. Or, you might reconsider private ownership altogether and consider joining a “car club” instead.

If you need to keep your current car for some time, why not consider driving less often. When you go for your Nordic Walk do you drive to your usual venue? Could you walk, go by bike or take a bus? If you go with others, could you all share one car?

When you do drive, can I persuade you do so as economically as you reasonably can and to make a point of keeping your vehicle well maintained and tyres properly inflated.

An efficient home - some general issues

It’s quite possible that in your homes you are already taking action to make your house as efficient as possible with the inclusion of uprated insulation, a condensing boiler and the fitting of thermostatic radiator valves. However, there is a catalogue of low/no cost options you might like to consider:

When not in use, consider turning off at the mains all those appliances which have a “standby mode” – stereos, TV sets, DVD players, set-top boxes etc. Be mindful that some appliances actually expend about 113kg of carbon dioxide per annum in standby mode.

Only operate your dishwasher when fully loaded (I now cut our dishwasher tablets in half!) and run on an “eco setting”.

Turn your central heating thermostat down by 1deg.

Consider replacing your light bulbs with long life, low energy types.

Resist using a tumble drier.

Consider switching to a green electricity tariff.

Only put into your kettle as much water as you need – or buy an “Eco Kettle”

About 90% of energy used in a typical washing machine goes to heat the water. Run your washing machine on a cooler wash (modern powders work just as well)

Ensure that your doors and windows have effective draught proofing tape fitted, and don’t forget putting a “brush seal” on the back of your letter box.

In chapter three I plan to talk about other resources, such as drinking water and how you carry it on your walk, eco friendly outdoor clothing, and last, but not least, is there a problem with poles?

Malcolm Jarvis, Nordic Walker Leeds UK

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Nordic Walking and sport

I pose two questions:

Question 1: Is Nordic Walking a sport?
Question 2: Is question one relevant?

My answer to the first is no! and my answer to the second is yes!

Nordic Walking expressed as a sport

Examination of a number of the Nordic Walking “establishment” websites reveals terminology such as “Nordic Walking belongs to a wider concept called Nordic Fitness Sports(1) and “Nordic walking is primarily an endurance sport(2). I have also encountered the terms “open-air leisure sport”, “wellness sport” and “health sport” during my research for this article. (my italics)

On the one hand, I suspect that organisations use the word sport in order to imbue the activity with a degree of charisma, a sense of allure and an association with athleticism. In much the same way, a sports car is seen as being more dynamic and attractive than a humble family hatchback (even though there is no gain in its function as a vehicle). I believe it is do with image, a matter of “spin”.

On the other hand, I suspect that the word sport is used as a convenient handle for virtually any activity that involves purposeful human movement. As such, it’s a collective noun which is used in a very laissez faire manner.

Whichever condition prevails, I believe that the use of the word, and the image it conjures, is detrimental to the further mass popularisation of Nordic Walking.

A categorical perspective

Without doubt, the concept of sport is hard to define and it is not my intention to stray far into that territory here. However, examination of some of the literature reveals a number of common characteristics of the enterprise known as sport: it is governed by rules, is practised formally and, most importantly, is competitive. Intrinsically, Nordic Walking does not fit any of these criteria.

Of course, Nordic Walking, as with any other form of human propulsion, can be practised in a “sporting context” and thus becomes sport owing to context and intent. A similar thing happens with running. Running, in itself, is not a sport. It can be said that there is a continuum, where at one end running is simply a means of human locomotion whilst at the other end, where running takes place competitively on an athletics track, it takes on the mantel of sport. (Interestingly, there are some sociologists who maintain that athletics is distinct from sport, but we shall not enter that labyrinth here!)

If not a sport, then what……?

By way of a definition, I would contend that Nordic Walking is a form of active recreation – specifically, a form of exercise. It requires no further elaboration.

But, surely, it’s just a harmless word?

Above I suggested that the use of the word sport, with its associations of “high performance”, may hamper progress of the widespread adoption of Nordic Walking, especially in the quest to reach the least active. I draw many of my conclusions from guidance and data obtained from various reports published by the UK government agency, Sport England. (3) Whilst the statistics pertain only to England (not the whole of the UK) I think that it is reasonable to suggest that the trend illustrated applies to most industrialised nations.

As part of the “Active People Survey”(4) conducted in 2005/06 it was recorded that only 21 % of the adult population aged 16 and over (8.5 million) take part regularly in sport and active recreation. Of course, we would more than welcome this segment to take part in Nordic Walking, but from a purely national health perspective these people are already part of the solution and not part of the problem.

28.4% of adults (11.5 million) have built some exercise into their lives, but accept could do more.

However, most critically 50.6% of adults (20.6 million) do not regularly take part in any moderate intensity sport or active recreation. Sport England points out that many health care professionals take the view that the very word “sport” and all its associations may be a deterrent to many in this category.(5)

Furthermore, another feature of the UK (and probably most other developed nations) is its ageing population. It is estimated that by 2020 almost half of the UK population will be over 50 years old. Though chronologically older, attitudinally many older people “act young”. (Be mindful that Mick Jagger recently celebrated his 65th birthday!) The implications for participation in physical activity for this group are enormous. As part of its policy, Sport England expressly recommends avoiding using the word “sport” in connection with this particular segment.(6)

Whilst many Nordic Walking organisations claim that the activity is “for everyone”, they then proceed to put up barriers to those who would benefit most from taking part. Of course, whilst the removal of those barriers will not in itself open the flood gates to mass participation, I do believe it’s a necessary precondition.

At sport level

The INWA organises its teaching procedure around three “levels”, namely health, fitness and sport. (7) Furthermore, I have also seen an elaboration of this by a member association which incorporated the concept of “progression” between these levels. The implication that could be inferred here is that the individual moves from the “mere” health level, via “fitness” to eventually come to the excellence of “sport”. Whilst this may not be the intention behind this concept I suggest that many will interpret it as being so.

I take the view that the bedrock of Nordic Walking (in any of its guises) needs to be “functional fitness”. This can be defined as a common sense approach to exercise designed to foster and sustain lifelong well-ness and to prolong physical independence.

Of course, everyone must begin by learning the basics of their chosen technique(s) simply to provide the tools of the trade. However, functional fitness does not need to be broken down into a hierarchy.

Needless to say, any individual who cultivates a high performance mindset and wishes to go beyond their “optimum” of functional fitness is free to do so. By the same token, any individual who wishes to use Nordic Walking as a means of training for a particular sport is also free to do so and is able to adopt some highly demanding procedures (Nordic Walking on hills, interval techniques, double poling, running with poles etc.). However, these developments are not part of some “essential continuum” but are simply adaptations or extensions of the core activity.

What about Volkssport?

Paradoxically, there is one particular instance where the usual associations inherent in sport are substantially absent, and that is Volkssport, or Peoples’ Sport. This concept, which has become popular in the US, embodies the concept of popular, non-competitive, but structured fitness activity. Thus far, the recognised disciplines include walking, swimming, cycling and Nordic skiing, all done in a friendly and enjoyable context. Nordic Walking could fit this practise, and indeed, many of the events held in Germany follow these lines.


Whilst I have urged dispensing with sporting allusions, Nordic Walking should not, however, be portrayed exclusively as a modality for the sedentary or the ageing population. This may only serve to defeat the “object of the exercise” by creating yet another barrier, only this time to those who are already fit.

As a form of accessible and inclusive recreational activity, Nordic Walking can be readily adapted to meet the needs of everyone, regardless of age, ability, social group, ethnicity or fitness level. In upholding as its core characteristic the concept of functional fitness, the enterprise can provide an enduring and sustainable exercise methodology.


(1) The INWA website at
(2) The website of the German Nordic Walking Union at
(3) Sport England is the central government agency in the UK responsible for advising, investment and the promotion of community sport to create an active nation.
(4) The “Active People Survey” was carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Sport England in 2005/06 and is claimed to be the largest such survey ever undertaken.
(5) From the Sport England report “Best Value through sport – The value of sport to the health of the nation”.
(6) From the Sport England publication “Understanding participation in Sport: What determines participation among recently retired people.
(7) The INWA website

Malcolm Jarvis, Nordic Walker Leeds UK

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