Gear & Stuff

What is Nordic Walking?

By Graham Verdon
Published

When you first see someone walking along flat ground with poles, you might think it all looks a little showy and unnecessary—this isn’t a hike in the Rockies, after all. But not so fast. Nordic walking, also known as urban poling, is a good workout that elevates straightforward walking into something more intense, and interesting. The best news it that the activity is simple and accessible. You can Nordic walk in almost any weather, and you don’t need anything more than a good pair of running shoes and $50 poles to get started.

Full-body workout

The activity came from European cross-country skiers looking to train year-round. They combined the upper body movement of cross-country skiing with regular walking and, voila, Nordic walking was born.

“It’s surprisingly more vigorous than regular walking,” says Joe Garland, general manager and Certified Athletic Therapist at Elite Training Systems in Windsor, Ontario. Using poles “engages your upper body and gets your heart rate up higher so you can burn up to 46 percent more calories over the same distance.”

“It’s surprisingly more vigorous than regular walking,” says Joe Garland, general manager and Certified Athletic Therapist at Elite Training Systems in Windsor, Ontario. Using poles “engages your upper body and gets your heart rate up higher so you can burn up to 46 percent more calories over the same distance.”

Getting into the rhythm

The rhythm of the poles takes no time to master because you’re just ratcheting up the natural swing your arms make to help keep you balanced as you walk.

To get the greatest benefits, you don’t want to simply bring the poles along for a walk, but rather to use them to propel yourself forward, bringing your arms, chest, abdominals and back into play to a much greater degree.

Providing stability

The poles have the added benefit of providing stability during a walk on uneven terrain, and even on the snow and ice of a Canadian winter. They also make a walk safer for those who might have mobility and balance challenges. The upper body movement can relieve some of the load on your ankles, hips and knees, as well. NOTE: You should talk with your family physician before starting any new exercise.

However, Garland wants you to be cautious. “If you’re relying on the poles too much for stability rather than engaging your core and stabilizer muscles, you’re not doing yourself a favour in the long run,” Garland says. You want the poles to accentuate the work your body does naturally, as opposed to using them as glorified crutches, he says.

The chance that you get injured with Nordic walking is limited. It is more likely that you feel sore from trying too much too soon, especially in the shoulders, elbows and triceps.

The exercise is great for those who are looking for something easier on the joints than running but more fun and vigorous than walking – however, it is also a good step towards getting your body ready for running. And who knows, after mastering the pole movements, you might be inspired to get into cross-country skiing, which is one of the most effective and low impact aerobic workouts on the planet.

Contributing Athletic Therapist
Joe Garland

CAT(C)

Joe Garland is a Certified Athletic Therapist and general manager of Elite Training Systems in Windsor, ON. He obtained his Master’s in Human Kinetics from the University of Windsor and graduated from the Sports Injury Management program at Sheridan College. Joe spent 12 years as the Athletic Therapist and strength coach for the Windsor Spitfires, winning three Memorial Cups, and twice represented Hockey Canada as an Athletic Therapist at the World Junior Hockey Championships.