If you rely on walking to keep fit and healthy, you've probably already heard of Nordic walking.
"It's a whole body exercise regime based on the summer training of cross country skiers," says Gill Stewart, Director of WALX and Author of the Complete Guide to Nordic Walking. "The walker uses two specifically designed poles and a technique that ensures they get forward propulsion and not just support from them. The aim is to use the whole body with every step so the action has a long straight armswing and a good stride."
Done properly with the correct technique, you can burn up to 50 per cent more calories compared to walking without poles when regular walking. Not only is it great for shedding the pounds, it will also help you get stronger and improve your balance - so what are you waiting for?
Is Nordic walking for you?
Whether you're a beginner or an experienced rambler, Nordic walking can bring benefits for everyone. If you've not exercised for a while and want to get back into a fitness regime, you can walk at your own pace and get your body used to the movements.
"Nordic Walking uses all of the major leg and upper body muscles as well as the core," says Gill. "It's good for posture and a natural way to work the whole body, unlike running which only works the legs and is not so postural."
Alternatively, if you're someone who does regular intense exercise, a fast paced Nordic walk will be an excellent addition to your exercise regime.
If you're concerned about your joints, Nordic walking could be the perfect workout for you as the poles work to take the pressure off your joints while working your upper body. Other benefits Gill says it offers are:
• Provides stability and takes weight off the lower body, making it ideal for those who are unfit or have lower joint issues.
• Good cardiovascular exercise and similar to using a cross trainer in the gym but in the great outdoors.
• Can be done anywhere, urban or rural and is suitable for all fitness levels.
• Tones the upper and lower body, while easing stiff shoulders and reducing back pain.
• Great as part of a sociable group as you can chat as you exercise.
• Being outdoors and in nature is proven to help boost mood.
• It’s affordable as you only need a pair of poles and clothing/shoes suitable for the weather.
It may feel like more of a workout than you think, so beginners should start with a 30 minute walk and then work their way up, listening to their body and making sure they're comfortable.
How to get the right Nordic walking technique
The technique is the most important thing to perfect if you want to get the most out of this workout, but Gill says not to try and teach yourself too much or watch too many videos, because otherwise you can tend to just end up 'walking and tapping' as you're thinking about it too much.
"The technique should feel really natural with a long stride and armswing from the shoulder," he says. "The elbow is kept relatively straight in order to take the hand forward to the height it would be if you were reaching forward to shake hands with somebody. The key element is that the pole is angled behind you as you push into the specially designed strap or moulded handle in order to propel your self forwards."
Below are some steps you can follow:
Begin by walking naturally - relax your upper body and walk as you normally would with the poles held vertically at first, and swing your arms as you walk. This will help get your arms used to the swinging motion.
Find a comfortable grip - You'll find that most poles have a strap that goes around your wrist to keep them secure to your hand, so there's no need to tightly grip onto the poles as this will probably get uncomfortable.
Keep the poles angled back - The trick is to always keep the poles angled diagonally down to the ground so that they are always there to push you forward.
Start walking - You'll need to go opposite arm to opposite leg so when your right leg goes forward, your left pole will be in front and your right pole will be behind you pushing you on your way.
Heel to toe - With every step, walk heel to toe and lean your body forward slightly to help you push forward. This is essential when walking uphill.
Work your arms - When pushing the pole back behind you, straighten out your arm to make your upper body work even harder. You can loosen your grip and even let go if you need to, just keep the pole close to your body.
How to find a Nordic walking instructor
If you don't feel 100 per cent confident going out on a walk by yourself and feel like you need some extra guidance when it comes to getting the right technique, it might be a good idea to get yourself an instructor.
Nordic Walking UK offers a service where you can find an instructor near you to help you on your way. Alternatively, if you prefer the sound of joining a group of fellow walkers that will be able to help you and guide you, you can become a member of Nordic Walking UK here. This also gives you a brilliant opportunity to make new friends.
The best poles for Nordic walking
Investing in a good pair of specially designed poles is essential for getting the most out of your walk. Not only will they need to be good enough quality to withstand many walks, you'll also need to make sure they're the right height for you too. When you're standing, you should be able to grip your poles with your elbow bent at a 90 degree angle. Many poles are adjustable too so look out for that when buying.
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TREKOLOGY Walking Trekking Poles
These lightweight, collapsible poles are a great affordable option for beginners who want to give Nordic walking a try. It comes with a comfortable handle, an adjustable wrist strap, adjustable pole length and four different nibs to go on the ends of the pole for different terrains and weather conditions.
Pair of Trekrite 3 Section Telescopic Antishock Walking Poles
Ideal if you've not got much room or want to be able to store your poles away neatly in the car, these telescopic walking poles come in four different colours and are designed to make Nordic walking easier on the wrists and hands.
Leki Women's Cressida Trekking Poles
Designed specifically for smaller hands and petite women, these walking poles are ideal for regular Nordic walkers who want to invest in a pair of lightweight walking poles that feel comfortable for them.
Black Diamond Distance Z
Planning on doing some long distance treks with your poles? These Black Diamond walking poles are designed for just that. Whether you're heading on a flat walk or planning to hike up a mountain, they're ideal for every scenario. They can also collapse into a 'Z' shape for easy storage.
Leki Wanderfreund Makalu single walking pole
If you struggle to use both arms or you're unable to, single poles mean that you can still have a go at Nordic Walking and work your upper body, without having a spare pole left over that you don't need. This super strong pole will provide you with all the support and stability you need on any terrain.
TheFitLife Nordic Walking Poles
With five different ends to choose from and five different colours, these affordable poles can truly be adapted for your needs. They're also fully adjustable in length and they come with a handy case - perfect for those particularly muddy walks.
If this has inspired you to get walking and having a go at Nordic Walking, how about setting yourself the challenge of Walk1000Miles. Run by our friends at Country Walking magazine, it's a great way to get out and about in the countryside, make friends, lose weight and most of all have fun!