Often see fellow ramblers Nordic Walking when you're out and about? Turns out those poles don't just make you look like a walking pro, they can also help you burn more calories.
It’s not only a pair of the best women’s walking shoes that will help give your walking workout a boost – it’s the style of walking you choose, too. Step forward, Nordic walking. Unlike methods that rely on speed to get results, Nordic walking is more about technique.
Never heard of it before? It involves holding a pole in each hand to make sure you use both your upper body muscles, as well as your legs. This makes you work harder, yet it feels like less effort – win-win! What’s more, its health benefits go beyond fitness. Diabetes UK and WW both recommend it and some find it helps with lymphatic drainage after breast cancer surgery.
And that’s not all. “Public Health England (PHE) and the Centre for Ageing Better recently said it’s one of the best activities for strengthening muscles and balance,” says Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones, “which is essential, as this tends to deteriorate as we age, making us more prone to falls.”
Here’s everything you need to know about Nordic walking before you get started:
1. Why Nordic walking will make you feel lighter and improve fitness
Striding out with poles – also known as Nordic walking – uses the upper and lower body simultaneously. This helps you to burn up to 46% more calories compared with regular walking.
“Holding on to poles means the upper body muscles are used as well as your legs – a bit like when you use a cross-trainer at a gym,” explains Gill Stewart from Nordic Walking UK. “As you use the poles to propel yourself along, your body has to work harder. However, what’s clever is that because the poles take some of the weight of your knees and lower body joints, you feel lighter on your feet.”
Nordic walking also improves posture, making it ideal for those with neck, shoulder and back problems. Plus, it spreads body weight more evenly, reducing pressure on knees and joints.
2. How everyone can benefit from Nordic walking
Beginner or walking pro? Nordic walking is the nearest you can get to a truly bespoke walking regime. Done correctly, it burns calories and gets you fit. Want to tone things down a bit? Then it becomes the perfect return-to-fitness regime for those with aching joints, necks and backs.
“It’s ideal because the poles reduce pressure on lower body joints,” says Gill. “You can add muscle groups and really work them without the discomfort of something like jogging. We call it ‘upping the gears’! The poles help to move you forward –it feels easier and people can last longer.”
3. What’s the right Nordic walking technique?
“This isn’t simply walking with poles,” says Gill. “It’s straightforward, but getting Nordic walking right is the difference between going for a walk with a pair of poles and getting an effective workout. You need to learn how to use them to gain propulsion and not harm your wrist joints. A few sessions with a trainer will teach you the technique.” Gill says:
- Start by walking naturally. Relax your shoulders and arms, and swing from your shoulders.
- Hold the pole handles, not too tightly. The straps are there so you can relax your grip. Swing your arm forward in front of your body but keep the poles angled back, so they push you forward.
- Lean slightly forward. With each step, land on the heel and roll through your foot to push off on your toes.
- Keep your arms straight when you push back on the poles. You’ll work your back and stomach even more. Open your hand and release the pole after each strike, but keep it close to your body. If you want to work 90% of the muscles in your body, you need to be shown how to strike and push off to get your legs moving correctly.
4. Why you need to build up to longer walks
As tempting as it might be to get going, you need to start Nordic walking slowly. “Don’t go from nothing to two hours on your feet,” says Gill. “Once you have learned the technique, start at 30 minutes, until you feel comfortable – and don’t fret if you don’t have miles of open country. Some Nordic walkers are strictly urban, using only streets and local parks. Longer group adventure walks are easy to find through your trainer – all very social and interactive.”
5. Which poles should I get when Nordic walking?
Unfortunately, it isn’t just a case of one size fits all when it comes to choosing your walking poles. One survey found that poles can reduce the load on joints by up to 25%, so getting the right ones for you is essential to reap the health benefits.
Not only do they have to be the right height (when you’re standing, your hand should be able to grip your poles with your elbow at a 90° angle), but being adjustable also has benefits. A quick-release strap is also a good idea. “It’s so much easier when you’re opening a gate or blowing your nose,” says Gill.
The best Nordic walking poles to buy today
Here's our pick of the best poles, whatever your walking ability:
Unlike many walking poles, these are not adjustable, so you can’t collapse them to store them away. However, we rate them highly because the foam handle is super comfortable, so you can walk for miles without feeling weighed down.
Not sure you will like Nordic walking? Then there’s no need to spend a fortune finding out. These poles are durable with great shock absorption – and won’t break the bank.
Little space in your luggage or want to stash your poles out the way when stopping for a pub lunch? These pack down to just 37cm, so are ideal for your suitcase. We love them.
Regular walkers may want to invest in something a bit more special and this pick is it. Not only do these poles have a cork handle for a comfortable grip, but they are suitable for all seasons.
An attractive pair of colourful poles, these are great for beginners and beyond who need a smaller pair of sticks than the standard available. These also feature a safety release and adjustable strap.
All that's left is for you to get walking! Enjoy!
With thanks to Gill Stewart from Nordic Walking UK for advice and commentary on Nordic Walking