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If you’ve noticed weird people walking with what looks like ski poles even though the weather was good, chances are they were enhancing their body exercise with Nordic Walking. Let’s dive in and learn the correct way to do it.
Or if you aren't quite ready for the full monty then you might like to check out our introduction to Nordic Walking first maybe?
One of those people you may have noticed could have been me, enjoying my new favourite form of exercise. In recent years, I began to notice that my body and my energy levels are not what they used to be, and I started to look into different types of sports that I might enjoy.
I got interested in Nordic walking since I was already fond of walking and it seemed that both activities have a lot in common. What I learned about this sport surprised me to no end, and I immediately fell in love with the potential that lies with this kind of physical activity.
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All the information I gathered about Nordic walking lies ahead of you, and I hope that it will help you decide whether this sport suits you well or not.
A Short History of Nordic Walking
The Oxford dictionary defines Nordic walking as “a sport or activity that involves walking…with the aid of long poles”. This sport takes regular walking patterns and incorporates the use of the upper extremity and core muscles in the activity.
According to the International Nordic Walking Federation, aka INWA, the sport was developed in Finland back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. You can trace the origin of the sport back to a PE teacher, but it was also influenced by a coach for cross country skiers.
However, the activity wasn’t perceived as a sport by the general public until the late ‘90s, when new poles were designed for Nordic Walking, and unique programs were developed to educate the masses about this kind of physical activity.
Due to its history, people often confuse Nordic walking with cross-country skiing, but even though there are some similarities between two sports, they have different things to offer to you.
Why you should Try Nordic Walking
The benefits that accompany Nordic walking include the following:
- Activation of 90% of all body muscles – in addition to leg muscles, your core muscles and upper extremity will participate in the exercise as well
- Burning 600 kcal as opposed to the 240 kcal you burn while simply walking
- Reduces strain from your lower back, hips, and knees
- Positively influences various conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, depression, and more.
- More efficient when it comes to weight loss (in comparison to walking)
As you can see from the Nordic Walking Benefits infographic below Nordic Walking uses twice as many muscle groups and burns twice as many calories as other popular forms of exercise and anyone can do it.
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How to Do Nordic Walking -- The Technique
Nordic walking follows the natural body movements that you produce while walking, only enhancing certain elements with the help of the Nordic walking poles.
Before you start training for this sport, take notice of your posture, as your body position influences the amount of strain you place on your joints.
Attach the wrist straps, and let the poles trail behind you when you start walking.
Once you pick up the pace, the poles will plant themselves in the area created between and to the outside of your feet.
Upon impact, grip the handles to plant the pole and use your arms to help create a greater push-off momentum.
Once your arm swing extends behind your body, release the handle. Your palm should face your thigh, and your muscles need to be relaxed to allow your hand to move forward in a pendulum motion.
Getting Started with Nordic Walking
The Correct Level of Difficulty for Beginners
When practicing Nordic Walking, there are a few parameters you can adjust to increase or decrease the level of difficulty:
- The terrain in which you train
- The distance you cover during your walks
- How often you train
To get familiar with the Nordic walking technique, you should begin with a flat surface to walk on – a clear path or an easy trail, that can allow you to make a few consecutive steps without stopping. You can begin with a local road you’re familiar with, and progress to longer and more complicated trails as you get comfortable with your Nordic walking abilities.
Uneven surfaces, steep hills, and curvy trails can provide you with more of a challenge, and they are suited for advanced Nordic walkers.
On another note, when it comes to how long and how often you should train, it depends on your end goal.
At first, you should take your time and get comfortable with the poles and the technique. Go out for short walks, multiple times a week, and stick to this schedule until you feel ready to commence with a stricter training program.
If you plan on turning Nordic walking into your main source of physical activity, you should aim to meet the World Health Organization recommendations (aka WHO) recommendations.
According to the WHO, an adult has to do a minimal amount of aerobic activity per week. A total of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Each training session should be at least 10 minutes long for maximal effect.
However, if you want to participate in a Nordic walking competition of any kind, your training should be more intense and advanced. For example, according to the Nordic Walking UK, beginners who want to participate in a 16-mile-long competition should follow a 15-week training plan.
During those 15 weeks, 4 days of training per week are recommended. At first, Nordic walkers are advised to start their week with a 1-1.5 hours of walking at an easy pace.
On the second day of training, walkers should increase their pace and walk for 30-60 minutes. The third training day should include various pace drills, while the fourth day is all about increasing your endurance and increasing your walking distance every week.
In between the training sessions, you should have a few rest days, to allow your body to recuperate.
To get the most of your training session and reduce potential risk to your joints, you should pay attention to your posture and the technique you use.
First and foremost, keep your back straight and your gaze forward to open up your ribcage and allow easier breathing.
Take longer strides than usual and make sure that the pole lands level with a point midway between your legs when you’re walking.
Grasp the poles’ handle once it hits the ground, and release it the moment your hand is located level with your midline.
When you remove your hand from the handle, your palm should face your thigh, and if your timing is right, the release motion will prevent damage to your wrist joint and generate the required arm momentum.
Correct Use of Poles
Using the poles should feel natural as if they are an extension of your limbs. To use the poles correctly, you should make sure they are the right size for you.
The poles should brush the ground when your elbow is bent at 90 degrees, and allow you to swing your arm without resistance when you walk.
Since this sport is all about walking, you will spend hours and hours on your feet, which means that you must get a comfortable pair of shoes to enjoy this physical activity.
There isn’t a magic trick when it comes to choosing the correct footwear. All you need to do is find the shoes that fit you best, shoes that you will be able to wear on short walks and while trekking.
Make sure that the shoes you pick for this activity are comfortable, bearing in mind extra cushioning is necessary for long walks.
Since beginners often practice Nordic walking on even surfaces, the level of comfort is the most important thing to consider, but once you move on to trickier terrain, safety will be also be something to take into account along with durability of the sole.
The soles of your shoes must provide your feet with enough support to be able to deal with uneven paths, so if your feet are over-pronated, over-supinated, or you have an unstable ankle – choose shoes that will provide your ankle joint and feet arches with enough stability.
A Practice Exercise to Start With
On your first few walks, you should get accustomed to the poles and the new technique. You can start with the following exercise:
Step 1 – Attach the straps and start walking at a slow pace, hands at your sides, and allow the poles to drag behind you.
Step 2 – Increase your walking speed and allow your arms to gain momentum and move like a pendulum. You will notice that the tips of your poles plant themselves on the ground with every stride.
Step 3 – Involve your grip in the exercise. The moment you feel the pole hit the ground, grip the pole’s handle to add some force to your push-off momentum. Once your hand is located behind your midline, release the handle and allow your hand to propel forward.
Step 4 – Practice enough so the movement will feel natural and you will be able to walk for more than 5 minutes using the technique.
Once you get a handle on the correct Nordic walking technique, you can challenge yourself by changing your surroundings, ie. walking uphill or on uneven surfaces, and participate in longer training sessions.
According to research, you burn more calories while implementing Nordic walking techniques in comparison to regular walking.
However, you can also notice that different surfaces can cause even greater energy expenditure. When going uphill, dirt roads provided with more of a challenge, while asphalt roads were a bit trickier when going downhill.
Studies also show that you can burn more calories by increasing your pace rather than going uphill. Sticking to a moderate pace on an even surface will bring you fewer results when it comes to energy expenditure.
For example, a person who weighs about 180lb and participates in a 30 training session, will burn 206 kcal in a moderate pace, 292 kcal by going uphill, and 408 kcal by increasing walking speed.
What Gear Do You Need to Start and How to Choose That Gear?
As was mentioned before, choosing the correct shoes is all about comfort and stability. They should be flexible and yet provide your feet with the necessary arch and ankle support.
For shorter and easier trails, you can wear light sports-shoes with thick cushioning when necessary. However, if you are about to embark on a tough journey and you know you’ll have to face the elements, make sure that your footwear is waterproof and breathable.
Also, you should make sure that your shoe size fits you well, so you won’t discover mid-hike that the shoe is too big or too small and it causes you some discomfort. Measure your feet before you order/buy the shoes, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Again, it all depends on where you’re planning on walking. Thin socks are suitable for short walks in a warmer climate, but if you are about to hit the mountains or the weather is cold, make sure that your socks are thick enough to provide your feet with extra cushioning and protection.
When you look at purchasing the right poles, there are two parameters to take into account:
The pole Itself -- The material of the tips, straps, and the pole itself
Length -- The right pole length should allow the tips to touch the ground when your arm is bent at 90 degrees.
Beginners might find this angle a bit hard to maintain, so a pole 2 inches shorter might be more suitable in this scenario.
The best option is to purchase a pole with adjustable length, so you will be able to change your carrying angle as you make progress with your technique.
However, it should be noted that adjustable poles tend to be heavier, and if they are of low quality, they can collapse in on themselves.
According to the Nordic Academy, to calculate what pole length will suit you most, use the next formula: Height (in centimetres) X 0.68. You can also look up your height and appropriate pole length here to make sure the size fits you.
-- The pole – You can find two main types of Nordic walking poles on the market, made from aluminum or carbon fiber. Both materials are light, but aluminum is considered more flexible and durable than carbon fiber. Also, aluminum conducts vibration better than carbon fiber, which can be uncomfortable for people with upper body injuries [source].
-- Rubber tips vs. metal tips – Poles are generally made with removable rubber tips that hide metal tips underneath. Rubber tips provide you with more cushioning, and they allow a softer landing. That option is best suited for hard surfaces such as asphalt or rocky terrain.
However, if the ground you’re walking on is soft (sand, mud, grass, etc.), rubber tips won’t provide you with enough friction. That’s when metal tips can help you generate more power by sinking into the ground and stabilizing your movement.
-- Wrist straps – The simplest poles include a strap that goes around your wrist, but nowadays, you can find a variety of specially designed straps that can provide you with a better grip on your handles. From glove straps to ergonomic straps, you can find anything on the market [source].
Before you leave the house, think about what kind of terrain and what kind of weather you’ll encounter on your trip. Is it hot and sunny or do you need to wear something warm? Are you going to be surrounded by scratchy branches or will the coast be clear?
Depending on your route, you might need to come prepared with waterproof rain-gear, including a raincoat or special trousers, so think ahead, and be organized.
Remember that Nordic walking is an aerobic activity, and you will get warmer the faster and longer you walk, so you should be able to remove some layers when necessary.
Additional Gadgets and Accessories
To make your experience more enjoyable, make sure that you are well equipped to deal with different scenarios. Bring a backpack with water and snacks if you plan to go on a long trail, and don’t forget some music so you won’t get bored.
You might also need a hat, especially if it is sunny, and if you feel ready to deal with tougher terrain, you should also consider bringing a map or a compass along.
How to find a Nordic Walking Instructor or Group
Nordic walking groups are well-suited for beginners and seasoned Nordic walkers alike. Apart from providing you with guidance as to what equipment you should buy and teaching you the proper technique.
Nordic walking groups can also provide you with a sense of community, as you will be able to come in contact with people who have the same interests as you.
Here are some websites that can help you find a Nordic walking instructor or a group you can join:
The US and Canada
ANWA – American Nordic Walking Association – Apart from providing the general public with information regarding the sport, if you join ANWA, you will be notified of Nordic walking events, will have access to professional support, and more.
Nordixx – This website allows you to find walking groups, instructors, and distributors in your region, with minimal effort on your part. This website is suitable for Canadian and US citizens alike.
Nordic Walking UK – This organization offers you a comprehensive overview of everything related to Nordic walking. It can help you find instructors, groups, and necessary equipment in your vicinity. On top of that, it can provide you with info regarding different Nordic walking events, direct you on how to become an instructor, and more.
British Nordic Walking – The organization is associated with the International Nordic Walking Federation, and it can provide you with relevant info regarding the sport, where to find groups, events, and various training options. On top of that, you get access to their online shop which sells professional poles and special clothing items.
Nordic Academy – On this website, you will find a lot of information about the sport and the right equipment, an online store, details about where you can find Nordic walking trainers in your region, and help in case you want to become a trainer yourself. The website provides info for Aussies and Kiwis alike.
Nordic Walking Brisbane – This website specifically focuses on the Brisbane area, providing locals with info about Nordic walking, available lessons and excursions, training programs, upcoming events, and more.
Brisk Walking for Health & Fitness
Brisk walking is an additional type of physical activity that suits people of all ages and fitness levels. This type of activity doesn’t require any accessories, and the main muscle groups activated during walking are those of the lower extremities.
It can help you lose weight, prevent diseases of peripheral blood vessels, reduce the chances for osteoporosis, and more. According to research, you have to walk at least 10,000 steps a day to enjoy the benefits that come with walking [source].
How to find Beginners trails in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada
HYVA Nordic Walking takes place in one of the most iconic places in the US – Central Park.
In addition to the benefits of the sport itself, the program provides its members with a unique experience by including a special soundtrack that accompanies the walkers wherever they go. Walking to the sound of some wireless music adds a modern twist to this type of physical activity.
The program has two separate classes – for beginners and advanced walkers. The beginner’s class lasts for 50 minutes and covers a 2-mile distance, while the advanced class includes interval training techniques and lasts for 60 minutes.
Los Angeles, USA
Nordic Body offers two types of classes in Santa Monica: a beginner’s class that teaches walkers the basic Nordic walking rules, and a separate class for seasoned walkers.
The organization offers online coaching, private sessions, and group classes you can join.
The UK Generally
If you are looking for a place to go walking then may I recommend an excellent resource for you to find somewhere near you at Nordic Walking UK's walks & classes finder.
London is a lively city. Expect from walking from one great attraction to the other, the city and the surrounding areas offer you a variety of trails you can explore.
The Nordic Walking UK organization offers daily and weekly walks in parks around Harrow, Trent Park, Forty Hall, and other trails suited
Whoever lives in the Surrey area can join the Surrey Striders in their walks. The group sticks to a specific schedule that offers various difficulty levels, providing you the chance to participate in walks that last anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours or more.
Some of the locations the group covers include Newlands Loop, Polsden Lacey, Paddington Farm, and more. Through this group, you can find beginner courses, guided group walks, unique sessions tailored to the customer, and group workshops.
Nordic Walking Kent (use the walks finder link above) offers walkers the opportunity to explore the Kent area with classes that take place near Sissinghurst, Biddenden, Bedgebury, Tenterden, and adjacent areas. Classes usually include a small number of participants so every Nordic walker will get the right amount of attention he deserves.
The organization hosts various events that allow you to choose from a range of intensity options and different terrains, alongside groups that include participants with mixed abilities.
Bristol and Bath, UK
The Bristol & Bath Nordic Walking club offers various programs suited for beginners and advanced walkers alike. Some of the locations the group visits include The Downs, Ashton Court, Leigh Woods, Oldbury Court, and the Royal Victoria Park.
The group hosts beginner classes at some of the mentioned locations, and regular classes for all types of walkers: challenging trails, mixed ability groups, easy trips for slow walkers, hills, and more.
According to Nordic Walking AU, there are more than a few Nordic Walking instructors that operate from Sydney. The trainers take the walkers on trips around Centennial Park, Hawkesbury, the Lower and Upper North Shore, and more.
Capital Nordic Walking provides various classes located at Mawson, Dickson, and LBG. The organization offers a variety of classes: a one-time introduction class, group Nordic walking that either focus on fitness or health, sessions for couples, and private lessons.
You can always subscribe to the website’s newsletter and find out about upcoming walks ahead of time, so you will be able to join in on the fun.
This organization is associated with the Nordic Academy, which is one of the most prominent names in the Nordic walking industry in AU.
The organization offers a single introductory session, weekly classes, Bush and Beach excursions, and advanced trips that include the Oxfam Trailwalker, Kokoda Challenge, Tasmanian and New Zealand hiking trails, Himalayan treks and Mt Kilimanjaro.
The offered classes include introductions to the sport, workplace courses, group courses that last for 75 minutes, and adventure hiking that take place in the Charlevoix Half-Crossing. This trip lasts for three days and two nights, a truly unique experience for hikers and Nordic walkers.
According to Nordic Pole Walking Victoria, classes focus on one of three things: fitness, adventure, or celebration.
The organization offers a one-time lesson for beginners that takes place at the Cook & Dallas, a boot-camp program, and private lessons. The classes take place at the Shawnigan Lake, a city-class that starts near the Spinnakers Pub, and more.
The organization offers Nordic walking workshops that can teach you all about the sport, a Nordic walking clinic which delves deeper into the benefits that accompany Nordic Wwalking, a 4-week program, and weekly group outings.
Expert Nordic walkers can turn their hobby into a job by joining one of the training courses for group leaders and instructors.
Nordic Walking is the type of physical activity you can participate in at any age, no matter what your fitness level is. Now you know all about this type of sport, where you can learn it, and what it entails – you can easily turn into a Nordic walker and reap the benefits in no time at all.
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I love hiking with my family and taking in the cool air in the hills around where I live up in Ithaca.
Most of the time we take rather shorter walks out for a bit of exercise since there are so many things in life that we also want to do – and especially the kids.
Life is a balance but one where you should never take the beauty of nature for granted. I also enjoy writing about my experiences and helping others with the things I learn about shoes from using them, from friends and the family.