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Nordic walking takes a non-traditional approach to getting your steps in. The trendy exercise offers a full-body workout outside, making it a great way to get your heart rate up while enjoying nature.
But Nordic walking offers a range of benefits that go beyond your typical stroll in the park. Similar to walking with hiking sticks, this exercise involves specialized poles. Martica Heaner Ph.D, certified Nordic walking instructor and author of Cross-Training for Dummies (Wiley) says the “poles can help push your body forward and carry yourself through space in a way that you can’t do with walking.” Compared to activities like jogging or running, Nordic walking is more on the relaxed side—but it still packs a punch.
Ahead, find out what Nordic walking is, the benefits of the exercise, learn about Nordic walking poles, and everything else you’ll need for the full-body workout.
What is Nordic walking?
“Nordic walking is a type of physical activity where you walk using special poles or sticks,” says Eva Peña, ISSA-CPT, founder & director of Wellness+ Studio. This full-body workout is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels.
Although activities like skiing or hiking utilize poles, Nordic walking differs in that you can Nordic walk anywhere, and wear traditional walking shoes. “The poles help propel your body forward so, during the cardio exercise, you get an upper body workout along with the expected lower body benefits of walking,” Heaner says. This makes for an engaging workout.
What are the benefits of Nordic walking?
Nordic Walking offers a range of health benefits, including:
Upper body workout
Peña says the use of poles in Nordic walking creates a pushing and pulling motion, making your triceps, lats, and core work. A study of older adults found that engaging in Nordic walking improved upper-body strength, overall flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance.
Like general walking, Nordic walking can help improve cardiovascular health. One study conducted on patients with coronary artery disease found that Nordic walking increased cardiovascular performance.
Increased calorie burn
Doing a full-body workout also adds to your daily calories burned. Nordic walking “can provide up to 20% more calorie burn as compared to regular walking,” says Peña. This is in part due to the upper body workout done by carrying Nordic walking poles.
Nordic walking can help aid people with stability issues due to joint problems. Heaner says the poles “help keep you upright, your gait symmetrical and your body balanced.”
How to Nordic walk
1. Make sure your shoulders are down and your back is straight.
2. Hold Nordic walking poles in each hand, keeping them close to the body—but always behind you. (The goal is to use the poles to propel yourself forward as you walk, according to the Nordic Walking Federation).
3. Walk normally, per the Cleveland Clinic, rolling your feet from heel to toe with each step.
4. Arms and poles should move in opposing directions while walking.
Nordic walking poles
Before lacing up your walking shoes, snag the right gear—specifically, Nordic walking poles. Ahead, experts explain what to consider when looking for the best pair.
- Height. “Make sure the poles you get are the right height and type according to your individual needs and the environment in which the activity takes place,” says Peña. Getting the correct size ensures stability and maximum strength when moving.
- Grip. “Handles should be comfortable and ideally have a strap allowing you to keep that handle close should you inadvertently let go or it slips from your grip,” Peña says. This ensures safety by minimizing injury risks for the user while engaging in the activity.
- Accessories. If you suffer from arthritis or wrist ailments, Heaner suggests wearing gloves to help reduce the stress from long periods of gripping. This simple yet effective solution offers a comfortable confident grip.
- Price. Invest in a brand that will help you get the most out of your experience. You don’t need expensive gear but buying the essentials like walking shoes or fitted Nordic poles is a good start.
Nordic walking vs. regular walking
Nordic walking can be a great alternative to regular walking. The only difference between the two forms of exercise lies in the poles. While general walking has many health benefits, Nordic walking takes the exercise to a whole new level. “Nordic walking is assisted with specially designed sticks or poles resulting in increased engagement of the upper body muscles, compared to regular walking,” says Peña.
Elissa Johnson is an editorial associate intern at Prevention. She is a communication student at Penn State University. When not writing about health and wellness trends for Prevention.com, you can find her searching for the best bubble tea, exploring NYC, or listening to SZA.