"What are you doing with those?” inquired my eleven year-old daughter as I headed out the door with cross-country ski poles. Her confusion was understandable since it was early September and Grand County had yet to receive its first snowfall. There wasn’t a speck of white to be seen.
“I’m Nordic walking,” I explained while adjusting the poles to the proper height. “Do you want to join me?”
“You look stupid, Mom. No thanks… I think I’ll pass.”
I didn’t need her to emphasize the oddness of the activity: swinging poles on trails and bike paths on a hot, fall day was going to draw some stares, but I convinced myself that I could be starting a new trend in the Fraser Valley.
Nordic Walking BenefitsI’ve actually participated in Nordic walking or pole bounding since the late 80’s when I joined the Minneapolis Ski club for fall dry-land workouts. These two-hour Nordic walk, run and bounding workouts at a small downhill area were some of the most challenging I’d ever endured.
According to Nordicwalkingonline.com (yes, a whole website devoted to the sport!), “Nordic walking is set to become the hottest trend in fitness.” Leki, a Finnish pole manufacturer, claims that over seven million Scandinavians, Germans and Austrians have taken up the sport.
As it isn’t much more complicated than walking, it is easily accessible to the estimated 86 million Americans who walk for exercise. The added benefits, however, are impressive. Since walking with poles utilizes the upper body muscles, a Nordic walker will burn at least 20% more calories than normal walkers (420 vs 350 in an hour), according to an independent study by the Cooper Institute in Dallas. It is also a low stress, total body workout that keeps one fit, toned and healthy.
But first, I would have to overcome the “silly-factor” or stick to the wooded, remote trails. About ten years ago, a handful of Northern European pole manufacturers began promoting the exercise form to their respective citizens. It took a while to catch on, as people were embarrassed by the looks and comments they received, such as, “Expecting snow?” and “Forgot your skis?” Undaunted, the manufacturers trained instructors and organized group walks. Soon, it caught on until a critical mass of participants was reached and the embarrassment faded away.
So, how does one get started? Besides regular running attire, all you need to add are poles and some initial instruction on technique. Poles should be adjusted to a height where the wrists are slightly lower than the elbows when the poles are planted. Practice standing in place and swinging the arms with the poles parallel to the ground. Notice how long the arms are; this will affect the leg stride length. Hands should be relaxed and if the pole straps are properly fitted, you should open your hands when the arm swings behind you.
Next, coordinate your arms and legs so you are opposing arm and leg swing. This is how you normally walk, but with poles in hand, beginners will over-think the movement and end up planting the pole and stepping the foot on the same side. Immediately, you’ll notice how awkward this is so restart with right foot and left arm moving forward.
Hold your head up and look down the trail, not at your feet. Strive for a long stride with a long, fluid lever arm swing from the shoulder. As the terrain changes, stride length will change too; steep ascents and descents require a shorter stride and rocky or uneven terrain will cause adjustments.
As you grow more competent in walking, there are some advanced techniques that will result in an even more demanding workout such as jogging, running, jumping strides and skating. When stride bounding, you incorporate higher & longer strides, more forceful poling and more forceful leg-work. Nordic skate bounding is accomplished by bounding in zig-zag fashion with the arms moving in unison and planting together. Any type of bounding shoots the heart rate up considerably so is most effective when done in shorter (less than one minute ) bursts.
Ever experienced the sore back, neck, butt and leg muscles after the first bike ride in the spring? Since every sport requires the strength of specific muscle groups, the first few on-snow ski outings can lead to lots of sore muscles. However, if you spend time Nordic walking and bounding before the snow flies, some of this pain can be avoided when you finally click into the skis and glide on the trails.
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