Woman nordic walking on terrain on a sunny day

Walking: what is Nordic walking, and how does it make you stronger?

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Nordic walking is a great form of exercise that benefits your strength as well as your cardiovascular fitness. But what actually is it?

I don’t think you need us to tell you that walking is all the rage right now. With some restrictions still in place and the weather warming up, it’s the perfect time to lace up your walking shoes and get out in the sunshine

But, if doing the same routes at the same intensity every day is causing you to get a bit of walking fatigue, you might be looking for a way to kick things up a gear.

Particularly if you want to find a way to up the exercise benefits of your daily walks around the local park, then Nordic walking could be just the thing you’re looking for. Boasting amazing benefits for your strength as well as your cardiovascular fitness, Nordic walking is the perfect way to really make the most out of your walks.

However, it requires a particular technique and the right equipment. To explain the ins and outs of it all, we asked experts Gill Stewart, director of Nordic Walking UK, and Jenny Davies from British Nordic Walking for all the info you need to get started. 

“Nordic walking is a method of using two poles when walking that closely mirrors the technique used by cross country skiers.”

What is Nordic walking?

Gill says that “Nordic walking is a method of using two poles when walking that closely mirrors the technique used by cross country skiers.” This has to do with the fact that, as Jenny goes on to explain, it was “developed in Finland for cross country skiers to maintain fitness during the off-season.”

Clearly, then, it’s a great way to ensure your walk gives you the best workout possible, while still being extremely accessible. All it requires is the use of two Nordic walking poles, which “harness the power in the natural swinging arm movement you make while walking” and “engage the upper body as you push down and backwards on the poles”.

The sport is growing incredibly quickly as a result, and according to Jenny “estimated global numbers are now at 12 million.” If you want to get involved, too, Gill says that “it is best learned from a qualified instructor, who can make sure you are not simply tapping the poles as you walk.” This would prevent you from feeling the full effects of the exercise, “which are like being on a cross trainer in the gym.”

What equipment do I need for Nordic walking?

“You need specially designed poles” for Nordic walking, says Gill, and “not ordinary trekking poles.” This is because “the poles you use must have Nordic style straps or a core ledge, which you push against in order to gain forward propulsion.” But that’s not the only way in which the straps help with the walking technique. As Jenny tells us, by using the straps “the hand can open and close without the pole moving out of position,” which “allows the arm to swing freely.”

Since Nordic walking is an outdoor sport, Jenny says that “sports kit and outdoor clothing are required,” and that it is a good idea to layer up, because “you can warm up and cool down quickly outdoors.”

“You also need flexible soled footwear,” according to Gill, “as you push off from the toes on one foot as you push into the pole on the other side.” 

nordic walkers warmup outside with nordic walking poles
Nordic walking requires a particular technique and the right equipment.

What muscles does Nordic walking work?

Amazingly, “you use 90% of the major muscles with every step you take,” Gill explains. However, in order to actually get all of those muscles working, you need to use the correct technique.

Jenny says that “the legs and glutes are working as you stride, and the planting of the poles uses the arms, back and chest muscles.” Additionally, “the triceps will feel the burn if you extend your arm fully,” and as Nordic walking requires the rotation of your upper body and core, “your abdominals and lats are also engaged.” 

How can Nordic walking improve your strength?

Nordic walking “is a great way to improve your range of movement, increase your strength, and tone your muscles,” says Gill, by “helping to build strong leg and buttock muscles and working the upper body.”

Not only that, as Jenny explains, it also “encourages and develops symmetry in the body, so if you have a stronger side, the technique can help to even out imbalances.” She continues: “by walking with good posture and swinging the arm from the shoulders, over time the back and chest muscles become stronger and more balanced, as the repetitive action of pushing down on the poles works those muscles evenly.” 

woman nordic walking outdoors
Nordic walking “is a great way to improve your range of movement, increase your strength, and tone your muscles.”

Are there any other benefits of Nordic walking?

There are plenty of benefits beyond just increasing your strength, “including increased blood circulation and metabolism, improved posture, and relief to neck and shoulder pain,” says Jenny.

She goes on to say that “Nordic walking can also be beneficial to mental health, because it is a great group activity and very sociable,” so “unlike running or some team sports, you can have a conversation the entire time.” 

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Images:  Getty, British Nordic Walking, Nordic Walking UK

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