Scandinavian cultures are known for embracing opportunities to re-align with nature and connect with the present moment. So, it comes as no surprise that the coiners of concepts like ‘friluftsliv’ (i.e open-air living) devised a simple solution to walking faster and further outdoors.
If our bodies could talk, they would cry out for the chance to try Nordic walking. This simple form of exercise (also known as “pole walking”) is easy to learn, helps build muscle tone and provides a great cardiovascular workout.
But further, Nordic walking also gives people of all fitness levels the chance to escape the pressures of the modern world; a more vital, life-enhancing benefit. According to poet and philosopher, Thoreau, taking long winter walks through brute nature can help us conquer our inner worlds. He likened the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other as akin to transcendental meditation or churchgoing.
“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walking
These feelings are heightened when walking during the winter months. Savouring the splendour of a silent, snow-covered landscape takes you out of your past and future concerns. The beat of the present moment is sounded only by the crunch of your winter boots under pure, newly fallen snow.
You can discover the pleasures of Nordic walking at any time of the year, and in any setting. You don’t need to be a cross-country skier to pick up a pair of poles and get out there to reconvene with nature. This guide is your first step in finding out more about this exciting form of golden exercise for all ages and abilities.
The History Of Nordic Walking
Nordic walking as an exercise technique, began in Finland in the 1930s when Finland’s Olympic cross-country ski team used their ski poles on hikes during off-season training.
The poles provided support allowing team members to maintain a biomechanically-correct walking position. In the decades that followed, many cross-country skiers tried this solution to build their strength and stamina. However, the practice was only known informally as “ski walking” at this time.
In 1966, teacher Leena Jääskeläinen introduced ski poles into her physical education classes. hen in 1987, Jääskeläinen presented her teaching techniques at a Finlandia Kävely event. Members of the Finnish Central Association for Recreational Sports and Outdoor Activities saw her work and were impressed with the fitness benefits of the curriculum.
In the US, during the 1970’s, “pole walking” was informally developed alongside Finland’s dabblings with the discipline. However, the term “Nordic” was added to the practice in 1997, when ski equipment manufacturers, Excel, teamed up with the Finnish Central Association for Recreational Sports and Outdoor Activities. Together, with the help of researchers, they designed the original prototype for Nordic Walking Sticks – noticeably different to standard cross-country skiing poles.They also developed a brochure outlining the principles of the discipline, to accompany the products. By the year 2000, The International Nordic Walking Association (INWA) was founded.
In the years since, the sport has gained popularity around the world. In 2018 there are an estimated 12 million Nordic walking enthusiasts worldwide. It is now feasible that you could find a Nordic walking group in every major city in the world.
What Are The Benefits Of Nordic Walking?
Image credit: wikimediacommons
“The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours …but it is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.”
At first glance, Nordic walking looks like a low-impact cardio workout, indistinguishable from conventional hiking. However, the addition of poles alters the posture of the walker significantly. As a result, over 90% of muscles in the body are used in Nordic walking exercises.
The support from the poles also allows walkers to increase their endurance and mile count with relative ease. Nordic walking has also been well-documented to burn 46% more calories per hour than unassisted walking!
There is also research on the positive effects of Nordic walking for those with Parkinson’s disease. Older generations can also benefit from the support the poles offer to knee and hip joints. Nordic walking is a fantastic pastime for retirees, providing them with a gentle form of exercise to match their pace.
Nordic walking also does wonders for younger, fitter exercise enthusiasts – especially if you’re looking to tone your shoulders, arms, and waist. With every step you take in a Nordic walk, you improve your cardiorespiratory system. You also get mood-boosting endorphins pumping through your bloodstream.
The Nordic Walking Technique
The proper Nordic walking technique will have you standing straight and strolling with a natural-looking gait (although slightly exaggerated with the addition of poles in the hands). All tension in the shoulders and back should be eliminated. With every step, you should be able to feel your chest and abdominals muscles also getting a workout.
The elements of learning the classical Nordic walking technique include:
- Maintaining the correct, backwards ‘loading’ position of the walking poles with each stride
- Proper grip control to reduce stress and get the maximum upper body benefits of the exercise
- Developing an active use of the poles to help you balance and propel your body forwards
It is highly advised to start Nordic walking with the help of a trained instructor. Find a Nordic walking group in your area and take the time to seek feedback on your posture and technique before attempting to go walkabout alone.
Aside from coaching, joining a group could help you make some new friends with shared interests. The presence of others also provides motivation and encouragement, to help you push yourself and get the most from your workout.
You can find meetup groups of people around your age and fitness level, and as you improve over time you can find more advanced Nordic walking groups that trek further and faster during their sessions.
Nordic Walking Equipment
We’ve compiled a list of equipment you’ll need if you want to take up Nordic walking.
The obvious one… Poles!
To equip yourself properly for Nordic walking, you will need a pair of specially designed poles. These are height-adjustable and include straps or built-in gloves to reduce hand friction.
Image credit: wikimediacommons
Other key design features of Nordic walking poles include:
- A forward-angled tip, or pointed edge, to increase comfort for the user as they walk across multiple terrains.
- The poles are shorter than standard ski pole designs, to match the user’s natural stride length.
- Plastic tips can be applied to cushion the surface of the poles on asphalt.
Nordic walking poles can be found in a range of different price points (from £30 to £140), making it an affordable hobby for all budgets.
You will also need comfortable all-terrain walking boots. As you will be using the shoes for specialist exercises, you may benefit from investing in a pair with strong, yet flexible soles.
Image credit: Scarpa
The Scarpa Terra GTX range can be a superb choice for winter walking boots.
Alternatively, for the warmer months, you could try a shoe like the Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX.
Image credit: Saloman
The walking boots should also provide adequate support around the ankle. You’ll need to be able to roll from your heel to your toe within the shoe. Getting yourself measured in a camping and hiking goods store will ensure you buy the perfect fit.
Outdoor Fitness Clothing
Depending on the weather and the terrain, you may also need outdoor fitness clothing. Commonly this will mean clothes made from moisture-wicking materials.
Scandinavian fashion labels are world-renowned for their outdoor clothing collections. Northern-European countries face harsh, often sub-zero conditions. As a result of this, Nordic brands tend to focus on high-quality fabrics that are built to last and survive passing fashion trends. Designers like Bergans of Norway and RAINS reflect this with their neutral, unisex colour palettes and minimalist features.
A great investment can be a lightweight waterproof jacket that can be folded and placed in a small rucksack. The cool and casual RAINS ‘Breaker’Jacket features waterproof zippers and ultrasonically welded seams to make it very hard-wearing.
Image credit: RAINS
A Good Rucksack
Bergans Of Norway also does a great range of lightweight rucksacks for your bare Nordic walking essentials. The Fløyen W 4 Daysack is ergonomically designed to fit the female form perfectly, even during intense exercise.
Image credit: Bergans Of Norway
Daypacks are an essential item for Nordic walking enthusiasts, as you don’t want to place too much strain on your back with a large, heavy bag. So, also be careful not to overpack on a hike, take only the bare essentials with you. In the case of US Olympic & World Champion, Kikkan Randall, ‘essentials’ could just mean your baby.
Check out the pioneering Swedish baby carrier range at Baby Björn for pediatrician-approved, lightweight designs.
Nordic Walking For Wellbeing
“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walking
So there you have it – everything you need to know about Nordic walking. And one ne last tip from us: leave your headphones at home and take up Nordic walking as a way to help you switch off from the world and get back to the present moment. Whether you’re alone or in a group of fellow Nordic walkers, connect with your body movements and your environment and find your bliss in the wilderness – just like Thoreau.
Find out more with these Nordic walking resources: