Nordic walking is one of the biggest fitness trends of 2017, with everyone from personal trainers to celebrities touting the benefits of this particular form of walking. If you’ve never heard of the term before, you may be picturing people hiking in the mountains of northern Europe – but in fact, Nordic walking is simply the act of walking with poles. With the correct co-ordination, the addition of poles can completely transform a simple stroll into a full-body workout with impressive results.
We spoke to Nordic walking expert, Tom Rutllin from Exerstrider Walking Poles, about the transformative potential this activity can wield. Tom has been Nordic walking in his ‘Exerstride’ method for over thirty years, and is on a mission to promote the sport to others. He says, “What has continued to fuel my passion for fitness walking with poles for all these years is not only the way it changed my life, but more importantly how it has proven its ability to change the lives of countless people of all ages, abilities, and goals.”
Nordic walking is, in its simplest form, a full-body version of walking that works not just the legs, but the arms and core, too. Popular both with amateurs as a way to promote health, and with professionals as a sport, Nordic walking is a flexible exercise quickly gaining popularity worldwide.
Of course, walkers had been using poles for hundreds of years before Nordic walking became popular. What sets Nordic walking apart is that it is performed with specially-designed walking poles, which somewhat resemble ski poles. It was founded in Finland in 1979 by Mauri Repo, who defined it in the publication Hiihdon lajiosa as “a part of cross-country skiing training methodic.” As this suggests, it was, at first, an off-season ski-training activity, but was quickly taken up by keen hikers looking to improve their strength without the strain of weighted walking.
So what makes Nordic walking special? This activity involves applying force to the walking poles with each stride, meaning that, instead of just relying on your legs, Nordic walkers use their entire body during a workout. Working muscles including the latissimus dorsi, triceps, biceps, shoulders, abdominals, spinal muscles and other core groups, Nordic walking truly can exercise every area from neck to toe. This means that you will be boosting your cardiovascular fitness and toning your upper body far more with poles than you would without.
However, it’s not just the intensity and extent of the workout that makes Nordic walking appealing to amateurs and athletes alike. The sport is thought to produce a 46 per cent increase in energy consumption compared to normal walking, causing a significant increase in heart race at a given pace. But this does not cause the extra strain on the body that such an increase would suggest. Due to the use of poles, walkers can work harder and raise their heart rate more without feeling so tired, as the poles provide support and assistance.
Exerstrider itself was the first company to produce and sell waking poles specifically designed and marketed to fitness walkers, in 1988. This means that Tom has been present for the whole journey, and has followed the growth in the trend from the beginning. He says that the sport’s popularity primarily lies in catering for those often left out of traditional fitness programmes:
“When I first began promoting the health and fitness benefits of walking with poles back in 1988, the vast majority of those who were immediately willing to take something of a leap of faith and trying something so totally new were people for whom the ability to walk and otherwise remain active was under severe threat by aging, disease, injury or obesity.
“For many people with conditions such as arthritis, MS, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and neuropathy, as well as those recovering from various orthopaedic surgeries or dealing with both the emotional and mobility challenges of morbid obesity, most other popular exercise prescriptions were simply not an acceptable fit.”
Nordic walking, however, offers a safe, low-impact alternative that even those with ailments can enjoy. “Because using poles can immediately improve stability, significantly un-weight painful lower body joints, increase metabolic efficiency and oxygen perfusion throughout the body, and rapidly improve muscle strength and endurance, it has proven to be a life-changing exercise”, Tom says. “It is also a more kind and gentle option for generally healthy individuals seeking a way to sustain a state of optimal health and fitness.”
Various sources attest that Nordic walking is an effective and efficient mode of exercise to improve overall fitness in older adults and those with mobility restrictions. However, these benefits of the sport are relevant to us all. Whilst activities such as running and traditional hiking can be tough on areas such as the knees, often leading to sports-induced injuries. Not only do these put us out of training for several weeks, they can also cause lasting damage to the body, causing joint problems in later life. Therefore it is well worth incorporating Nordic walking into your exercise regime as a low-impact alternative to keep your joints healthy, whilst gaining impressive results in the process.
Today, there are countless fitness trends circulating, all with pros and cons, critics and ambassadors. However, the consensus is impressively positive on Nordic walking, and Tom claims that this is because it is a natural approach to fitness.
“All methods of Nordic walking are hybrids of the exercise that is encoded in all human DNA – walking, and an exercise that has long been recognized as among the most effective in building overall fitness - Nordic skiing.” He continues, “My Exerstride Method Nordic Walking™ prescribes a natural, comfortable walking gait and pace, and combines that with upper body biomechanics that I designed to optimize healthy muscle, joint and connective tissue involvement from the core to all four extremities.
“My natural, leverage-optimizing method was designed to offer life-changing results to both athletes and non-athletes, fully able individuals as well as those with various ability challenges, the already fit as well as those who have long neglected their physical well-being, and people of all ages. My version of Nordic walking is not a “sport” or means of “training the body”. It is evolution of natural walking designed to safely, effectively and naturally “tune” any body to optimal health.”
Not only is Nordic walking comfortable for the human body, it is also incredibly beneficial for emotional and mental health. Whilst many sports such as jogging and cycling get you outside, few provide the mood-boosting elements that walking can. Nordic walking can be practiced in some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, giving you the time to unwind, breathe in fresh air and get some much-needed sunshine. The beautiful grounds in our spa retreats are the perfect place to try the sport for the first time, with expert personal trainers on hand to teach you the techniques before you explore many miles of British countryside.
So what is the future of Nordic walking? Tom believes that the trend is only set to grow.
“My experience with pole walking as I approach age 70, as well as the life-changing results I’ve witnessed and had reported to me for nearly three decades, has left me to feel that keeping one’s body in ‘good use’ motion constitutes the most powerful, accessible and safe ‘medicine’ available to humans.”
“Because Nordic walking has the potential to be such a natural and universally accessible means of optimizing and “tuning’ the body to its natural state of health, I believe it has a so far a largely untapped potential to not only change individual lives, but also to impact global public health once more people are helped to grasp the vast potential of this very simple (yet life-changing) enhancement of the only exercise that is programmed into all human DNA.”
Perhaps it’s time to get a set of poles! At Champneys, we offer Nordic walking on many of our activity schedules for Tring, Forest Mere, Henlow and Springs. We are also running a two-night Learn to Nordic Walk weekend this October, led by Gill Stewart, Director of Nordic Walking UK! So during your next spa break, why not try out this fantastic form of exercise, guided by our fitness experts in the gorgeous surroundings of our spa retreats?