The Scandinavians are known for cool inventions – including zips, the pacemaker and Ikea – but you could soon be rocking Scandi style with fitness too. Nordic walking, a popular form of exercise in Europe, is stepping into Australia.
It involves striding out with specially designed poles, using them to push into the ground and propel your body forward in an action like cross-country skiing – the sport from which it originated.
Contemporary Nordic walking was born in 1997 when a Finnish sports institute and ski pole company developed high performance poles and a technique to refine the workout.
Why choose Nordic walking?
While it looks “a bit weird at first”, there’s more skill involved than meets the eye, says Patrick Burtscher, who runs Nordic Academy with his wife, exercise physiologist Maree Farnsworth.
“It’s more than just grab a couple of sticks and off you go,” he said.
But once you’ve mastered the technique, Mr Burtscher told The New Daily, the fitness benefits are obvious.
He says Nordic walking, when done properly, puts 90 per cent of the body into workout mode.
The technique facilitates faster movement. And because you’re using so many muscle groups, each group is working a little less, so you don’t feel as much exertion, Mr Burtscher says.
Research has supported these claims. A 2013 systematic review published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that Nordic walking was superior to brisk walking without poles in short- and long-term effects on heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and quality of life.
Flinders Island physiotherapist, David Heap said Nordic walking was becoming more popular with Australians of all ages.
“It is a low-impact activity with huge results,” Mr Heap, a member of the Australian Physiotherapy Association, said.
“From a physiotherapy perspective, this type of walking encourages good posture and activates those muscles necessary to maintain a healthy upright position.
“This also includes core strength and improved stability.”
Because the poles help support the lower limbs, Nordic walking is often recommended for people with conditions such as arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, and for those who are overweight.
“Nordic walking can be used in rehabilitation to assist in recovery from surgery, some degenerative conditions and in chronic disease management,” Mr Heap said, and “basically for anyone who needs to increase their aerobic activity”.
Why correct technique matters
When it comes to Nordic walking for fitness, technique is crucial, Mr Burtscher said.
He said people sometimes say, “this doesn’t do anything to me, I don’t feel any different – but it’s because you’re not using the poles properly”.
The movement behind Nordic walking should come from your shoulders as you push your body past the poles.
Nordic walking can be done anywhere, but poles need to be suited to your size.
Learning Nordic walking is like learning to swim – you can train yourself to some degree, but coaching will help you get the most benefit, Mr Burtscher said.
Basic Nordic walking:
- Walk naturally – Nordic walking is an enhancement of normal walking;
- Keep shoulders relaxed and down, elbows close to the body;
- Lean upper body slightly forwards;
- Arms and legs move alternately;
- Take slightly longer strides than normal;
- Roll the foot from the heel to the ball with each step;
- The poles swing forward with a loosely gripped and guiding hand;
- The poles always point diagonally backwards and plant between the front and back foot;
- The pole is pushed back with an outstretched arm and open hand until it forms a continuous line with the arm;
- The palm is open, and fingers stretched out at the release position.