What is Nordic Walking?

Sara Schmidt

Nordic walking, or ski walking, is an exercise that works the upper and lower body. Nordic walking burns more calories than traditional walking, as it involves swinging two specially designed rubber-tipped poles, similar to ski poles, to tone the upper body while walking. Similar to cross country skiing, the poles are swung in time with the person's steps, creating a full body workout.

Woman exercising
Woman exercising

Available for year-round fitness in any climate, nordic walking is accessible for most people. Nordic walking is particularly useful for those who often hunch forward while working or reading, as it can loosen the knots and tension within the neck and shoulder muscles. Walkers with knee, leg, or balance problems can also benefit from nordic walking, as the poles help to provide stability while walking.

Though it takes coordination, nordic walking is considered a better cardiovascular workout than walking without nordic walker poles. It increases the walker's heart rate without increasing the level of exertion. The walker does not feel as if he is working any harder than he would be simply walking, yet more body areas are in movement during the workout. A similar effect could be obtained by walking faster.

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The arms, upper chest, shoulders, and back muscles can all be toned through nordic walking. Muscles that are normally tight can be relaxed and stretched, even lengthened, through the exercise. People who engage in this form of exercise often increase their own strength, core muscle and upper body endurance, and ability to climb hills. In addition to the lower body muscles worked during the walk, the triceps, biceps, spinal muscles, shoulders, lats, abdominals, and chest are also engaged.

To begin nordic walking, a person should grasp the poles, keeping them close to but behind the body and pointing diagonally backward during the entire fitness walk. Shoulders should be down and relaxed. Hands should be lightly open, allowing poles to be swung rather than gripped. As the leading foot takes a step, the opposite arm swings frontward at waist height while that arm's pole hits the ground at the same time the heel of the opposite foot does. The motion is then repeated with the opposite side of the body.

Walkers should push the poles back as far as possible during the workout for maximum benefits. Arms should straighten, but remain relaxed as the poles are pushed, with hands opening at the end of the full arm swing. Steps should be pushed off with the toes, lengthening each stride during the walk.

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