Nordic walking is fitness walking using two poles to propel you forwards. They are called poles because the whole technique, and therefore some of the terminology, derives from cross-country skiing. Nordic walking is still widely used for off-season fitness training by cross-country skiers and it is an extremely powerful fitness tool if done at an advanced level.
In 2000 the International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA) was founded in Finland, the ‘motherland of Nordic walking’. It split the Nordic walking technique into 10 distinct steps. The first 5 steps give you the basic foundation. The last 5 steps are for more advanced Nordic walkers.
Most of you at Bristol Nordic Walking will know the full 10 steps. This article will therefore be a re-cap for you. For those of you who have never Nordic walked before, here is some guidance on how you might start. Nothing beats learning it from a professional instructor though and at Bristol Nordic Walking we have almost weekly Beginner’s Workshops. Click here for more information.
How to Nordic Walk: Part I gives you the first 5 steps, the basics for getting started. Part II will take you through the advanced stages.
Posture is the number one building block for Nordic walking. It is utterly crucial to our wellbeing, yet is too often disregarded. Please don’t make that mistake.
Good posture means keeping your body in alignment. Good posture while standing means a straight back (allowing for the natural curve), squared but relaxed shoulders, chin level, chest out, stomach in, lengthened spine, feet forward. If you can draw a straight line down the side of your body from your earlobe through your shoulder, hip, knee, to the middle of your ankle—–you've got it.
The second step of the Nordic walking technique is being able to maintain good posture whilst walking. To get it right, think about the following:
- Your feet - develop a dynamic roll from your heel to toe, pushing off firmly with your toes (all of them evenly, not just your big toe). We sometimes use the image of squeezing a lemon under your foot.
- Your legs – focus on using the muscles up the back of your legs – so your calves, hamstrings and glutes (buttock muscles). If you push off actively with your feet you should automatically engage these muscles.
- Your hips – try and keep them lifted and ‘open’.
- Your arms – swing your arms freely from your shoulders, keeping your elbow ‘soft’. This is probably the most important element of good Nordic walking technique – and I’ve written a whole blog on the subject if you want to find out more - Technique tips - The pefect arm swing.
Steps one and two develop correct walking patterns for life – whether you’re Nordic walking or just ordinary walking. Step three – drag – is the first specific Nordic walking element. Here you strap into the poles but allow them to drag along the ground whilst you continue to walk, pretty much pretending that they’re not there. It is at this stage that you learn to co-ordinate your arm and leg rhythm and learn the correct angle of the pole (if you’re mathematically minded it’s roughly at a 45 degree angle). Keep the arm swinging from the shoulder and don’t tense up or clamp your upper arm into your body.
Is your posture correct?
Have you got a good arm swing going?
Have you have mastered the arm/leg co-ordination?
If so, you’re ready to begin Nordic walking in earnest and move from simply dragging the poles to actively planting them into the ground. People are often surprised by how far back the pole plant is – you should be planting the pole roughly by your back foot and maintain the 45 degree angle of the pole throughout the arm swing. The tricky thing is the hand control. I’ve written about this before. Here, once again, are my tips:
- Make sure you close your whole hand round the pole handle – it’s the little and ring fingers that are key to hand control so think ‘hand shake’ and you’ll get it right.
- Squeeze your hand as you swing your arm forwards and relax it as soon as you start your back swing. The pole tip will then drop and engage in the ground. Useful imagery includes milking a cow, receiving and passing a baton (for all of you who partake in or watch relay running races) or pulling yourself along a rope, hand over fist style.
- Don’t over-grip. Your hand is actually more of a guide with the work being done by pushing through the strap. If you over-grip you will get sore forearms and probably do lots of air shots.
- Don’t try and do too much with your hands at this stage. Keep them loosely in contact with the pole handle even when you are pushing back.
If it all falls apart then just go back to the ‘reset’ mode of step 3 – Drag – and start again. Eventually you’ll get there!
The final step to achieve a good basic Nordic walking technique is to move from simply ‘planting’ the pole to actively pushing down through the strap into the pole to propel you forwards. Don’t be tempted to hitch your shoulder up to achieve that downwards pressure. It’s your triceps (tops of the backs of your arms) that do the work. The more firmly you can push down the length of the pole into the ground and maintain that downwards pressure as you swing your arm backwards, the faster you will propel yourself forwards.
If you put these 5 points together you will be Nordic walking. What is more, you will be walking in a way that propels you forwards in a smooth, fluid way that does not put pressure or strain on joints and which helps ease neck and upper back tension.