Whether you love them or hate them, hills are a fact of life in much of the UK and especially if you live around Bristol and Bath. Aside from the fact that there’s generally a great view to be had at the top, hills up the intensity of any walk. Your heart and lungs work harder, you burn more calories, and you increase the workout for your muscles. There’s no doubt that Nordic walking poles make a huge difference. The most important thing to remember is to never compromise your technique. There are four basic errors when it comes to walking uphill:
Mistake number one: bending over, using your lower back muscles to help haul you up the slope.
Next time you’re out, take a look at how many people fold themselves forwards to get up a hill. All this does is put stress and strain on an area that isn’t designed for the job, leaving you vulnerable to backache. It’s natural to lean into a slope but the lean should be from your ankle, not at your hip crease. Your leg muscles and mighty glutes (in your buttocks) are the power horses for hills. To help them fire properly:
- Draw your belly button up and out of your hips. If you find this difficult, try tilting your tailbone underneath you.
- Keep your head up. Your eyes are perfectly capable of looking at the ground without the need to drop your head as well. If your head drops it’ll pull the rest of your body with it.
- Lead with your chest. Imagine someone’s winching you up from your chest, like a boat being pulled up a ramp out of the water.
- Relax your neck and shoulders. Lifting your shoulders up to your ears will not help you get up the hill quicker or more easily. It will just stress your body and de-stabilise your centre of gravity.
Mistake number two: walking on tiptoe.
The technique for walking up slopes is very different from that for running. When walking uphill you should continue with your heel/toe roll for as long as possible. Don’t be tempted to go onto your tiptoes until absolutely necessary. By continuing with the heel/toe roll you will find that you stretch as well as work your calf, lessening the intensity of workout in that muscle and allowing the muscles above it (your hamstrings and glutes) to activate properly.
Mistake number three: Not swinging your arms.
Your arm swing is a valuable momentum generator when uphill walking without poles. With Nordic walking poles in your hands it’s transformative, allowing you to utilise your entire upper body. With all that extra muscle power hills become far less daunting and you’ll be astonished at how easily you zip up them. Correct technique is key:
- Reach forwards (see picture above) and grab the ground ahead of you, powering yourself up four-wheel drive style.
- Keep your shoulders wide (it's easy to round them forwards).
- Extending the push behind you and rotating will give you extra power.
- Don’t shorten your arm swing or clamp your upper arm to the side of your body.
Mistake number four: An uneven pace. If you watch very experienced walkers, you will see that they keep a steady pace the whole way up a hill. It enables your body to get into a rhythm and optimise energy expenditure. Assess the hill, recognise your fitness and start at a pace you can sustain. Generally your stride length tends to increase on gentle slopes and decrease on steeper inclines. Your rhythm can stay the same throughout.
The classes we run in Royal Victoria Park, Ashton Court, Blaise, Oldbury Court and Leigh Woods are prefect for inclines, slopes and the occasional tough hill. If you've not already tried one of the venues give them a go and enjoy the boost the poles give you.