As most of you will know, Nordic walking derives from cross country skiing. It was used as the summer training for elite athletes who wanted to continue their conditioning programme during the off season. In Finland in the 1970s the universal health potential of this summer style was recognised and developed. The name ‘Nordic walking’ was coined in 1997 and in 2000 INWA, the International Nordic Walking Federation, was formed.
Many variations of Nordic walking exist and I’m sure you have seen people walking in the UK and abroad in a style that looks very different from ours. The beauty in my view of the INWA style is that it is founded on bio-mechanically correct movements and gait. It is a dynamic extension of your regular natural walking. That is why all of us Bristol and Bath Nordic walking instructors teach the INWA Nordic walking technique.
The technique can in fact be broken down into 10 steps. The first five help with the foundations of good Nordic walking. The last 5 steps are developmental, making your Nordic walking more dynamic and taking your fitness up a notch. Some of you have expressed an interest in knowing what these steps are so I have listed them below together with a brief explanation.
This is the first thing that you should think about when you start walking. Here’s a posture checklist:
- Lengthen your spine (right into your head)
- Chin level and not tipped back or forwards
- Mind the gaps between your ear and shoulder, and hip bone and ribs
- Shoulders wide
- Arm swinging from the shoulder, soft bend in your elbow.
This is all about using your lower body correctly. Key points are:
- Distribute your weight evenly between your left and right foot
- Lift your toe to get a good heel strike (soft not hard impact with the ground)
- Roll through briskly from your heel, through your mid-foot and off your toes (go beyond the balls of your feet if you can).
- Keep your toes splayed wide
- Squeeze your leg muscles as you push off with your toes, especially your glutes (bottom muscles)
Drag is when you just let the pole dangle beside you so that you’re dragging them as you walk and swing your arms. It is most helpful if you are a complete beginner and are finding it hard to co-ordinate opposite arm and leg. It is not part of the Nordic walking technique itself (hence why we don't generally teach it) but it can be useful to show the correct angle of the pole and how low down your hands should be when Nordic walking.
This is the hardest part of the Nordic walking technique because it’s all about using your hand actively (squeezing it round the handle as you swing your arm forwards) to lift the tip of the pole up off the ground whilst maintaining a natural arm swing. You should plant your pole when your hand is on the cusp of starting its backwards swing. For most people the plant point will be just in front of their back foot.
Actively using your upper body to push through the pole makes a big difference to the power you generate. The key is to power through the strap using a smooth steady pressure.
6. Extend fully
This is where you push through the poles fast and hard enough so that your hand moves behind your hip and you can see daylight between your hand and bottom if you looked sideways-on.
7. Release actively
The ideal end hand position is for your index finger to be pointing down the shaft of the pole when your arm is stretched behind you. Read my blog on arm swing if you want more information.
8. Swing forward
This is just the smooth transition from the back of the arm swing to the front to plant again. It’s a ‘throw and catch’ – ‘throw’ the pole behind you and catch the handle as you swing forwards.
9. Lean forward
Biomechanically leaning (from your ankles) is not a natural part of walking. What it does is to switch on your core muscles and help you walk faster.
Rotation is a very valuable part of the Nordic walking technique. It helps strengthen your back and ease tension in your neck and shoulders and integrates movement of your upper and lower body.
Breaking a movement down into its component parts can be a bit mind-boggling. Hopefully when you’re out walking with our instructors it becomes much more straightforward. Please ask us if you’ve any questions about your technique and don’t forget we are now running hour-long technique workshops on the first Saturday of the month if you’d like a quick refresher.