I am often asked what the key elements to good Nordic walking technique are so I thought I would share my views with you through a series of technical articles. This first one addresses the tricky issue of hand control.
Ah. Those pesky hands, I hear you say. They never seem to do what I want them to. Especially that non-dominant (usually left) hand.
I can remember being immensely frustrated by this when I was learning. I found it counter-intuitive to squeeze the pole handle as I swung my arm forwards – I kept wanting to do it the other way round. I was also a master at air shots and the double-plant – not good and probably alarming for anyone walking behind me!
Well, the happy news for those of you with whom my words resonate, is that I now feel very confident about this aspect of my Nordic walking technique. So it is possible to improve and get snappy with your hands. Here are some tips:
Practice by single arm and double arm polling
I liken Nordic walking hand control to clutch control when you’re a learner driver. It seems impossibly difficult to begin with - jerky starts and bunny hops being the order of the day. Eventually though the neurological pathways sort themselves out and the muscles learn to be less clumsy. Nordic walking works in the same way.
So don’t be disheartened by poor hand control. It will improve of its own accord with practice. You can help though by:
- Regularly single arm polling. This allows you to concentrate on one side at a time, which is much easier. It also really helps improve your non-dominant hand control.
- Double arm polling. Often a good ploy when your hands are being annoyingly uncooperative. Both hands doing the same thing is less challenging for both brain and hands!
Technique when you’re a beginner
- 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 (apparently it’s similar…); 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.
Technique for more advanced walkers
‘Squeeze and release’ develops into ‘throw and catch’ as you become more confident with your technique. You should now be able to let go of the pole handle altogether, pushing down through your strap into the ground with your hands open (palms facing in towards your hips). As you swing forwards you need to ‘catch’ the pole handle and guide it ready to plant again.
You can play around a bit with how vigorously you open and close your hands. In the winter, when it’s cold, I tend to actively splay my hands open and squeeze them closed to increase the circulation. In the summer months I take a more mañana approach!