This weekend marked World Nordic Walking Day.  I often get asked how Nordic walking started so it seems an appropriate time to devote a blog to the history of Nordic walking, where it is today in the UK and how it is spreading across the world.  I’ve taken much of my information from the International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA).

The beginning 
A type of Nordic walking has probably been used ever since keen cross-country skiers replicated the upper body action of their winter sport to train during the summer when there was no snow.  This would have enabled them to keep fit and maintain their upper body ski action. And since the 1930s Finnish cross-country skiers are known to have used poles for their summer training.

1966 – The pivotal first step
In 1966 Leena Jaaskelainen, a Finnish PE teacher and lecturer, introduced ‘walking with skipoles’ into her lessons.  The concept gained momentum in Finland.

1990s – The big leap forward
In the early 1990s Tuomo Jantunen of the Association for Recreational Sports and Outdoor Activities promoted Nordic walking as a recreational activity to the Finnish public.

In 1996 he joined forces with the Finn ski manufacturer Exel and in 1997 the first Nordic walking specific poles were produced.  They had an innovative wrist strap system and it is this system which we use today to allow us to perform the range of movements that are associated with Nordic walking’s physical and health-related benefits.  The term ‘Nordic walking’ was actually coined in 1997.

Aki Karihtala, marketing director of Exel, then developed an action plan together with a team to make Nordic walking popular worldwide.  On the team of sports athletes and sports medicine experts was Marco Kanteneva, who continues to be an active promoter of Nordic Walking today.  Together they developed a more structured format for Nordic walking that forms the basis of what we teach today.

At the same time as the Nordic walking technique was being developed in Finland, Tom Rutlin was developing a similar form of pole walking in the USA, called Exerstriding.  It has many similarities with Nordic walking (the main difference being that the poles don’t have any wrist straps) and is still widely used today in America and elsewhere.

2000 – INWA is formed
In 2000 Aki Karihtala founded INWA which then started developing educational programmes and instructor networks for Nordic walking.  Soon after its establishment other countries started forming associations, some of which joined INWA and some started working independently. 

Today, in most countries, you will find a mix of associations – some connected to INWA and some not.  In the UK we have two Nordic walking organisations.

2005 – Nordic walking comes to the UK
Nordic walking arrived in the UK under the INWA umbrella in 2005 through Frances Mitchell (who trained Karen Ingram who in turn trained most of us BNW instructors).  In 2009 it became one of the fastest growing exercise activities in the UK.  There are two official Nordic walking associations:

  • British Nordic Walking 
  • Nordic Walking UK

British Nordic Walking is connected to INWA and Nordic Walking UK have developed their own brand of Nordic walking. Between them they have trained well over 3,000 instructors.  There are lots of individual instructors and small clubs all over the UK but with a team of nine instructors and around 400 regular walkers we believe we are the UK’s largest Nordic walking company.

The global success of Nordic walking
Globally more than 10 million people now enjoy this sport. It is an extraordinary success story given how recently Nordic walking was established. 

There are a large number of Nordic walking associations all over the world.  INWA itself has over 20 official member organisations and Nordic walking coaches have been certified in over 40 countries. 

China is probably the fastest growing Nordic walking nation.  It now runs international Nordic walking events (to which all Bristol Nordic walkers have been personally invited) and is equally popular with both men and women.  Lativa also has a very active competitive Nordic walking membership and is staging this year’s INWA Nordic Walking World Cup on 14th July – click here if you’re interested! 

Our plans for Bristol Nordic Walking
We are immensely proud to be part of the amazing growth of Nordic walking.  Being a niche sport we feel connected to all Nordic walkers throughout the world and our aim is to develop these links and nurture friendships. 

We have already begun by linking up with Nordic Walking Girona who we have visited twice and who are visiting us this summer.  Through unions like this we can expand our horizons and put Bristol at the heart of global Nordic walking.  None of this would be possible without your support and encouragement so thank you.  The future is looking very exciting indeed!