Leave it to the Europeans to lead the way on fitness ideas. For example, in the 1980’s no one used trekking poles to help them get up the slopes of hills. We just gutted it out–with knee pain as the result. Once Europeans brought their “ski poles” across the pond, their value rapidly became obvious to us. Now, a new trend is heading our way–Nordic Walking. Most readers have no idea what Nordic Walking is. They may say “Oh, you mean walking with sticks?” If you do see folks Nordic Walking, you might be tempted to shout out “Where’s the snow?” Being fit and being in shape is a goal for most Healthy Beginnings readers. Nordic Walking might be the answer for you.
First, let’s talk about what Nordic Walking is. It all started in the mid 1990’s. The Finns are avid cross-country skiers. To keep in shape during the off season, they pioneered the piece of gym equipment called the Nordic Track. This large machine featured sliding slats (reminiscent of skis) and a pulley system to work the upper body. Today, most of those machines are in museums and were replaced by the Elliptical Trainer. When used properly, the movable pull handles work the upper body.
The poles one would use during Nordic Walking are telescoping, and are adjusted to the individual, such that the forearm is horizontal to the ground. The poles are high strength aluminum, or even carbon fiber. They are feather light. The proper technique is to slightly drag the poles and keep them behind you at a 45 degree angle as you walk normally, with a left/right arm swing. You slightly push the pole into the ground to help propel you forward. This little action brings the triceps into action. By getting resistance into your walk, you involve muscles that normally would not get exercise. Even speed walking utilizes only about 70 percent of the body’s muscles. Nordic Walking ups that to 90 percent. To feed these muscles, your heart pumps more blood, raising your heart rate (this is good). More oxygen is needed to produce the energy you need, so you breather better. Normal walking causes blood to pool in the extremities leading to puffy fingers–not with Nordic Walking.
To validate the benefits, the prestigious Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas did a study comparing normal walking with Nordic Walking. Dr Kenneth Cooper is the leading researcher in aerobic health–he coined the word “aerobics.” Dr. Cooper’s top five exercises that provide aerobic benefit are: cross-country skiing, swimming, running, cycling and walking. Nordic Walking fits perfectly. Comparing the two forms of walking, their study revealed that Nordic Walking burned an average of 20 percent more calories, with some individuals consuming up to 46 percent more than the walkers. Their heart rates went up 6 percent and oxygen intake increased up to 20 percent. All this with no perceived extra exertion and no knee or joint pain. In addition, the back is supported and causes the walker to be more upright. Upwards of 8 million people in Europe Nordic Walk for fitness; half a million of those in Finland alone! The activity is emerging in the USA. One additional benefit of using poles–you carry a level of protection against snakes, dogs and other hostile critters!
Sound good? Can you just use your trekking poles and get the same benefits? “Trekking” or “Hiking” poles (synonyms) are great for mountaineering. Going uphill they take about 5 percent of the work off your lower body and they relieve the stress on aging knees while going downhill. But, they are designed for steep grades and for supporting heavy loads. Backpacking with trekking poles is much easier. A good test is to compare and contrast Nordic Walking and Trekking poles with a bicycle analogy. Can you ride a road bike on a single track in the hills? Yes, but the high pressure tires, thin saddle and dropped handle bars would make for a very unpleasant experience. Could you ride a mountain bike on road trips? Yes, but the low pressure, knobby tires and aggressive configuration would be very uncomfortable. Each is designed with a specific application in mind. Nordic Walking is the road bike and trekking is the mountain bike. Each is optimized for its purpose. Nordic Walking poles are extremely lightweight–merely eight ounces each. They are thin and not intended to support a 150+ pound person on steep slopes. Nordic Walking is generally done on level paths or areas with only slight hills. For fitness, the idea is simple: push into the ground. It’s NOT intensity–it is consistency. Those little pushes add up. The triceps glow after just a few minutes. The strap system on trekking poles is designed to support the body weight (when used properly) while the Nordic Walking strap merely brings the pole forward with almost no gripping of the handle. Again, the intent is aerobic fitness. This is low intensity walking involving unused muscles to elevate heart rates over sustained period. With experience, the Nordic Walker can introduce a slight torso roll to get the lats and core muscles active. Finally, Nordic Walking is fun, it’s social and folks talk as they walk. Groups go around parks or even in shopping malls with rubber tips on their poles.
Interested in giving it a try? Healthy Beginnings is bringing Rick Deutsch up from San Jose on August 12th to teach sessions at the Sparks Marina. He’s an American Nordic Walking Association certified instructor. You might know him better as Mr. Half Dome, having hiked to the summit 28 times; and he authored the only guide book on doing this hike, “One Best Hike: Yosemite’s Half Dome.” He’ll have loaner poles for the 1-hour sessions, so you can experience the benefits of Nordic Walking. 1-hour classes will be held at 1 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm. They are $25 and pre-registration is required. Only 10 people per session. Call 775-828-1309 to book your spot now.