How Nordic Walking Can Up Your Fitness Game

No snow necessary.

by Natalia Lusinski
Originally Published: 
Nordic walking utilizes your arms as you push and pull.
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You may know that walking has a lot of health benefits — including improving your mood, energy levels, and muscle strength — but have you ever tried Nordic walking? In short, it is more intense than your average walk, since you walk with poles as though you’re cross-country skiing … but there needn’t be snow involved (although it is said to have originated as a summer training regimen for cross-country skiers).

“Nordic walking can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels,” Michael Jones, movement and mobility specialist, and founder of Mobility 101, tells TZR in an email. “Unlike regular walking, it requires the use of poles, which help to propel the walker forward and provide additional support. The poles also give you more upper-body workouts, engaging your shoulders, arms, and core.”

Like traditional walking, Nordic walking still activates muscle groups below the waist, too. “You’re engaging 80% to 90% of your muscles, as opposed to 50% [engaged during regular walking], providing a substantial calorie-burning benefit,” Cardiologist Aaron Baggish told Harvard Health Publishing. He adds that “You’re much more stable when you use poles, because you have more ground contact points and you’re not relying on two feet alone.”

Ahead, fitness experts explain how you can get started with Nordic walking anytime and anywhere.


How To Do Nordic Walking

According to the Nordic Academy, there are a few things to keep in mind when Nordic walking. First, walk naturally, keeping your shoulders relaxed and down with your upper body slightly forward. Like with cross-country skiing, your arms and legs will move alternately — so when your right foot is in front, so is your left hand; when your left foot is in front, so is your right hand. Unlike regular walking, the Nordic variety requires longer strides, so you’re sure to roll the foot from the heel to the ball as you do so. The poles will then help push your body forward past the pole.

Although there are various Nordic walking techniques — wherein you walk faster or swing your arms more — there are some that are more common than others. If you’re feeling up to a challenge, you can try double-poling, when you have both poles in front of you, pulling yourself forward every two steps or so. But many people start out single-poling, wherein you use one pole at a time (again, think cross-country skiing, and how your arms and legs move in opposite directions from one another). Like with anything, the more you practice Nordic walking — whether you watch a YouTube video, join a Nordic walking group, or just practice on your own or with a friend — the more you’ll get the hang of it and the easier it’ll become.

Health Benefits Of Nordic Walking

“Nordic walking is a form of cardio, and because it’s a weight-bearing activity, it also helps to strengthen bones and muscles,” says Jones. “Plus, studies have shown that Nordic walking can help increase bone density in postmenopausal women, which is important because bone loss increases the risk of fractures.” In addition to helping strengthen your bones and muscles, Jones says other health benefits of Nordic walking include elevating your mood and mental health, helping to reduce the risk of falls by improving balance and coordination, and reducing pain and stiffness while improving your range of motion.

“Nordic walking has all of the normal benefits of cardiovascular exercise,” Dr. Dave Candy, physical therapist and owner of More 4 Life, tells TZR in an email. “These include improved blood pressure and cholesterol; the ability to better control blood sugar; weight management; and helping to manage and reduce anxiety, depression, and stress.”

Ivory Howard, MPH, certified yoga and Pilates instructor, adds that Nordic walking is good for your heart, too. “A recent study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found that Nordic walking can play an important role in heart health and quality of life,” she tells TZR in an email. “Over the course of 12 weeks, participants with heart disease saw significant improvements in physical fitness, quality of life, and depression symptoms. Regular exercise is key to avoid preventable chronic diseases, like heart disease.”

She adds that most of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States are directly linked to a lack of physical activity. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 53.3% of adults meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity,” she says. “And only 23.2% of adults meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.”

Why You Should Try Nordic Walking

“If you are looking for a fun, easy way to get some moderate exercise, then Nordic walking is definitely for you,” says Jones. He also says varying up your exercise routine helps when it comes to targeting other muscle groups. And it’ll help prevent you from getting bored by doing the same routine day in and day out. “Let’s face it, doing the same workout daily can get pretty dull,” he says. “Mixing things up will help keep you motivated and excited about working out.”

Candy agrees, saying cross-training is always a good idea. “For one, it helps prevent burnout and keeps your exercise routine from getting ‘stale,’” he says. “Plus, every type of exercise uses your muscles in a different way. Even though you get upper body [work] with Nordic walking, it's more of an endurance exercise for your upper body, and lifting weights for strength would still be beneficial.” He adds that other forms of cardiovascular exercise, such as biking, also work your quadriceps to a greater extent than walking or Nordic walking. “Nordic walking is a great [workout], but there's no one type of exercise that meets all of your fitness needs,” he says.

Howard adds that Nordic walking workouts can be effective in that they’re convenient and require little prep. “They require very little time, making these workouts accessible for more adults to workout consistently, remain active for a lifetime, and prevent (or manage) chronic diseases,” he says.

If you’re interested in exploring Nordic walking, you first need the main piece of equipment — the poles. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

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