Many people assume that exercise needs to involve some sort of vigorous activity and/or an expensive exercise machine like an indoor cycle, treadmill, or elliptical.
While cardio exercise machines and high-intensity workouts certainly have their merits, you can also get a fantastic workout and improve your health just by walking.
Walking increases your aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health, strengthens the legs, decreases blood pressure, and improves mental health by elevating your mood and decreasing stress and anxiety.
But what about Nordic walking specifically? Are there Nordic walking benefits to reap?
In this article, we will discuss Nordic walking benefits, the disadvantages of Nordic walking that outweigh the perks, and tips to improve the effectiveness and safety of your Nordic walking workouts.
We will cover:
- What Is Nordic Walking?
- 6 Nordic Walking Benefits
- Drawbacks Of Nordic Walking
- Tips for Nordic Walking
Let’s dive in!
What Is Nordic Walking?
Before we get into the specific Nordic walking benefits and drawbacks, it’s helpful to answer the requisite question, “What is Nordic walking?”
After all, depending on where you live in the world and the type of exercise you gravitate towards, you might be entirely unfamiliar with Nordic walking.
Nordic walking is essentially fitness walking that incorporates the use of tall walking poles, sometimes colloquially referred to as walking sticks.
The pace during a Nordic walking workout is usually a brisk walk, with the goal of increasing heart rate and caloric expenditure.
By requiring you to pump your arms more vigorously and plant your walking poles with each stride, a Nordic walking workout typically burns more calories and utilizes more muscle groups than standard walking without poles.
In this way, Nordic walking is a total-body workout that increases the activation of the core muscles, shoulders, arms, chest, and upper back relative to normal walking with a typical open-arm swing.
Although some people relate Nordic walking to cross-country skiing without the skis, the actual motions of the two sports are different.
Nordic walking uses the exact same gait pattern as standard walking over any terrain.
Cross-country skiing is more of a gliding or sliding stride along the snow, such that your ski boot and ski are always in contact with the ground rather than lifted up and planted back down.
With that said, the use of poles and the similarity of the poles for Nordic walking and cross-country skiing (also called Nordic skiing) is indeed indicative of an overlap between these two sports. Plus, both Nordic walking and Nordic skiing originated in Finland, hence their names.
With that said, Nordic walking poles are shorter than cross-country ski poles and have a special fingerless glove-like insert for your hand.
6 Nordic Walking Benefits
There are many benefits of Nordic walking, including the following:
#1: Nordic Walking Is a Great Form of Aerobic Exercise
Like any form of walking, Nordic walking is an excellent form of aerobic exercise because it increases your heart rate, which strengthens your heart and lungs, improves cardiovascular health, and decreases blood pressure.
Regularly performing Nordic walking workouts can improve your aerobic capacity, VO2 max, which, in turn, can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.
#2: Nordic Walking Strengthens Your Muscles
Even regular walking strengthens the muscles in your legs, such as your glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quads, especially if you do incline walking.
Additionally, because Nordic walking is a full-body workout due to the use of walking poles, one of the great Nordic walking benefits is that it uses nearly every major muscle in your body.
By planting your walking poles and swinging your arms more purposely, Nordic walking increases the reliance on your deltoids in the shoulders, biceps and triceps in your arms, pectoral muscles in the chest, and the muscles in your back including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and rhomboids.
You’ll also get a much better core workout with Nordic walking because you are actively enhancing the reciprocal pattern between your arms and legs.
In fact, according to Harvard Health, Nordic walking engages 80% to 90% of your muscles, as opposed to 50% with standard walking.
#3: Nordic Walking Burns More Calories Than Regular Walking
Due to the fact that Nordic walking uses more muscles than regular walking, and it tends to be done at a brisk walking pace, Nordic walking can burn significantly more calories than regular walking.
For example, according to Harvard Health, Nordic walking burns 18% to 67% more calories than regular walking without poles.
#4: Nordic Walking May Reduce Back Pain
Studies suggest that using walking poles for Nordic walking may potentially reduce the severity of low back pain.
Walking with walking poles can help offset some of the load on the lower body while simultaneously activating the core muscles and promoting optimal, upright posture, both of which can alleviate stress and strain on the back.
#5: Nordic Walking Can Be Safer
For people with balance issues, Nordic walking can actually be a safer alternative to regular walking because using walking poles can aid stability and support.
For this reason, Nordic walking can be a great form of exercise for older adults who may lack some stability and may also not tolerate high-impact activities well due to arthritis or joint pain.
Indeed, studies suggest that Nordic walking is an effective way to improve functional fitness in older adults.
#6: Nordic Walking Can Be Fun
The inclusion of walking sticks with Nordic walking can add just enough variety to the exercise that it makes walking feel more novel and fun.
Nordic Walking Disadvantages
Although there are many benefits of Nordic walking, there are also some potential disadvantages.
The primary disadvantages of Nordic walking compared to regular walking are that you need to purchase and use proper Nordic walking poles, it can take time to learn the proper technique, and your hands are tied up during the exercise.
Nordic walking poles can range anywhere from $20-$200, so it’s a bit more of a financial investment than basic walking workouts.
It can take some time to learn the proper Nordic walking technique, and there’s definitely a degree of coordination that comes into play that regular walking doesn’t necessitate.
Failing to use the proper form can reduce the effectiveness of the workout and potentially increase your risk of injuries.
For example, if you aren’t pumping your arms vigorously and planting your poles firmly into the ground, you won’t recruit as many upper body and core muscles, which will reduce your caloric expenditure.
As another example, if you are not keeping your core tight and hinging slightly forward at the hips, you may strain your lower back.
Therefore, taking the time to learn proper Nordic walking form and technique is important to the safety and efficacy of your workouts.
Lastly, because your hands are gripping onto your Nordic walking sticks, you’re unable to use them for any other purpose during your walk.
This can make it challenging to hold a leash, drink water, access something on your phone, etc.
6 Tips for Nordic Walking
Here are some Nordic walking tips to improve the effectiveness and safety of your walks:
#1: Learn Proper Nordic Walking Technique
As mentioned, using proper form with Nordic walking is important for both maximizing the effectiveness of the workout and reducing the risk of injuries.
If you do not have access to a knowledgeable personal trainer, coach, or experienced Nordic walker, it can be really helpful to watch some videos online to learn the proper Nordic walking technique.
Nordic walking form is mostly the same as regular walking, but it’s really important to lean slightly forward with your trunk by hinging at the hip.
This improves your foot strike pattern and forward momentum by shifting your center of mass and the trajectory of your foot.
It also helps activate the core muscles, which reduces the stress and strain on the lower back.
Your chest should be up and proud, glutes engaged, and gaze straight ahead.
#2: Use Your Poles
Using the walking poles with Nordic walking should be purposeful and powerful rather than passive and light.
Vigorously pump your arms and firmly plant your walking poles into the ground as you walk rather than lightly tapping them in front of your body as you swing your arms like you do during regular walking.
Think of your arms like a powerful engine, driving you forward and pulling your body up to the point where you planted your walking pole.
#3: Keep Your Arms Straight
Make sure to keep your arms as straight as possible when you are pushing back on the pole as you progress forward.
Keeping your arms straight better activates the muscles in your core and back and helps ensure that your spine is well stabilized.
#4: Get the Right Poles
Many beginner Nordic walkers assume that any old walking sticks or walking poles will work well for Nordic walking.
Although there’s nothing wrong with trying out your first few walks with a basic ski pole that you might have around your house, if you are going to be doing Nordic walking regularly, it’s essential to invest in proper Nordic walking poles.
Nordic walking poles are designed to have a certain angle when they are planted as you walk, which helps support proper posture and Nordic walking technique, and have special straps on the handles through which you can insert your fingers, sort of like fingerless gloves.
#5: Use a Pedometer
A pedometer or fitness watch can be a great way to keep track of the distance that you walk.
Additionally, if you can afford it, a heart rate monitor will give you insight into the intensity of your Nordic walking workouts, as well as the number of calories you burn.
#6: Enlist a Friend
You might feel a little self-conscious about walking with poles around your neighborhood, but there’s no better way to feel more comfortable than to have company.
Recruiting a friend, family member, or neighbor to walk with you is not only a great way to forget that you might look a little bit strange walking with poles but also to have some companionship, laughs, motivation, and accountability.
Exercising together is always a blast. For a specific training plan on how to get started walking in general, check out our 5k walking guide to get going today!