Nordic Walking Disadvantages: Should You Replace It With Another Workout?

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Although there are certainly many debates in the exercise and health realms, one thing that is almost universally accepted as fact is that walking is great for your health.

But what about Nordic walking?

Are there benefits of Nordic walking, or do Nordic walking disadvantages outweigh the potential benefits?

In this article, we will discuss Nordic walking disadvantages and benefits and whether the downsides of Nordic walking outweigh the perks. We will also share tips to improve the effectiveness and safety of your Nordic walking workouts.

We will cover: 

  • What Is Nordic Walking?
  • Benefits Of Nordic Walking
  • 6 Nordic Walking Disadvantages

Let’s dive in! 

A Nordic walking sign.

What Is Nordic Walking?

Before we get into the potential Nordic walking disadvantages, it’s helpful to answer the requisite question, “What is Nordic walking?”

After all, unlike regular walking, many people are entirely unfamiliar with Nordic walking since it is a relatively new fitness craze unless you live in the Scandinavian region.

Nordic walking is basically fitness walking that incorporates the use of tall walking poles, which are sometimes informally 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.

Although some people relate Nordic walking to cross-country skiing (also called Nordic skiing) without the skis, the actual gait patterns of the two sports are different because Nordic walking uses the exact same stride as standard walking over any terrain.

In contrast, cross-country skiing uses more of a gliding or sliding stride along the snow instead of lifting up and then planting the feet.

With that said, the use of poles and the common area of origin for both sports (Finland) are indeed areas of overlap between Nordic walking and cross-country skiing. 

With that said, Nordic walking poles are shorter than cross-country ski poles and have a special fingerless glove-like insert for your hand to enhance grip.

A group of people Nordic walking.

Benefits of Nordic Walking 

As a form of walking, there are many benefits of Nordic walking. 

Walking has been associated with numerous physical and mental health benefits, including increasing aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health, strengthening legs, decreasing the risk of lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, helping manage weight, and improving mental health by elevating mood and decreasing stress and anxiety.

Additionally, by requiring you to pump your arms more vigorously and plant your walking poles with each stride to propel yourself, Nordic walking burns more calories and utilizes more muscle groups than standard walking without poles.

For this reason, Nordic walking is a total-body workout that better activates the core, shoulders, arms, chest, and upper back relative to normal walking with a typical open-arm swing.

It’s also an effective way to improve your aerobic capacity or VO2 max, and studies suggest that Nordic walking is an effective way to improve functional fitness in older adults.

An older person Nordic walking.

6 Nordic Walking Disadvantages

Although there are many benefits, there are also some Nordic walking disadvantages.

When trying to decide if Nordic walking is the right type of exercise for you, it is important to weigh the pros and cons in the context of your own fitness and health needs.

Nordic walking disadvantages include the following:

#1: Nordic Walking Requires Proper Technique

We all know how to walk, but once you add in the use of Nordic walking poles, the exercise suddenly becomes a little more complicated.

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.

Using the walking poles with Nordic walking isn’t just a matter of lightly planting your poles as you casually swing your arms; rather, you should be pumping your arms vigorously and planting your poles with conviction in a way that augments propulsion and helps you walk faster and more powerfully.

Mastering the proper Nordic walking technique can definitely take a little bit of practice, but most people are able to find a comfortable rhythm and get used to the feeling of really activating the upper body and planting walking poles in a purposeful way.

A person Nordic walking.

#2: Form Mistakes Can Increase the Risk of Injuries

Using proper form with Nordic walking doesn’t just ensure you are maximizing the effectiveness of the workout, but it’s also important for reducing the risk of injuries.

One of the common Nordic walking technique mistakes is forgetting to lean forward slightly with the trunk, which ends up altering posture and disrupting your balance.

Additionally, many people mistakenly bend their elbows when pushing backward on the poles to propel themselves forward, which can strain the lower back.

Your arms should be as straight as possible, as this not only better activates the muscles in your core and back but ensures that your spine is well stabilized.

#3: Nordic Walking Costs More Money

There are arguably few to no exercises that have a lower barrier of entry than walking. With just a basic pair of good shoes, you can walk almost anywhere and get a good workout.

To really reap the benefits of Nordic walking, you should invest in good Nordic walking poles, which can be expensive.

A person holding Nordic walking poles.

Of course, you can do Nordic walking with walking sticks that you find in the wilderness, but walking sticks will lack some of the advantages of actual Nordic walking poles, such as a comfortable, ergonomic hand grip.

Moreover, experts say that using proper Nordic walking poles is important because they are designed to have a certain angle when they are planted as you walk, which helps support proper posture and Nordic walking technique.

Nordic walking poles are typically shorter than ski poles and have special straps on the handles through which you can insert your fingers, sort of like fingerless gloves. 

It’s important to use Nordic walking poles that are of the proper height for your height so that you don’t end up slouching or hyperextending your back.

Proper Nordic walking poles can cost upwards of a couple of hundred dollars, although you can typically find much cheaper walking poles in the neighborhood of $20-$50.

Even more so than with regular walking, having proper footwear is also crucial with Nordic walking due to the fact that you are walking at a brisk pace.

Your feet should be supported in a flexible yet cushioned and supportive walking or running shoe that optimizes your walking gait based on your biomechanics.

A person trying to scratch their head while holding poles.

#4: Your Hands Are Tied Up

One of the disadvantages of walking sticks is that your hands are tied up, so it can be difficult to multitask during your workouts in the way that you might during regular fitness or leisure walks.

For example, unless you’re going to use a hands-free leash, it can be difficult to simultaneously walk your dog, and it won’t be possible to text on your phone or do other sorts of activities that require the use of your hands.

Additionally, you will need to pack your Nordic walking poles and tote them along with you wherever you want to go for your workouts. 

This isn’t an issue if you are just walking from your front door or have a car, but if you are traveling some other way to your walking destination, this can become a viable hassle.

Nordic walking poles and a backpack.

#5: Nordic Walking Can Be Hard With Arthritis 

One of the disadvantages of walking sticks is that using them requires dexterity and hand mobility.

If you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis that affects your fingers and hands, Nordic walking can be quite uncomfortable. You have to grip the walking poles, which can cause pain and inflammation for those with arthritis.

#6: The Risk of Tripping Can Increase

Although Nordic walking has the potential to improve balance and stability by adding support to the upper body, there’s also a high risk of tripping for some.

If you are focusing too much on planting your poles in an optimal position that you neglect spotting safe footing, it’s certainly possible to stumble and fall, twist an ankle, or otherwise trip on something.

Despite Nordic walking disadvantages, most people agree that the benefits of Nordic walking outweigh the drawbacks. 

However, if you have concerns or certain medical conditions that may alter the safety and efficacy of the exercise for you, it’s important to discuss best practices for Nordic walking with your healthcare provider before giving it a go.

To focus more on the benefits, check out our article detailing the pros of Nordic walking.

People Nordic walking.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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