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This article is evidence-based, verified by Blake Conner, Certified Strength, and Conditioning Specialist.
One of the most commonly used forms of physical activity is walking. It’s a sure-fire way to increase your physical fitness, caloric burn, and even mood. Many beginners or seniors know to start by just walking some every day. It’s not super intense and provides benefits.
However, there is another way that someone can receive more benefits than walking.
Nordic walking is a low impact way of increasing your physical fitness even further than just walking.
What is Nordic Walking?
Nordic walking is skiing on foot, with sticks similar to skis or even a high-quality hiking stick. You have one in both hands and use them to push and pull as you walk. You can increase the rate that you are moving and exert more energy into the act of actually walking.
It started as a way for skiers to practice during the offseason when there was no snow. Nordic walking was a great way for them to keep their cardiovascular health high, and even maintain the proper muscle mass needed to ski.
Hikers and trail walkers have also been using this method for a long time. However, instead of two sticks, they had one. They would still use the stick to help propel them forward, very similar to how Nordic walking is performed.
A second stick was introduced to make this a more fitness-based activity. There are even specialized sticks that are marketed just for use in this activity. Tons of people have started to practice this, and you can see them doing so in groups. It has become a sport of its own.
Nordic walking is perfect for people over the age of 60 years old because it is a very low-impact form of exercise. The sticks provide tons of support in the balance as well. Many seniors miss the ability to run or perform some sort of intense training, and this is one way in which they can still feel physically challenged.
There are Nordic walking competitions as well. The sport even has a World Cup! Nordic walking can be a race, and the competitors are competing to be the first one to cross the finish line.
Whether you are doing this activity as a form of exercise or as a form of competition, it is a great way to stay active. The movement has snowballed in popularity and is quite common now.
What are the Benefits of Nordic Walking?
Nordic walking comes with plenty of benefits. It just depends on what you are attempting to accomplish. You may be wanting only to be active, or even get in serious shape. Either way, some benefits fit within those goals with Nordic walking.
The entire body is engaged when you are Nordic walking. You are using your lower body to propel yourself. Still, you are also using your upper body to push and pull yourself in a particular direction. With this type of muscle involvement, you are going to be burning a ton of calories.
We know that if you are looking to lose some weight or get into better shape, that burning more calories is a great place to start, this is why normal walking is excellent for beginners. Just this increase in burned calories can be of benefit.
Now, if you need more than that, Nordic walking is perfect. Again, you are using way more calories due to the increases in intensity that come with the full-body involvement.
As stated, you are using a ton of different muscles when you are doing Nordic walking. These include the chest muscles, lats, triceps, biceps, legs, shoulders, and core muscles.
That’s a lot going on! With that being said, you are going to be getting stronger in those areas. This may lead you to grow some muscle mass if your nutrition is in line with that. These benefits are super important as you age. When the body gets older, sometimes muscle mass and strength can be lost. This is due partly to the aging process, but also because many seniors aren’t active.
So, if you were to get out there become fitter using Nordic walking, you would benefit from the muscle stimulation. With Nordic walking being so low impact, it is perfect for someone 60 years or older who is looking to preserve or even gain some muscle mass.
In addition to all of the muscle strength that is built, cardiovascular strength is also developed. This is a very cardio-dominant activity. You’re keeping your heart rate at a higher and sustained level for the duration of the event.
This helps to not only strengthen the heart but increase the overall health of the heart itself. As most know, heart health becomes increasingly important as we age. If the heart isn’t strengthened, issues can arise. Many seniors are on blood pressure medicine due to heart issues. This is an activity that may help to reduce the problem at hand.
By utilizing the walking sticks that are used in Nordic walking, a better sense of balance can be achieved. That may sound counterintuitive; however, think about what is happening. Most seniors lose balance due to stability loss in the small muscles.
As they are using the sticks to walk with some intensity, those muscles are getting used. They’re getting more robust in these hard to reach areas. Now, that leads someone to have a better ability to balance even without the sticks. So, seniors can use this as a benefit.
As you can see, there are plenty of benefits when it comes to Nordic walking. It’s a safe way for someone in a later stage of life to burn calories, build muscle, better their balance, and increase their cardiovascular strength.
What is the Correct Nordic Walking Technique?
The technique when performing Nordic walking is very similar to your usual walk. It can be thought of as “enhanced walking.” You are controlled by the stride of the arms versus the pace of the legs.
You walk at the cadence of how far you are striding out the arm for the movement. If you are over-extending with the arms, you are going to be pulling a lot hard with the upper body and catching up with the legs. If you are going with shorter strides, you may be able to produce more power and have a more explosive walk. It depends on the pace that you are trying to maintain in your step.
Regarding the stick angle, they should always be pointed behind you as you walk. For example, if you were to view a Nordic walker from a side angle, you would notice that the sticks never point forward, but are always at a backward angle.
This allows for the rod to be gripped to the ground and pushed or pulled. If the angle were to get outside of the body, there would be no leverage on the stick even to use it properly.
The upper body should never be in an overly flexed position, either. The shoulders should be slightly relaxed as you walk. There will be times when you want to use the upper body more to increase the speed or intensity of the walk. However, this is not how you should maintain at the shoulder.
The handles for most poles have a hand strap attached. The point of this is to keep you from having to use a hardcore grip as you walk. The straps increase the usability of the poles by increasing the ease of use.
It’s a lot simpler on the shoulder and arms to be able to relax somewhat as you pace your walk. Remember, the trail doesn’t have to be all out at all times, and the majority of it should be at a manageable pace for you.
When considering the technique for how even to walk, you should be going from heel to toe. So, as you walk, you are going to take some strides. These strides should end with a heel landing, followed by a rolling of the foot into the toe. This is a natural motion and will provide you with the smoothest transition as you walk!
What is the Difference Between Nordic Walking and Hiking?
There is one MAJOR difference being the number of sticks. Most hiking is done with one stick. It may be a wooden one that was found or one that was professionally crafted from aluminum. Either way, there is typically only one used when hiking. The same methods apply for the technique and how it is done, but it’s more one-sided.
As stated previously, Nordic walking utilizes two sticks. They are specially made for this type of walking as well. This allows for more balanced as well as more force to be exerted. Thus, the Nordic walker may be able to walk a little faster than a hiker.
Hiking is also done on trails for the most part, whereas Nordic walking may be done on pavement or more level ground. The idea of the hiking stick is to prevent slipping or falling, whereas the Nordic sticks are used to move faster and with more intensity.
The make of the actual stick is different too. There is the old school walking stick made from wood that some hikers may use, but there is also a more modern stick that is made. The contemporary hiking stick has a telescopic design.
This means that it can be compacted for more accessible transportation. It can easily just fit into a pocket on a bag. The Nordic sticks are a little more rigid. They don’t typically have the telescopic design, and this is so that they be used with a bit of intensity. They won’t move at all and can withstand the hard use.
Can You Lose Weight Nordic Walking?
You can 100% lose weight practicing Nordic walking. As previously stated, this type of physical activity is excellent for increasing the number of calories that you are burning within a day. This helps to create what we call a caloric deficit. This happens when you are burning more calories than you are eating. This is possible when you increase your physical activity.
As you do Nordic walking, you are also gaining some muscle mass. With this new muscle mass, the body becomes a little more efficient. Having more muscle makes you burn more fat in the long run, which can, therefore, lead to even more calories burned in your day.
This is due to an increase in your resting metabolism, which leads to more calories being consumed by the body.
Now, at first, this is great for some people. It’s a new stimulus, so the results may come quickly and then stop. This is where your nutrition will come into play. The old saying is that you can never out-train a bad diet, and that has never been so true.
You are going to want to consume a diet that is rich with whole foods versus processed foods. This will help to provide you with the proper nutrients while also not over-consuming calories. You can’t expect to eat pizza and cookies, Nordic walk, and lose weight. Those things won’t add up, and you won’t feel very well.
How Do You Start Nordic Walking?
It is recommended that you build up some sort of base for Nordic walking. It isn’t suggested to just jump right in. This can be done by normal walking first. Start small and work your way up into something a little more challenging.
For example, you may start by walking 2 miles every other day. From there, you work up to 3 miles, and then 4 miles, and so on. Once you feel ready and able to move into something a little more intense, you can start working towards Nordic walking.
First, you are going to want to buy the sticks that you need. Make sure that you get the right ones for you, but most of them are pretty standard. There are actually communities in most places that support Nordic walking. You could start by finding a local Facebook group of Nordic walkers and join with them.
If you are more into solo walking, then you could map yourself a track and go from there. However, Nordic walking does have a reputation for being a very sociable activity. Mainly because you can hold a conversation as you do it. This is especially important for senior populations as there tends to be a level of isolation that can happen as you age. Social interactions are essential for any stage of life.
Starting on a flat terrain may be smart at first, just so that the body becomes accustomed to the change in pace. This can be done on a track, maybe at a local public park.
Set yourself a distance and find an appropriate speed. Again, you don’t have to go as fast as you can the first time. Take some time to get the form down and feel out what works best for you.
Once you somewhat have a feel for the walking, you could get a coach or instructor who can show you how to utilize the walking sticks properly. This will ensure that you are doing everything correctly and won’t risk any type of injury. There are online courses for this as well that show you how to do everything step-by-step.
Nordic walking is an excellent form of exercise, a great hobby, or even a sport. It takes normal walking and enhances it to bring about multiple benefits. It’s an excellent activity for seniors to stay active and healthy. Some of the benefits include extra calories burned, muscle gain, muscle preservation, strength gain, better balance, and enhanced cardiovascular strength. All of which are very important as you age.
It varies from hiking in many ways, but mostly the differences are in the equipment. The sticks are made explicitly for Nordic walking, and this is to benefit the walker.
It’s relatively simple to get started with Nordic walking. Ideally, you build some base level of fitness before starting, just to be safe. From there, getting an instructor to show you the proper way of walking will prove very beneficial. Various groups do Nordic walking together as it is a very social activity. I recommend trying to find one on either Facebook or with a simple Google search.
As you progress into your walking, you may even consider competing in a race!
Get some sticks and get to walking!
Blake Conner is a nutritionist who graduated from Mississippi State University. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA, as well as a certified nutrition coach through Precision Nutrition. Blake runs his own remote nutrition coaching business to help people become the best versions of themselves.