If you’re looking for a way to get a good whole body workout without having to increase the speed of your runs or hitting the gym, then Nordic walking is for you.
In this article, we introduce you to the basics of Nordic walking. You’ll learn the benefits of Nordic walking, how to do it correctly and how to choose the right Nordic walking sticks.
What is Nordic Walking?
Nordic walking, also known as Finnish Sauvakävely, is used by athletes and non-athletes alike as a method of whole-body fitness walking with specially designed walking sticks.
Unlike regular walking, Nordic walking involves the whole body by giving an extra boost in intensity to the arms, promoting higher energy consumption and an increase in upper muscular strength.
Though it was originally published as an off-season ski training back in 1979, a similar concept is widely used by backpackers and trekkers to improve balance, stability, and distribution of effort throughout the entire body for decades.
Benefits of Nordic Walking
Is Nordic walking better than walking as a fitness regimen? The short answer is yes! These are the advantages of Nordic walking compared to regular walking.
- Nordic walking involves the use of the entire body with greater intensity than walking alone
- Energy consumption is higher compared to regular walking
- It involves the development in the strength of functional muscles such as the chest, latissimus dorsi (the large muscle in your back), biceps, shoulder, and abdominals
- It increases the intensity of walking without increasing your perceived rate of exertion. This means that you get a better workout without feeling like exerting more effort or going faster
- Unlike running or jogging, Nordic walking is not too hard on the joints while still giving you a good calorie burn
Nordic walking provides an additional benefit not found in regular walking which is the increased muscular strength on the upper body. This increased the intensity and functionality of the fitness regimen.
In order to enjoy the benefits of Nordic walking, the right technique is essential. Carry on reading to learn how to do Nordic walking correctly.
How to Do Nordic Walking?
Contrary to what many people think, the purpose of Nordic walking is not to provide more balance and stability to people who have problems keeping balance or knee problems. Instead, it’s purpose is to increase workout intensity over a shorter period of time.
Proper Nordic walking is just like regular walking but with amplified use of the arms through the walking sticks.
Step-by-Step Guide to Nordic Walking
- Begin by putting your hands through the wrist straps while standing up straight with relaxed shoulders. Open your hand palms and hold the Nordic walking pole diagonally, pointing backward (as if you were about to drag it).
- As you swing your lead foot forward (let’s assume it’s the right leg), your left arm will naturally swing.
- Keep your hands loose and allow the stick to swing with your arms. Don’t grip the stick but make the straps to swing it forward.
- As you enter the heel strike phase of your walking (that is when your heel touches the ground), the tip of the sticks will naturally touch the ground at the same time.
- When that happens, grip the Nordic walking pole and use your arms to help propel yourself forward while still maintaining the diagonal position of the poles (the tip of the pole remains at the back of the foot).
- After that, your left arm will naturally swing back in preparation for the left leg swing phase.
- When that happens, relax your grip on the left arm and swing your left leg and right arms in the exact way you did with the opposite extremity.
- Repeat the steps over and over again until Nordic walking becomes your second nature.
It’s important to remember that when practicing Nordic walking, the shoulders should remain relaxed and the torso upright. This allows you to be more comfortable and have a better oxygen circulation throughout the body.
Keep the Nordic walking pole pointing backward and diagonal at all times, as if you were dragging it. A good indication that you’re doing it right is that the tip of the Nordic walking stick is always behind the lead foot. This keeps the poles in the best position to help propel you forward and increase your walking pace.
Like everything, practice will make you better. The more you do it, the better you become. Start by walking naturally with the stick, not focusing too much on the length and speed of your stride. Once you become proficient and the movement becomes your second nature, only then you can focus on walking faster.
Choosing the Right Nordic Walking Poles
Nordic walking poles come in different materials, grips, straps, tips and weight that embodies different qualities. Here are some criteria that you need to consider when choosing your Nordic walking sticks.
Aluminum and carbon are the most common materials used in Nordic walking sticks. Though one may not be superior to the other, they differ mostly on the shock absorption qualities and sturdiness.
- Aluminum – Usually more flexible and less brittle than carbon. They also conduct more vibrations to the arms which can get uncomfortable for longer walking durations. The best thing about the aluminum material is that they remain much cheaper.
- Carbon – More sturdy and absorbs shock more efficiently than aluminum. It’s best for more intensive walkers who walk for longer durations more frequently.
There are two main types of Nordic walking poles, the fixed and the adjustable.
- Fixed – The sturdiest, lightest, and most dependable type but is not very portable and non-adjustable. If you choose to go with fixed Nordic sticks, you have to choose the right length.
- Adjustable – Common for beginners, easy to store, and adjustable in length. However, they don’t absorb vibrations well, making it uncomfortable in your arms in the long run. This type, however, is preferable in uneven terrain such as trekking because you might need to adjust the length of the pole.
#3 Wrist Straps
Nordic walking relies on straps to swing the sticks forward. The strap may be fixed or detachable in a form of a gauntlet (strap with thumb loop) or single straps. Most Nordic walking sticks come with interchangeable tips. Soft and wide tips are usually made out of rubber and are often wide and soft while pointed tips are used in soft surfaces.
Most Nordic walking sticks come with interchangeable tips. Soft and wide tips are usually made out of rubber and are often wide and soft while pointed tips are used in soft surfaces.
There are three main types of grips: cork, elastomer and plastic grips.
- Cork – Provides more comfort and good grip. Absorbs perspirations of the hands.
- Elastomer – High gripping qualities
- Plastic – Cheapest but also the most uncomfortable to use in the long run.
The length criteria is applicable to fixed-length Nordic walking poles.
- Know your height in centimeters
- Multiply that by 0.68 (constant)
- Round down to the nearest 5cm
For example, my height is 167 cm (5″5 ft). I’ll multiply that by the constant 0.68 (167 cm x 0.68) which is equal to 113.56 cm. Then, I will round down to the nearest 5 cm. Therefore, the right stick for me is 110 cm (3″6 ft).
You can confirm that by doing an arm test where you’ll stand tall, place the Nordic walking pole vertically in front of you, elbows directly below the shoulder. If your wrist is slightly lower than your elbow, then that is the right stick for you.
Nordic walking sticks are relatively simple devices and although they differ a bit in weight, length, adjustability, materials, and straps, it all comes down to personal preference rather than getting an edge from the features.
Yes, some features may give you slight comfort over the other but choosing the desired weight, correct length, and an ideal ergonomic grip is the key to the best Nordic walking poles.
Nordic Walking Poles for Every Need
Which walking poles are most suitable for you largely depends on your personal preference and requirements. Here are a few factors that can help you make a decision.
How much storage space do you have?
Some Nordic sticks are adjustable and others have a fixed length. If you have to drive to a particular location to do your Nordic walk, then you might want to go with telescoping and collapsible Nordic sticks. But if you’re walking right across the street or want the best performance, then you could go with a fixed nordic stick.
What surface will you walk on?
When it comes to choosing the right poles, you should consider the surface of the ground you mostly walk on.
Some Nordic poles have soft and wide tips which are suitable for hard surfaces such as sidewalks, pavement, roads, and even hard dirt roads. The tip is often rubber which increases friction and shock absorption.
In contrast, pointed tip Nordic poles are best for soft surfaces such as sand, grass, muddy trails, and even snow. The pointed tip will penetrate soft surfaces which will provide greater traction.
Most Nordic poles, however, have an interchangeable tip making them suitable for soft and hard surfaces.
How often and how long will you use your walking sticks?
Some Nordic sticks are lighter and are much better shock absorbers than others which makes them more comfortable for longer durations and more frequent usage. But they also have a higher price tag.
In contrast, the cheaper and bit heavier alternatives which are made of aluminum are more flexible and affordable. That’s perfect for beginners who just want to ease themselves into walking or those who just go walking from times to times.
As a general rule, Nordic sticks made of a higher percentage of carbon are lighter, firmer, and produce fewer vibrations to your arms making them more comfortable in the long run. If you intend to go walking regularly, they are definitely worth the price.
Top Picks For Nordic Sticks
We’ve divided the list into beginners, intermediate and advanced users. The beginners are more entry level poles that costs way less and are perfect for those just starting and getting the feel for Nordic walking. That way, they don’t spend too much on poles they might not use.
Intermediate poles are more joint friendly and is made for those who wants to spend more time Nordic walking. They cost a little more than the cheaper options but you’re getting the right value for the price.
The advanced option guarantees maximum comfort and durability for more advanced users who spend a lot of time Nordic walking. These poles will most likely last you a lifetime.
Best for Beginners
TrailBuddy Lightweight Trekking Poles
The TrailBuddy is a trekking pole but can also be used for Nordic walking. It’s made of lightweight aluminum and features quick flip and lock adjustability. It comes with a carrying bag and multiple tips on every type of terrain. Overall, it’s a very versatile stick making it a great choice for beginners.
Retrospec Walking Sticks
York Nordic Shorter Length Travel Walking Poles
If you’re a beginner looking for a fixed length but a collapsible Nordic stick, this one is for you. The good thing about fixed-length poles is that they’re a little lighter and vibrates less than the adjustable ones. This stick is compact and is very easy to carry. Perfect for occasional Nordic walking when you’re travelling.
Best for Intermediate Users
Leki Spin Nordic Walking Sticks
If you’re looking for a Nordic pole to ease your way to the habit of Nordic walking, the Leki Spin offers great value for money. It’s adjustable and made of pure aluminum making it just right for intermediate walkers.
Fizan Aluminum Nordic Poles
The Fizan Aluminum Nordic Poles feature the proper balance between price and functionality. It’s made of a unique aluminum that keeps it light and helps reduce vibration (important to protect the joints). In addition, it’s adjustable. And it has a twist lock which is more durable than the flip lock. If you want to get a more reliable pole than those cheaper options without spending too much, this is the pole for you.
LEKI Traveller Aluminum Nordic Walking Poles
The Leki Traveller is designed for comfort. It has a cork handle that absorbs sweat better than other materials. Its shaft is made with high-grade aluminum and is adjustable to cater to different heights. In addition, it’s equipped with the latest Leki Trigger Shark 2.0 Frame Mesh Strap, designed for competitive skiers that will help you optimize your Nordic walking technique.
Best for Advanced Users
EXEL Urban Skier Nordic Walking Poles
This fixed-length Nordic stick is made of carbon fiber with a cork grip and a real ski walking strap patented by the Salomon ski company. It’s light, sturdy, and comfortable making it perfect for intensive walkers.
Exerstrider by Tom Rutlin OS-2 Walking Poles
If you’re looking forward to taking it up a notch and seriously get into Nordic walking more often, the Exerstrider walking poles are for you. It’s made for comfort and ergonomics making it perfect for advanced Nordic walking practitioners who tend to spend more time Nordic walking.
LEKI Micro Trail Vario Pole Pair
This stick has a perfect blend of aluminum and carbon fiber making it incredibly light and sturdy. Plus, it protects your joints from vibrations that are common with the cheaper options. It is perfect for more advanced users that go in uneven, muddy, or wet terrain. The only downside is that they cost way more than other options.