Hiking Tips

Nordic Walking 101: A Comprehensive Guide for Hikers

POSTED ON February 19, 2020 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Nordic walking, a full-body workout enhanced by the use of specially designed Nordic walking poles, is gaining momentum among health-conscious hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

This modern twist on traditional trekking offers an amalgamation of accessibility, health benefits, and the joy of experiencing nature. Whether you are a seasoned hiker looking to spice up your trail time or a fitness seeker intent on optimizing your outdoor exercise, Nordic walking might just be the perfect addition to your active lifestyle.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the fundamentals of Nordic walking, its myriad benefits, and tips on how to get started, all tailored for hiking aficionados.

Nordic Walking History

Nordic Walking

Nordic walking, as we know it today, had its humble beginnings in the early 20th century. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the concept started to take form. During this time, Finnish athletes, specifically cross-country skiers, trained off-season by walking with their poles, realizing it provided a similar level of exertion to skiing. This method spread by word of mouth and turned into what is now called Nordic walking.

However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Nordic walking began to evolve into a recreational activity accessible to a broader audience. The shift occurred when Finnish sports equipment manufacturer Exel introduced specially designed walking poles, enhancing the effectiveness and comfort of the activity. This innovation marked a significant turning point, leading to the formalization of Nordic walking as a distinct exercise modality, distinct from a training exercise for cross country skiing.

This form of exercise gained more structured development in the 1990s, spearheaded by individuals such as Marko Kantaneva. Kantaneva, a Finnish sports instructor, is often credited with coining the term “Nordic walking” and playing a significant role in formalizing its techniques. He wrote instructional materials that brought greater attention to the sport.

In 2000, the International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA) was established, further cementing Nordic walking’s status as a globally recognized form of exercise. Nordic walking transcended traditional walking, becoming a recognized fitness activity separate from normal walking.

With the creation of standardized techniques and training programs, Nordic walking gained traction beyond Finland and spread to other countries in Europe and around the world.

Slowly, the establishment of the International Nordic Walking Federation created standardized guidelines and instructor certification programs. As the benefits of Nordic walking became more widely recognized, the popularity of the sport surged, leading to the formation of Nordic walking clubs worldwide. These clubs helped popularize the sport beyond its Finnish roots and ensured it was not seen as merely a seasonal training activity for skiers anymore but as a full-fledged fitness pursuit.

Over the next two decades, millions embraced Nordic walking. Compared to normal walking, participants were drawn to the increased calorie burn, the reduced impact on joints, and the opportunity to exercise in nature.

The INWA, along with numerous national organizations, continues to promote the sport, with events and programs being organized regularly to introduce more people to Nordic walking.

As of 2023, Nordic walking is firmly established as a worldwide phenomenon, with equipment and training readily available, making it accessible to enthusiasts of all fitness levels.

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What is Nordic Walking?

Hikers in the mountains

Nordic walking, while similar to regular walking, has evolved into a standalone exercise with a loyal following. It involves the use of specially designed lightweight walking poles, similar to ski poles, to engage the upper body muscles, providing a more comprehensive workout compared to regular walking.

By utilizing specially designed trekking poles, enthusiasts can enhance their functional capacity, elevate their regular walking routine, and, as researchers found, potentially walk faster and with greater ease.

Ideally, it turns ordinary walking into a well-rounded workout.

Advantages of Nordic Walking?

Nordic walking elevates the simple act of walking into a comprehensive exercise that benefits the body and mind. Its rise in popularity is no surprise, given its universal appeal and the wide variety of health and lifestyle enhancements it offers.

Here, we’ll delve into the compelling reasons why individuals from all walks of life might consider picking up Nordic poles and stepping into this exhilarating form of fitness.

Whether seeking to improve cardiovascular health, tone muscles, or simply enjoy the outdoors, Nordic walking presents a persuasive case for being an integral part of anyone’s fitness regimen.

Enhanced Cardiovascular Fitness

The rhythmic arm and leg movements involved in Nordic walking increase heart rate more than regular walking, leading to improved cardiovascular endurance without markedly increasing perceived exertion.

Regular Nordic walking has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and improve cholesterol levels. It’s an excellent way to build up stamina, especially for long hikes in challenging terrain.

Full-Body Workout

Unlike traditional hiking, Nordic walking engages muscle groups, including the upper arms, shoulders, core, legs, and chest, combining lower-body movement with an upper-body routine that simulates the effects of a full-body workout. Research suggests that Nordic walking burns more calories by up to 20% compared to regular walking without poles.

Joint Support and Reduced Impact

The poles act as extensions of your body, helping to distribute energy and alleviate the impact on knee joints and the lower spine. This makes it especially beneficial for individuals looking to reduce the stress on their joints caused by conventional trekking or those recovering from injuries.

The use of poles helps distribute weight more evenly and provides stability, reducing strain on the knees, hips, and ankles. It is suitable for individuals with joint pain or arthritis.

Improved Posture and Balance

Regular practice of Nordic walking encourages a straighter posture and helps enhance core stability and balance.

This can have positive effects on overall body mechanics and reduce the risk of falls, especially in older adults. This is especially advantageous on the uneven terrain encountered while hiking.

Stress Reduction and Mental Well-being

Engaging in outdoor activities like Nordic walking has been linked to reduced stress levels, improved mood, and enhanced overall mental well-being. The rhythmic motion and connection with nature can promote relaxation and stress relief.

Versatility and Accessibility

Nordic walking can be adapted to suit individual fitness levels and preferences, making it accessible to people of all ages, fitness levels, and abilities.

Its ease of learning makes it an excellent choice for anyone seeking to augment their outdoor activities. It can be performed on various terrains, from paved sidewalks and city parks to rugged hiking trails, offering versatility and opportunities for exploration.

Getting Started with Nordic Walking

Nordic Walking

If you’re interested in giving Nordic walking a try, getting started is straightforward. Here are some tips to help you get going:

Choose the Right Nordic Walking Poles

When it comes to Nordic walking, selecting the correct poles is crucial for ensuring a comfortable, effective workout. Here’s an in-depth guide to help you choose the best Nordic walking poles for your needs:

  • Material: Nordic walking poles are typically made from either aluminum, carbon fiber, or composite materials. Aluminum poles are sturdy and cost-effective, making them suitable for beginners or casual walkers. Carbon fiber poles are lighter and absorb more of the vibration upon ground contact, making them ideal for more serious Nordic walkers or those with joint issues. However, they are usually more expensive.
  • Weight: Choose lightweight poles that are easy to swing and maneuver, especially for longer walks or higher-intensity workouts. However, balance weight with durability and stability to ensure the poles can withstand regular use without compromising performance.
  • Pole Length: The correct length of your poles is vital for maintaining proper walking posture. To determine the right pole height, your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle when you hold the poles with the tips touching the ground. You can use a fixed-length pole based on your height or opt for adjustable poles that can be tailored to your stride.
  • Grip and Strap: Choose poles with a good grip that feels comfortable in your hands, made from cork or rubber, to reduce slipping from sweat. The wrist strap is equally important; look for a strap that is easily adjustable and padded to avoid chafing and maintain control while transferring power from your arms to the poles.
  • Tips and Paws: The tips of Nordic poles need to provide traction and durability. Unlike most trekking poles, these poles come with removable rubber tips for use on hard surfaces like pavement or asphalt. For off-road or rough terrain, consider poles with carbide, tungsten, or steel tips for better grip and stability. Rubber paws are available for use on pavement or other hard surfaces. Some poles come with interchangeable tips for versatility.
  • Adjustability: Adjustable poles offer the benefit of being able to modify the length to suit different terrains or to be shared among users. However, make sure the locking mechanism is secure and reliable to prevent the pole from collapsing during use.
  • Shock Absorption: For those with joint issues or who want additional comfort, poles with shock absorption can take the strain off your arms and shoulders. Keep in mind, though, that shock-absorbing poles may not provide the same level of direct feedback as solid poles.

Tip: Always remember to wear comfortable, supportive footwear and dress in layers to account for exercise intensity and changing weather conditions. Also, learn more information about the Nordic walking poles here.

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Mastering Nordic Walking Techniques

Nordic Walking

Mastering the Nordic walking technique is essential to fully utilizing the health benefits and additional benefits this exercise offers.

  • Begin with shorter walks to familiarize yourself with the coordination between the poles and your stride.
  • Secondly, you must select the right equipment: lightweight Nordic poles with an ergonomic grip. Proper grip and wrist strap usage are also important aspects of the Nordic walking technique. The poles should have an ergonomic grip that fits comfortably in the hand, and the wrist straps should be adjusted to provide support without restricting movement. These poles provide a means to engage more muscles, turning your daily walk into an upper-body workout.

Procedure

The basic technique of Nordic walking involves planting the poles with each step and using the wrist straps to effectively transfer force. The arm should swing forward as the opposite leg steps forward, much like natural walking.

The use of shoulder muscles and upper body muscles in this coordinated movement helps Nordic walkers burn more calories. Moreover, this activity ensures good posture, as the act of reaching out with the poles encourages walkers to keep their backs straight and stride confidently.

For those who are using a walking stick for support, Nordic walking offers a balanced full-body exercise that fosters better stability on two feet and improves posture and joint support. An upper-body workout is achieved by actively pushing the poles against the ground with each step.

This increased engagement of upper body muscles elevates the heart rate more than conventional walking, leading to improved cardiovascular health. Moreover, as Nordic walkers use the proper technique and engage arm swinging with each step, they tend to walk faster and cover more distance with less perceived effort.

The joy of Nordic walking lies in its simplicity and the harmony it creates between a person and the natural rhythm of their body. For the first poles, select a pair that feels comfortable and use the right technique to experience the joy and health benefits.

Starting with a moderate amount of time and gradually increasing the duration can help incorporate this fulfilling exercise into your routine, enhancing balance, coordination, and overall well-being.

The poles should angle backward, not vertically, as in regular trekking. Push down on the pole grips as you walk, allowing your arms to naturally swing in opposition to your legs.

Check out these how-to videos produced by Nordixx Canada to guide you through the basic technique of setting your pole height and executing the proper Nordic walking technique.

Find a Certified Instructor

A qualified instructor can introduce you to the proper technique and provide valuable feedback as you learn. In addition, it’s essential to maintain the correct posture and arm movements to get the most out of Nordic walking. A qualified instructor can also help you perfect your form.

Set Your Pace

Start at a pace that allows you to maintain control and balance. As you become more comfortable with the poles, gradually increase your pace and the intensity with which you push off them. This will further engage your upper body and core muscles.

Wear comfortable shoes: While not required, wearing sturdy, good-fitting shoes with flexible soles can enhance your experience.

Incorporating Nordic Walking into Your Hiking Routine

  • Warm-Up with Nordic Walking: Start your hike with a Nordic walk to warm up your muscles, gradually building up to your usual hiking pace.
  • Interval Training: Alternate between brisk Nordic walking and regular walking or hiking to add interval training to your routine.
  • Challenging Terrains: Utilize the poles on inclines for added propulsion and on declines to reduce the impact on knees and joints.
  • Cross-Training: Complement your hiking with Nordic walking sessions to enhance endurance and overall fitness levels.

Nordic Walking: Embracing Safety and Maximizing Benefits

Nordic Walking

Safety is paramount to ensure an enjoyable and injury-free experience. However, to reap the full benefits and reduce the risk of injury, certain safety precautions should be adhered to.

Here are some essential safety tips to remember:

Warm-Up and Cool-Down Routines

Before setting out, it’s crucial to perform a thorough warm-up. This can involve dynamic stretches that mobilize the shoulders and get blood flowing to all the muscles used during Nordic walking, mimicking the motions of the exercise but without the poles. This prepares the body for the workout ahead. Similarly, a cool-down routine with static stretches helps in the gradual recovery of the muscles and prevents post-exercise stiffness.

Choosing the Right Terrain and Weather Conditions

Optimal terrain for Nordic walking challenges stability without risking injury, such as clear, even paths that are free from significant hazards. In terms of weather, mild and dry conditions are ideal to maintain a good grip on the ground. Telescoping poles or hiking poles with adjustable lengths and durable tips can adapt to multiple terrains and conditions. Always check the forecast to avoid extreme weather, which could make the surface slippery and increase the risk of falling.

Surrounded by Awareness

Being aware of your surroundings is essential during Nordic walking, especially if you’re sharing the trail with others. Stay mindful of potential hazards like uneven surfaces, overhanging branches, or loose stones, keeping both feet firmly planted with each stride.

Hydration and Nutrition

For longer Nordic walks, maintaining hydration is key. Carry water and consider sports drinks that replace electrolytes on warmer days. Nutritional snacks like energy bars or fruit can keep your energy levels stable. In the realm of sports science, proper hydration and nutrition are pivotal for maintaining endurance and preventing muscle fatigue.

Incorporating these safety tips can ensure that Nordic walking remains a safe and effective exercise sport for people of all ages.

Conclusion

Nordic walking is more than just an exercise fad; it offers a unique way to reinvigorate your hiking hobby and fitness regimen.

Researchers have found that Nordic walking can increase heart rate and calorie burn by up to 20% compared to regular walking, making it an excellent option for those looking to maximize the health benefits of their daily walk. Additionally, it helps improve balance and stability by providing additional support on uneven ground.

With the added benefits of a full-body workout, improved posture, and reduced joint impact, it’s an activity well worth exploring and an effective form of exercise for maintaining overall health and well-being.

Check out our Hiking Tips archive page for more tips to boost your hiking experience.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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