stronger. Nordic Walking opens up the chest and hips and strengthens muscles on the back side. It’s just an all-around great exercise.” Claire Walter, Boulder resident and author of Nordic Walking: The Complete Guide To Health, Fitness, And Fun agrees. “It’s a full body workout,” she says. “Using the poles engages your pecs, shoulders, and back in addition to your legs. And Nordic Walking carries a caloric burn bonus. Depending on how fast you walk, whether it’s uphill and how aggressively you use your poles, you can burn 20–45 percent more (than walking without poles) because you’re using more muscles.” Walter cites research to back up the fitness benefit claims. In 2000, the Cooper Institute studied people walking the same distance at the same speed with and without poles. They determined that Nordic Walking increased the heart rate by ten beats per minute, increased oxygen consumption by twenty percent, and could burn up to 46 percent more calories than walking without poles. Much of this is due to pole usage engaging more muscle mass. Bank adds that Nordic walkers don’t feel like they’re working any harder using poles than walking without them. “The perceived exertion is less than the reality,” she says. “If you put a heart rate monitor on while using the poles, you can see that your heart rate is higher than you think.” In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, using the poles with proper form can reduce impact on knees and hips, counteract compression of the discs in the spine and strengthen back muscles. All of this helps with posture and balance. Walking with poles can also help people with osteoporosis, obesity, or who are rehabbing an injury. “My mom had double knee replacements,” says Bank. “She just used poles and walked really slowly. But she rehabbed so much faster.” Bank cautions that poles would be contraindicated for people with extreme balance issues, heart problems or those who’ve had recent upper body surgery.
On the other end of the spectrum, very fit athletes can use Nordic poles for jogging, skipping, bounding uphill, interval drills, or plyometric jumps. Nordic Walking poles differ from hiking/trekking poles in that the removable rubber booties or “paws” covering the tips are slanted to better grip the pavement as you walk. Most hiking poles telescope, while some Nordic Walking poles are one length. A good pair of telescoping Nordic poles with removable paws could be adjusted for hiking use as well. Prices can run anywhere from around $30 at Costco for a low end version, to nearly $200 online for higher quality models. Some Nordic pole brands, like Leki, Exel and Swix, have straps, which secure the poles to your wrists and enable you to lightly grip the poles. Others, like Exerstrider, have no straps. Bank advocates the strapless poles for users with balance and posture issues and those who don’t like feeling strapped in. She recommends straps for people with arthritic hands or fingers and for long distance walkers. If you’re choosing the non-telescoping poles, both Bank and Walter advise getting fitted by an instructor or sales person. Proper form and technique can make a huge difference in the benefits you receive from using poles, so the experts suggest taking a clinic so an instructor can assess your particular needs, or at the very least watching an online how-to video or purchasing a DVD. Many users enjoy getting outside in all seasons to Nordic Walk, others like socializing while exercising in a group, and some just like the ease and portability. “I love my Nordic poles,” says Lewanne Graeber of Louisville. “I got hooked using them in a class at Lakeshore Athletic Club, and they helped my posture so much that I bought a pair for myself. I keep them in my car so I don’t forget them. I also talked my elderly father into getting poles, and he uses them for balance and continued > stamina on daily walks.” October 2014 | Boulder Lifestyle