Recently, I found a modification to exercise walking that helps make it an even more ideal form of exercise. It is referred to as “Pole Walking”, or “Nordic Walking” (with the use of the poles it looks something like cross country skiing). Whatever it’s called, the basics are the same. It is fitness walking with specially designed poles. And, it is the proper use of the poles that makes all the difference.
This form of walking was pioneered in the U. S. back in 1985 by cross country skier, ski coach, and long distance runner, Tom Rutlin. Because of some injuries, Tom was unable to use running as an off season form of conditioning for his competitive cross country skiing. He conceived the idea of using cross country ski poles to help him walk more efficiently and build his training base while lessening the impact on the injuries to his lower extremities. In experimenting with this new form of walking, Tom discovered that by using the poles in a very specific way, you not only improved your balance and lessened the stress on your lower body, but you could dramatically increase the involvement of large core muscles in the trunk as well as the back, shoulders, arms and chest so as to maximize the exercise benefits.
Unfortunately, cross country skiing was not a popular form of exercise in the U.S. back in the mid 1980’s. It was much more popular in Europe, particularly the Nordic countries. By the mid 1990’s Nordic walking had become very popular in Finland, and from there it moved into other European countries and then to Canada. Now it is starting to pick up interest and advocates here in the U.S.
One of the interesting things about Nordic walking is that, if the poles are used properly, the involvement of most of the large muscles in the upper body takes place. More than 50% of the muscles in the body are in the upper body. By involving more of them, it is possible to burn up to 70% more calories with every walk. Studies show that 25% to 50% is more realistic for the average person, but some data shows that, with concentrated effort, 70% is possible.
The great thing about pole walking is that all of it’s additional benefits come without increasing the amount of time you walk. Here are just a few of those benefits:
- Increase your overall cardiovascular fitness
- Improve your stamina and muscle endurance
- Strengthen abdominal, back, arm, shoulder, chest, and leg muscles
- Reduce injury-causing stress on hips, knees and feet
- Help maintain overall bone density
- Maintain joint health and range of motion
- Improve balance and posture and much more!
This is a great way to improve your upper body strength and endurance without having to do separate strength training sessions. Keep in mind that with pole walking you will be pushing down on the poles with every stride you take. That translates to thousands of muscle movements in your upper body throughout your entire walk. And, you control how much additional work your body does.