The look on the builder’s face says it all. ‘There’s no snow here, luv.’ Other comments include; ‘Where are the skis and no mountains round ‘ere.’ This is when I patiently smile back and say hello and think quietly to myself; ‘Just wait and see.’, because Nordic Walking sheds calories without tears. ‘No sweating away in the gym for me.’ However, I must admit the builder does have a point. It does feel strange hiking round in London parks clutching something that to the untrained eyes look like ski poles.
The founders of Nordic Walking UK however think that this will ‘….become one of this country’s main outdoor activities. I knew it was going to be big when I saw two women doing it in Knightsbridge.’ says co-founder Martin Christie. The silly walk that may look like something out of Monte Python has actually become an exercise craze in many European countries and not only for the over 60's.
Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and the BBC’s Country Files have all featured the ‘Viking Hiking’. Richard and Judy in the Breakfast Show announced Nordic Walking to become ‘…..the biggest thing to hit the UK since aerobics.’
It looks easy, but it is amazing how many things can go wrong. Take a British left-handed person, who has never had the opportunity to try cross-country skiing before. Managing to move the left foot forward at the same time as the right arm and then repeat on the opposite side might be one challenge too much and to some suddenly seems as difficult as walking backwards in a straight line. It could then take several weeks and many tries using robotic and gorilla walking techniques. Then you have to add a rolling movement of the foot, slight rotation of the shoulders and extend the arms for each stride to mimic the passing on of the baton behind you as in a relay race. This may prove too much for even the most bodily accomplished. In order to get the full benefit of Nordic Walking however, this is a must.
Jokes aside, Nordic Walking’s ability to boost fitness levels has been recognised by politicians and businesses. In Germany, the government refunds the cost of attending a certified course for hospital outpatients. Swiss health insurance firms offer policyholders financial bonuses if they attend courses. In the UK, Mansfield District Council has included Nordic Walking in their “Fit Club” scheme and supplies poles to walkers.
Nordic Walking uses up to 95% of muscles, while swimming uses 35% and running 70% leading the Nordic Walker to burn off up to 20-40% more calories than a normal walker. Walkers experience a so called ‘wow factor’ as the amount of fresh air and the energizing walking boosts happy-hormones. The effects on stress levels, tension, back problems and cardiovascular health are astonishing.
After practice, the initial silly walk becomes a co-ordinated, whole-body exercise and neighbours will hide their initial mirth. Once this technique is perfected it is possible to add jumps, running, skipping, hill work and interval training. This is what amongst others, the Finnish and Norwegian National Ski Teams use for their off-season training.
It is always a good idea to do the first few sessions with an instructor. You could loose the benefits if you don’t learn the technique properly.
Always start with a warm-up in order to prevent injury and finish by cooling down with some stretches for the legs and arms.
In order to see the full benefit of Nordic Walking you would need to aim to walk for at least ½ hour three to four times a week.
Don’t overexert yourself. You should be able to walk-and-talk. Always take some water and drink throughout your walk. If you are dehydrated you may loose as much as 20% of your performance.
If you want to get a Nordic Walking Pole, remember that it is not the same as a Trekking Pole. Get advise before buying a pole as the wrong pole might give you backache and benefits may be lost.
October 19, 2005