Many of us enjoy getting out for a walk in the fresh air – whether it’s to break up our days or get some peace of mind.

But walking can also become uninspiring without some variation. So, if your walking pattern is getting monotonous, you could try something new.

It’s often forgotten that there’s a range of walking styles, and it’s pretty easy to add some variation to your routine without having to go miles out of your way.

Nordic walking is a versatile and fun style that uses specially designed poles. It transforms walking into an effective, total-body workout while being accessible and easy to learn.

So, if you’re looking to add something different to your walking routine, improve your health, or simply try something new, Nordic walking could be for you. Below, we explore Nordic walking and its benefits before looking at the technique and equipment involved, such as Nordic walking poles.

What is Nordic walking?

What is Nordic walking?

As we mentioned above, Nordic walking is a total-body form of regular walking that involves specially designed poles.

The concept originated from Finnish skiers in the 1930s who began using their poles during summer training and were impressed with the results. They found that using the poles helped them keep their upper body in the best possible shape during the off-season months.

Nordic walking came to the UK in the early 2000s and has continued to grow in popularity ever since. Much like cross-country skiing, using poles in Nordic walking engages your upper body as you walk, providing an effective full-body workout.

If you’d like to read more about Nordic walking and its history, there are plenty of books available on Amazon. Some highly-recomended ones include: The Complete Guide to Nordic Walking by Gill Stewart and The Ultimate Nordic Pole Walking Book by Klaus Schwanbeck.

What are the benefits of Nordic walking?

What are the benefits of Nordic walking?

It’s fun, accessible, and easy to learn

Nordic walking has become a popular method for people of all ages and abilities to get outside, exercise, lose weight, and improve their overall health and wellbeing. It doesn’t require a certain level of fitness, only an understanding of how to use the poles correctly.

Luckily, the Nordic walking technique is fairly simple to learn, so you won’t have to complete any lengthy or expensive training before you can get going.

It provides a full-body workout

Unlike regular walking, which only targets the legs and lower body, Nordic walking provides a full-body workout that engages 80-90% of muscles in the upper body. It’s great for building strength, which is especially important in your 50s and 60s.

By working more muscles, Nordic walking increases heart rate (around 10%-15% higher than normal walking), oxygen consumption, and calories burned. In fact, this US study estimated that Nordic walking burns around 20% more calories than regular walking.

It reduces impact on joints and can help ease muscle tightness

Using the correct Nordic walking technique can also be effective for tackling muscle tightness and discomfort developed from everyday routines such as hunching over a desk or watching TV.

Angling the poles backwards and engaging your arms and shoulders in the full range of motion will automatically improve your posture and can relieve muscle stress. This 2017 study found that office workers who completed 12 weeks of Nordic walking reported having less pain in their trapezius muscles and improved mobility in their shoulders.

The extra support of the poles also improves stability and reduces the impact on joints as your body weight is more spread out.

With regular walking, you can increase your speed or take up power walking to intensify your workout. However, Nordic walking is great because it gets your heart rate up without it feeling like you’re exerting yourself any more than when you’re walking normally. Plus, you don’t have to perform higher-impact movements.

It can help to prevent and improve certain health conditions

Nordic walking has various beneficial effects on resting heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen capacity. It’s also been proven to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

Other benefits of Nordic walking include improving the symptoms of athletic injuries and chronic back pain, and the walking abilities of patients with conditions like intermittent claudication (where exercise causes leg pain) and Parkinson’s disease.

It can positively impact mental health

Nordic walking also helps us to get outdoors, which has been proven to positively impact mental health and wellbeing.

Charity, Mind, studied the effects of exercising outside and spending time in nature and recommends ‘ecotherapy’ as a clinically valid treatment for people struggling with their mental health. Specifically, spending time outside can improve mood, confidence, and self-esteem, and reduce feelings of stress and anger.

Spending time outside can also be a powerful tool in helping us gain some much-needed perspective when we’re frustrated or going through a challenging time.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the link between exercise and maintaining a healthy brain, check out our article on the subject.

What is the Nordic walking technique?

What is the Nordic walking technique?

Nordic walking technique - the basics

The Nordic walking technique is entirely based on your regular walking pattern, with the added use of poles to improve upper body strength.

It’s sometimes confused with activities such as trekking, climbing, or trail walking because all use poles. Although, the Nordic walking technique is entirely different. When trekking, poles are mainly for stability and support, whereas Nordic walking poles are a specific health and fitness tool.

With Nordic walking, the poles remain behind the body as an extension of the arms, pointing diagonally backwards at all times. The pole technique is a basic enhancement of the regular arm swings you make when walking normally. They’re then planted behind the body with each stride to propel you forward – working the arms, shoulders, back muscles, and upper chest.

Don’t worry if this sounds complicated. When you first take your poles out for a walk, there’s no need to throw yourself in at the deep end. To get a feel for walking with Nordic walking poles, simply try dragging them behind you with your arms relaxed to start with – even that extra weight will create some resistance, which will exercise your upper body.

When you feel comfortable with this, you can try swinging your arms to get used to the motion. Remember to always keep the poles pointing diagonally backwards.

Next, you can have a go at planting the poles into the ground with each stride. As with normal walking, you want to swing your arm in motion with the opposite leg. It’s important to take your time and keep practising to get used to the movement and, before you know it, it’ll all come naturally.

For a deeper insight into the Nordic walking technique, you can watch the video below.

Heel-to-toe foot roll

Another important aspect of the Nordic walking technique, which also applies to regular walking, is the heel-to-toe foot roll. This means hitting the ground with your heel and following through with a rolling technique so that you push forward onto your next stride from your toes.

Almost everyone naturally walks with a heel-to-toe stride, but fully mastering it is the key to maintaining good balance, posture, circulation, and protecting your joints when walking.

The video below runs through the correct leg and foot movements involved in Nordic walking.

Learning the Nordic walking technique from a qualified instructor

If you don’t feel completely confident heading out for a Nordic walking session by yourself, you might want to consider seeking the help of a qualified instructor.

A qualified instructor will be able to run you through the technique and answer any questions you might have to make sure you’re getting the most out of the exercise. Most instructors also offer taster sessions, so it’s okay if you decide that Nordic walking isn’t for you once you’ve tried it.

This service on Nordic Walking UK allows you to search for an instructor near you. Or, if you’d prefer to learn by joining a group of fellow Nordic walkers, you might like to consider becoming a member of Nordic Walking UK

What equipment will I need for Nordic walking?

What equipment will I need for Nordic walking?

The only essential pieces of equipment for Nordic walking are the poles. However, to help you remain comfortable and avoid injury, it’s worth thinking about investing in some other bits of kit, which we’ll cover below.

Nordic walking poles

There are two main types of Nordic walking poles: adjustable and fixed-length. When properly designed and made from the correct materials, both types are good options.

However, it can sometimes be difficult to find the ideal fixed-length pole off the shelf, as we’re all different heights. Plus, lots of people like the convenience of being able to expand adjustable poles and fold them up into a bag.

Another thing to consider is the material composition of your poles, which will depend on how often you plan to walk. This guide from Decathlon can hopefully help you decide on what’s right for you.

As for price, there are some pairs of Nordic walking poles available for around £30. However, if you’re looking for ones that’ll last, you might need to pay a bit more. Some reputable Nordic walking pole manufacturers include LEKI, Fizan, Exel, and Gabel.

If you’d like more information to help you decide which poles to go for, you might find this guide by Bristol Nordic Walking useful.

Nordic walking shoes

Walking distances in the wrong type of shoe can lead to painful sores like blisters and put a damper on your experience. So, it’s worth investing in a decent pair of Nordic walking shoes so you can focus on your technique and enjoy your surroundings – rather than worrying about your feet.

There are a few things to look out for when searching for the right pair of Nordic walking shoes. Firstly, check they’re comfortable and supportive, with good cushioning, so they can successfully tackle various terrains.

Next, it’s a good idea to go for a pair that’s waterproof and provides your feet with ample room to breathe. The last thing you want to deal with is wet feet, as this can be enough to ruin even the shortest of walks.

And lastly, try to choose shoes with a flexible sole to help you achieve the heel-to-toe foot roll. As we’ve said, this is key to maintaining good posture while walking.

To help you find the right pair of Nordic walking shoes, Bristol Nordic Walking has put together this list of the best boots around. Some items can be pricey, however, if you’re looking to commit to Nordic Walking as a long-term hobby, it can be better to invest in a more expensive pair that you know will last.

It’s also worth having a browse of the various shoe options available on Amazon and Decathlon. The video below also provides a useful guide on how to choose appropriate footwear for Nordic walking.

Appropriate clothing and accessories for Nordic walking

It’s best to choose lightweight clothing for Nordic walking, as heavy jumpers and coats can weigh you down. It’s also likely that you’ll warm up once you get going. With this in mind, it’s much easier to wear several layers of light clothing that you can remove quickly, than one extra-thick item.

Nordic walking veterans also recommended avoiding clothing likely to flap on either side of your body, as this could interfere with your pole motions.

In the winter, you might want to consider lightweight gloves, a hat, and a waterproof coat to keep you dry and insulated. In the summer, high-factor sunscreen and sunglasses are important to protect you against powerful rays. And, of course, it’s always important to carry a water bottle around with you to help you stay hydrated. 

Rucksacks and bags for Nordic walking

Rucksacks and bags for Nordic walking

When Nordic walking, it’s useful to have a rucksack or bag to carry your personal belongings in, because your hands will be occupied with your poles.

Rucksacks or bum bags are usually preferable options because shoulder bags can unevenly distribute weight and may interfere with your arm movements.

How can I get the most out of Nordic walking?

How can I get the most out of Nordic walking?

Take things at your own pace

One of the best things about Nordic walking is that you don’t have to go at great speed for it to have an impact. However, as with any form of exercise, you’ll need to do it often enough to see the benefits; around two miles a day or 15 miles a week is a good goal.

As always, remember to warm up before your walks and cool down afterwards – drinking plenty of water in between to keep your muscles healthy and prevent dehydration.

If you’re just starting out, it’s important not to push yourself too hard too early, to avoid overexerting yourself or risking injury. To begin with, you might like to just get a feel of the poles in your hands before heading out for a walk with them.

It might be tempting to get going with long walks and challenging terrains immediately, but it’s better to build it up over time. Once you’ve learnt the technique, start with a few reasonably short walks along well-used paths, and only increase the distance and venture onto trickier paths or steeper inclines once you feel comfortable doing so.

However, the most important thing you can do is to listen to your body. Remember that everyone’s pace is different, and what works for you might not work for someone else. If it feels like too much today, don’t worry; there’s no rush, and you can simply try again another day.

Consider setting yourself goals

Unlike some other sports, Nordic walking isn’t competitive. However, if you enjoy competition and find it motivating, why not compete against yourself?

If you’re a beginner, you could set out a plan for what you’d like to achieve with your Nordic walking. And, if you’ve already started, why not challenge yourself to complete your normal route in a quicker time, or maybe set a new distance record?

Setting yourself goals can be a great way to push yourself and add another dimension to Nordic walking.

If you want to, you can record your goals and achievements in a journal. There are plenty available on Amazon, for example, this Nordic Walking Logbook, Goal Getter Productivity Journal, or Wellness Journal. This way, you’ll have your goals and achievements written down to look back and reflect on.

Use Nordic walking to explore new places and hobbies

The beauty of Nordic walking is that it’s a year-round activity that you can do pretty much anywhere. It can take you from pavements in towns and villages, to countryside trails and mountain ranges – or even further afield on holiday if you fancy it.

It provides the opportunity for great fun and adventure as you can explore new places and appreciate nature. If you’re unsure where to walk, you might be interested in the Alltrails app, which can help you discover new routes by area. A free membership allows you to browse thousands of different trails on the app.

If you want to, you can also pair your walking with other hobbies. For example, if you’re into nature, you might like to read our beginner’s guide to bird watching and look out for the birds you’ve learnt about whilst walking.

If bird watching isn’t your thing, you might find some other inspiration in our article, 10 rewarding activities to do while walking, or on the hobbies and activities section of our website.

Connect with other Nordic walkers or embrace it as a solo activity

Nordic walking is a great way to socialise and meet new people. You might be interested in attending a Nordic walking event or joining a group. This tool by Nordic walking UK also allows you to search for Nordic walking events and activities happening in your area.

Alternatively, if you’d like to join a group of fellow Nordic walkers, you might like to consider becoming a member of Nordic Walking UK. This can be a great way to meet new friends, which might make your adventures even more enjoyable because you’ll have someone to chat to along the way.

Exercising with others can also be a great way to maintain motivation and increase the likelihood of committing to a sport.

For example, it’s much easier to decide not to go walking if you don’t fancy it when it’s just you. But committing to others might boost your motivation – helping you stick to a sport and reap the benefits long-term. Though, if you’d prefer to venture out by yourself, that’s great too.

Final thoughts...

Nordic walking is an accessible way for people of all abilities to get outside, strengthen their muscles, and improve their overall health and fitness.

Despite not feeling as though you have to exert any more energy than regular walking, Nordic walking provides an effective full-body workout by engaging muscles throughout the whole body.

With the bonus of reducing the risk of certain diseases, as well as improving posture and balance, Nordic walking ticks all the boxes. It’s fun and easy to learn, and anyone can get good at it.

So, whether you decide to venture out by yourself or alongside others, there’s a lot to be gained from this style of walking.

Have you tried Nordic walking? Would you recommend it to others? What do you enjoy most about it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.