Nordic walking

It's fun, easy on the joints and burns more calories in less time. Here's how to get started

If you’re looking for a new challenge, try Nordic walking. The sport — where you propel yourself forward with poles, like you’re cross-country skiing — has been popular in Europe for years, and is gaining traction in Canada. Like walking, it’s easy on your joints and tones your legs, calves and butt, but it also works your core, back, arms and shoulders. “People who love walking almost always love Nordic walking,” says Barb Gormley, a Nordic walking trainer in Toronto.

Get fitter, faster
Nordic walking is a simple way to sneak in upper-body resistance exercise without stepping into a gym. When walking, the muscles above the waist do very little, says Gormley. “Even if you swing your arms vigorously, the action is mostly momentum-based,” she says. “When you propel yourself forward with poles, you get a full-body workout.” That’ll give you stronger muscles and bones — and you’ll you zap more fat. One study found that subjects who did Nordic walking burned about 20 percent more calories than those who just walked.

The poles can also make things easier by providing some additional support. “People with bad knees or achy joints can walk faster and further because they can offload weight onto the poles,” says Gormley. And using them bolsters confidence when trying new terrain, like bumpy hiking trails. It’s also less likely you’ll lose your balance while Nordic walking, says Gormley, and if you do, the poles will help you quickly regain your footing.

Master the method
Don’t confuse Nordic-walking poles with regular walking sticks, though. “Nordic walking has a specific technique,” says Gormley. “The technique isn’t tricky, but it’s not intuitive. It takes practice.”
To get started, join a class. Rent poles or test out ones provided by the instructor. (When you’re ready to buy, Gormley recommends a telescoping pair that adjusts to your height and body proportions. A bonus of buying adjustable ones: you can split the cost — $70 to $200 — with a friend or your spouse.) Then hit the streets with these tips from Gormley:
• Stand up straight with your abs tight.
• Keep the tips of the poles behind you as you walk. You shouldn’t be able to see them when you look down.
• Keep your elbows straight and swing your arms from your shoulders, like pendulums, as you walk.
• To get the most out of toning your upper body, press down on the wide base of the poles’ handles or straps with the outside edge of your hands.
• Focus on using your arms, shoulders, upper back and the poles (not just your legs) to move yourself forward.