My wife and I tried some ‘Pole Walking’ the other day and we liked it. You’ve probably seen people doing this before because it’s become very popular. They look a little odd, like cross country skiers without the skis and without any snow. The proper name for this sport and growing fitness trend is Nordic Walking. It began in Finland back in the 1930’s when x-country skiers trained with their ski poles in the summer. Now it’s a huge fitness activity in Europe and it’s spreading throughout the world. And this summer it seems to have exploded around here.
There were quite a few Nordic Walkers at the Canada Day Half Marathon in Grand Bay-Westfield this summer. There were plenty more at Marathon by the Sea where Nordic Walking had a separate category in the event for the first time. But beyond the races people are taking it up just for fun and fitness.
I’ve heard about the benefits of Nordic Walking for some time and I’ve talked to people involved in the sport. Daryl Steeves is an exercise physiologist and Nordic Walking enthusiast. In fact he won in his age category in the Nordic Walking event at Marathon by the Sea. He told me it’s a better overall fitness workout that just walking because you bring your upper body into the workout. You use the poles to propel yourself forward and by doing that you’re toning those upper body muscles and you’re burning more calories. Experts say up to 40% more calories than walking. Daryl says you get the equivalent workout of a jog without all the pounding and best of all, with the poles you don’t feel like you’re working as hard. He calls it four-wheeling for the feet. You can hear an interview with Daryl Steeves and other Nordic Walkers on the podcast Doing Stuff Outdoors-13. Find it at http://www.doingstuffoutdoors.com
The queen of Nordic Walking in the Saint John area is Yennah Hurley. She started a club called ‘Walking Proud’ and they go Nordic Walking five nights a week from different locations. You can find out more about the club and she has some great links to other Nordic Walking sites at www.walkingproud.com.
After seeing the Nordic Walkers at all these events this summer I wanted to give it a try. I know a lot about ski poles because as an avid x-country, downhill and backcountry skier, I’ve used the things all my life. More recently I’ve taken to using poles when I go hiking. I’ve found them to be a terrific asset on the trail especially if you’re lugging around a heavy backpack. They help propel you on the up hills and even more important, they take a lot of stress off your knees and legs on the down hills. And they’re great for helping you balance, especially over rough terrain and crossing streams. So it only made sense to me that they’d be a terrific asset to walking.
My wife Teresa and I do a lot of walking together and we figured it would be fun to try. We don’t own official Nordic Walking poles but with a basement full of old ski poles I picked out a couple pairs and we headed for the trail. Normally we walk from home but both of us were a little shy about being seen in public walking down the street with a pair of ski poles so we drove to one end of the trail and there, hidden from the street by the trees, we began out experiment with Nordic Walking. Besides the steel tips on the poles wouldn’t have worked very well on the pavement but they were great on the trail.
At first it was strange getting used to them because hiking with poles is somewhat different than using them for fitness walking. But once you get into the rhythm of it you can really propel yourself along with the poles, much the way you do in x-c skiing. There’s no doubt you get a good upper body workout because after the walk we could both feel it in our arms. I really did enjoy it and I think Teresa did too. I liked it better then straight walking. And for skiers it’s great training too for the coming season.
I think we’re on our way to becoming Nordic Walkers. We may even be tempted to pick up a pair of those fancy, adjustable walking poles with the rubber tips for pavement. And I’m sure we’ll eventually get used to those smart comments from passers-by like ‘where’s the snow’ and ‘did you forget your skis’.