Get in step with Nordic Walking
Tuesday, 17 January 2011
For me, Nordic walking has always conjured up images of healthy, Scandinavian outdoorsy types trekking across Alpine backdrops beneath brilliant blue skies.
Take the coastal path around Mawgan Porth and there may not be a snowy mountain range in sight, but you are still likely to come across clusters of Nordic walkers - wielding their trademark poles with aplomb.
This is down to the Scarlet and Bedruthan Steps hotels, perched on the cliff top above Mawgan Porth Beach, which run free taster sessions for their guests.
These glowing individuals are not, as I once thought, strange people with poles pretending to ski without snow. Oh no, they are enjoying all the benefits of a gym workout, but in the great outdoors – and managing to carry on a conversation while they do it.
So what is the difference between Nordic walking and normal walking? Can you really Nordic walk in England, and why would you want to do it anyway?
For starters, Nordic walking is a fun, sociable, efficient and low impact way to work on your fitness or lose weight.
Kate Weaving, of Walk Fit Cornwall, runs the free sessions for the Scarlet and Bedruthan Steps. She originally got into Nordic walking after trouble with her knees ruled out running.
After reading about the sport in a magazine, she signed up for a course in London and spent three days on Hampstead Heath learning all about the technique and its benefits.
“It was really good fun, I loved it and got into the rhythm of Nordic walking really quickly,” she says. “It’s a great hobby.”
She has been a committed Nordic walker ever since and is now a qualified instructor and member of the International Nordic Walking Federation.
The biggest difference between walking and Nordic walking is that you use carbon poles to propel you along, extending your stride and using a greater percentage of your muscles than when you walk normally.
The technique is a simple enhancement of normal arm swing when walking. It also works like cross training in the gym, working your upper and lower body.
Better than the gym, though, Nordic walking takes place outside and can be as sociable as you want it to be.
“What’s so great about Nordic walking around the Scarlet and Bedruthan is the sensational views,” says Kate.
“You can’t beat them. The beach is the best surface I’ve found for teaching people the techniques. It’s a perfect terrain.
“You’ve also got coastal paths and hills to vary the ground. It’s ideal territory.”
Like normal walking, people of all fitness levels, including pregnant women, can Nordic walk, but the health benefits are much greater.
A study by the University of Brighton in East Sussex has shown that, among healthy people aged 60 and over, the amount of energy used and the heart rate level were on average 40% higher when Nordic walking compared to walking naturally*.
Individuals with differing abilities and fitness levels can all exercise in the same group allowing people to walk together and talk at the same time.
As you use your legs, arms, shoulders and chest/back muscles when Nordic walking, up to 90% of the body’s muscles are actively working**.
On average, you will, therefore, expend 20% more calories than when naturally walking at the same walking speed**.
Moreover, it can actually feel easier and less tiring Nordic walking than natural walking**. This is because, although you are using more muscles and doing more exercise, the effort is spread across the whole body.
What do you need to Nordic walk? You don’t have to buy lots of fancy or expensive equipment, just trainers or walking shoes.
Kate provides adjustable poles for her groups. Gloves are also a good idea, especially in cold weather. If you layer up in cold weather, you can remove windbreakers and sweatshirts as you warm up.
Kate takes groups of up to eight out for 45 minutes to an hour for taster sessions and, depending on your energy levels that day, will take you up the coastal path or show you some resistance exercises using the poles.
The walks are free to Scarlet and Bedruthan Steps Hotel guests – just sign up at reception. Private lessons are also available on request.
International Nordic Walking Federation UK
Walk Fit Cornwall
* Nordic Walking for Healthy Hearts
** Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 73 (3), 296-300. September 2002