Ever since I have started Nordic walking and despite being a serious hiker for decades, the one thing that has soon become quite obvious is the fact that it is a much more involved and interesting activity than plain walking.
Besides being a considerably better overall exercise, which very effectively targets both the lower and the upper body, Nordic walking usually provides a faster and more energetic overall workout. In short: You will hardly ever walk as fast as with poles, if you forget to bring them along!
Just pushing with the poles in cadence and involving practically the whole body, gives you a sense of rhythm, which is seldom attainable while walking without poles, or even while running.
Having a music player along really helps as well. Whether it is a hard drive-based one, like my IPod, or an even smaller and lighter flash memory model.
A few days ago, I got a 20GB Apple IPod for my birthday. After filling it with about 150 songs – while still leaving room for about 4,500 more, and 150 songs is about 130 more than I can fit in the flash memory of my 128 MB MPIO MP3 player – I found myself strolling in rhytm with the music, varying the pace and the cadence, accordingly. Programmed a non-stop Beatles’ concert, until the half-way point and an eclectic mixture for the way back. A great solution for those long, often monotonous workouts.
Depending on your physical condition and your mood on a given day, you may try varying the pace, from marching with an extended stride and strong pole work, to increasing the cadence and the intensity of the pole push for a given time, or distance. Changing the pace and the type of stride not only makes the session less monotonous, but also improves the quality of the workout. You may even try running with the poles and jumping, while pushing yourself up with the sticks.
Charging uphill, while strongly pushing with the poles allows you to climb at a markedly higher speed, with longer strides, than you would have been able without poles. All of this translates into a better and more interesting workout, with considerably higher calorie burning, so try to take advantage of uphill sections on your training route whenever you can. On the downhills in turn, try to lengthen your stride to the maximum. It is one of the more effective gluteus (butt) exercises around.
As mentioned in one of the previous articles, a mile of fast Nordic walking equals approximately 2,000 mini-crunches, so if you do lean into the poles the right way, you should be able to toughen up your abdominals quite a bit as well.
Because Nordic Walking involves the use of large groups of muscles, your body excretes endorphins. These substances are the body’s ‘natural morphine’ and are the direct cause of the pleasant feeling you have immediately after exercising.
Just for fun, I went on our local High School track, so I could keep tabs on my speed and did two miles at just over four mph, without poles. Twenty nine minutes and 10 seconds later it became obvious that walking at that speed did indeed constitute a good workout. The only problem was, that all the muscle tension and therefore conditioning was felt only in the lower half of my body. It did seem like a bit of a waste of time, to spend half an hour exercising only half of your body, while almost totally ignoring the upper body.
That, my gentle readers is why Nordic walking rules! Getting about 90% of the muscles exercised in one, single workout could only be compared to cross-country skiing and as far as I know, there won’t be any snow here for at least six months!