Fitness Articles

Burn 20% More Calories with This Walking Technique

An Introduction to Nordic Walking

Eventually, most people who walk for fitness will reach the point when walking alone no longer challenges them or helps them see results. If that sounds like you, then Nordic walking may be just what you need. First used as a summer training method by cross-country skiers, Nordic walking has become a stand-alone fitness regime, thanks to fitness professionals and the sports equipment manufacturer Exel Oyj of Finland.

Nordic walking, which uses walking poles to increase effort, is a low-impact, full-body workout that is gentle on the joints. And although you'll work harder and burn more calories than walking alone, the perceived exertion is about the same. What this means is that you burn more calories while working more muscle groups. If you try Nordic walking, you’ll enjoy a greater aerobic challenge than walking alone, but won't feel as though you're working much harder.

A small study conducted by the Dallas-based Cooper Institute and funded by Exel found that:
  • Nordic walking burns about 20% more calories per hour than walking alone.
  • Nordic walking elevates heart rate between 4.0% and 8.2% higher than walking alone.
  • Although Nordic walkers burned more calories and used more muscle groups, they did not feel that walking with Nordic poles was more strenuous than walking without poles.
Benefits of Nordic Walking
In addition to adding intensity and calorie-burn to your workout, Nordic walking also boasts the following benefits:
  • A similar exercise intensity to running, but without the high impact and with a lower level of perceived exertion
  • Strengthens the upper body, including the including the deltoids (shoulders), lats (back), pectorals (chest), triceps (arms) and abdominals
  • Reduces joint stress
  • Relieves neck and shoulder pain
  • Increases flexibility in the neck and chest
  • Improves mood and helps relieve depression
Nordic walking is great for anyone who wants to add some variety to their fitness routine—runners who want to round out their fitness programs with low-impact, but high intensity workouts; people who want to lose weight by burning more calories in less time; and even older exercisers who can use Nordic walking poles to increase their balance and stability during exercise.

Basic Nordic Walking Technique
While Nordic walking is an effective workout, it’s not as simple as picking up a pair of walking sticks and heading out—you'll need to learn a different movement altogether. Here are some technique guidelines:
  1. Loop the pole straps over your hands, drop your hands back and start walking without thinking about the poles yet. Concentrate on relaxed walking and keep your shoulders low and loose. Allow your arms to swing freely back and forth.
  2. Walk with the poles held low and let them swing along with the arms without trying to use them. Lengthen your stride so and begin with the heel first, then roll onto the sole of the foot and finish with a thrust from the ball of the foot.
  3. Now concentrate on using the poles. Once you have gotten into a rhythm, try to use the arms more and more. The goal is to get the pole thrust to travel behind the line of the pelvis.
  4. Keep the Nordic poles close to the body. Your pelvis should be lifted high and your overall posture taut and slightly forward-leaning. Opposite arms and legs swing alternately forwards and back.
  5. For a visual of Nordic walking technique, check out the short YouTube video, Nordic Walking: An Introduction.
Buying Nordic Poles
You can buy Nordic poles online or in retail sporting goods stores at prices starting around $100 a pair. Exel, one of the original creators of Nordic walking, remains the top source for carbon composite poles. The types of Nordic poles are virtually endless, with options related to weight (light or heavy), materials (aluminum or carbon fiber), length (some are adjustable or fixed, while others are telescoping for easier packing), wrist straps and their release mechanisms, grips (many are ergonomically designed to reduce hand and wrist fatigue), tips (rubber for paved walkways and spikes for trails), and more.

To find the right pole length for you, first convert your height to centimeters (multiply height in inches by 2.54). Next, multiply your height (in centimeters) by 0.68 (the length of your poles should be about 68% of your total height). Pole lengths are graded in 5-centimeter intervals, so round your calculated length to the nearest 5 centimeters. As an example, the ideal pole length for a person who is 6 feet tall (182 cm) would be 123 cm. (182 x 0.68). The nearest 5-centimeter pole length available is either 120 cm or 125 cm. When choosing the right pole length, remember that your elbow should bend approximately 90 degrees when you are holding the grip with the pole tip on the ground.

While the technique needed for Nordic walking may take a little while to get the hang of, the overall benefits of the sport far outweigh the learning curve. Whether you want to burn more calories with less exertion or you just want to try something new, Nordic walking is an effective way to get in shape—and enjoy the outdoors!

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

Member Comments

  • I don't know if I could get the rhythm down.
  • I have cross country ski poles- can I just use these?
  • Something to try.
  • Great article! Never heard of it either but would really like to try it!
  • I tried this today with my XC ski poles. I had trouble with the rhythm - couldn't make my arms go as fast as my feet. The poles were a bit too long, but even when i gripped them further down the pole, it just wasn't working for me. Maybe I'll just keep trying...
  • I've lived in Finland almost 2 decades and have never tried this.
  • Good article - I've been Nordic walking for something like 6 years now. Here in Germany, it's a very popular sport. I love my Leki poles and the extra boost they give to my walking workouts!

    Just wanted to let folks know that there's a Nordic Walking Team here on SP - come join us!
  • OZARK2896
    I use Leki poles as they help take some of the impact off my knees when walking in hilly terrain. With my current weight and fifty something year old knees, walking pain free is important. The extra calories burned and the positive effect on fitness is a bonus. They are common with backpackers-somet
    hing I did growing up and want to return to.
  • Have had my walking sticks for about 2 years and what a difference it makes! Also take one with me most of the time just for balance - at my age, I just do not want to fall.
  • i bought some nordic walking poles this year. I felt I needed them for balance as I tend to fall... not only do I use them for my regular walks... I took them with me on our cruise. I feel more able to do more with them and I feel like I have so much more support. I love using them
    Thanks for enlightening us with this article, Leanne. I didn't know what Nordic walking is until I read your article. I didn't know that I am doing Nordic walking during my spring walking. Hey, I am sure, many of your readers will benefit from this article too.
  • I bought a pair of fibreglass ones for less than 20 dollars locally.
  • I have been using my Leki trekking sticks a lot this winter since they help give me balance and keep me safer on snowy hills. I recommend that if you are a walker you will enjoy having a pair of good walking sticks!
  • Great idea. I must try this.
    I too would like to see these articles more concise, as I am busy, but like to read them all. Keeping it to 1 page would save the reloading time for each page.
    Thanks for the info!

About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

x Lose 10 Pounds by June 11! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.