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Nordic walking in a snow shower near Ilkley (West Yorkshire) in the north of England.

Nordic walking, originally known as ski walking, is a physical activity consisting of walking with poles similar to ski poles.



Nordic walking is defined as walking with specially designed poles. It evolved from an off-season ski-training activity known as ski walking, hill bounding or ski striding to become a way of exercising with poles year-round. Ski walking and hill bounding with poles has been practiced for decades as dry land training for competitive cross-country skiing. Ski coaches saw the success of world-class cross-country skiers who used ski poles in the summer for ski walking and hill bounding, and it became a staple of off-season Nordic ski training. Hikers with knee pain discovered they could walk more powerfully with a pair of trekking poles, often eliminate or reduce hip, knee, and foot pain, and backpackers found relief from painful backs when using poles. Individuals with physical limitations have also found that walking with poles can aid balance and facilitate walking.

The first specially designed fitness walking poles with optional rubber tips (for hard surfaces, such as pavement) were the original Exerstrider poles with straps introduced by Tom Rutlin in the U.S. in 1988. [1] Rutlin later re-designed his poles with strapless handles. Rutlin's efforts helped to urbanize fitness pole walking.

In 1997, Finnish ski pole manufacturer Exel, working with Marko Kantaneva, introduced the trademarked Nordic Walker poles equipped with special fingerless glove type straps. "Nordic walking" became the accepted term for fitness walking with specially designed poles. Although fitness walking with poles has been relatively slow to be embraced in North America, the Nordic skiing savvy Northern Europeans quickly embraced this dry land hybrid of two of their favorite fitness activities, Nordic skiing and walking, and a little more than a decade after its introduction in Europe, an estimated 8-10 million people (mostly in Northern Europe) have taken up fitness walking with specially designed poles as a regular form of exercise[citation needed].


Nordic walking combines simplicity and accessibility of walking with simultaneous core and upper body conditioning similar to Nordic skiing. The result is a full-body walking workout that can burn significantly more calories without a change in perceived exertion or having to walk faster, due to the incorporation of many large core and other upper-body muscles which comprise more than 90% of the body's total muscle mass and do work against resistance with each stride.[citation needed] "Normal walking" utilizes only 70% of muscle mass with full impact on the joints of the legs and feet.

Nordic walking produces up to a 46% increase in energy consumption compared to walking without poles.[2] It can also increase upper body muscle endurance by 38% in just twelve weeks. [3]


Compared to regular walking, Nordic walking involves applying force to the poles with each stride. Nordic walkers use more of their entire body (with greater intensity) and receive fitness building stimulation not as present in normal walking for the chest, lats, triceps, biceps, shoulder, abdominals, spinal and other core muscles. This extra muscle involvement leads to enhancements over ordinary walking at equal paces such as:

  • increased overall strength and endurance in the core muscles and the entire upper body
  • significant increases in heart rate at a given pace [4]
  • greater ease in climbing hills
  • burning more calories than in plain walking
  • improved balance and stability with use of the poles
  • significant unweighting of hip, knee and ankle joints (depending on the style used)
  • density-preserving stress to bones of the upper and mid body
  • increased stride length and walking speed


Nordic walking poles are significantly shorter than those recommended for cross-country skiing because unlike skiing there is no glide in walking and so the stride length is shorter. Using poles of incorrect length may add stress to the walker's knees, hips and/or back, diminishing the benefits of walking with poles. Nordic walking poles come in both one-piece, non-adjustable shaft versions, and telescoping two-piece twist-locking adjustable length versions. Most Nordic walking poles feature grips with special Nordic walking straps - a kind of fingerless glove, allowing power transmission through the strap, or specially designed ergonomic strapless grips both of which eliminate the need to tightly grasp the pole grips.

Unlike trekking poles, Nordic walking poles come with removable rubber tips for use on hard surfaces and hardened metal tips for trails, the beach, snow and ice. Most poles are made from lightweight aluminum, carbon fiber, or composite materials.


The two oldest and most widely practiced styles of Nordic walking are the Exerstride style developed by Tom Rutlin in the U.S. and the Finnish style (also called the European and the Exel/INWA style) advocated by Marko Kanteneva and Nordic walking pole manufacturers such as Exel, SWIX and Leki. Much contemporary Nordic walking instruction promotes a hybrid style combining features of the Exerstride and Finnish (Exel/INWA) styles. A very recent addition is the Pacerpole style which features near-vertical pole plants using poles with strapless ergonomic grips having a significant forward cant.

The four principal variables distinguishing the different Nordic walking styles are (a) the location of the pole plant (from close to the front foot to close to the rear foot), (b) shoulder range of motion (from none to considerable), (c) elbow range of motion (from none to considerable), and (d) elbow angle at pole plant (from straight to an angle of 90 degrees or more).

Exerstride style

The Exerstride style was developed by Tom Rutlin in the U.S. in 1988. The arm is extended into a handshake position with the elbow only slightly bent as the poles is planted near the heel of the opposite forward foot as it strikes the ground (forward pole plant). The elbow remains slightly flexed (elbow angle about 135 degrees) while force is applied to the pole (moving like a "pump handle" from the shoulder) and the hand does not pass the hips. Because the initial arm force is directed down through the poles, this initial lifting force can significantly decrease heel strike forces. This style also makes it possible to exert a considerable amount of initial force without pushing the body forward faster or lengthening the stride. As the arm continues through its full range of motion (considerable shoulder range of motion with little or no elbow range of motion) the force morphs into a pushing force similar to that of the Finnish style. As a result, Exerstride style can be used for a more demanding workout without increasing walking speed (which would require a longer stride, a faster tempo, or both).

A demonstration of this style can be seen in via the External links section below.

Finnish style

The Finnish style (aka Exel/INWA and the European style) uses slightly shorter poles than the Exerstride style that are planted slightly behind the midway point between the toe of the rear foot and heel of the forward foot (mid pole plant). The arm at the elbow is usually bent at about a 90-degree angle (initial elbow angle) at pole plant and then extended until the hand is past the hip (moderate elbow range of motion with moderate shoulder range of motion). Because more arm force is directed backward rather than down as in the Exerstrider style, the poles of a Nordic walker using the Finnish style push the walker forward and may result in a faster-than-normal walking speed, longer-than-normal stride length, increases in heel strike forces and pronounced hip rotation. Poles designed for the Finnish style of Nordic walking usually have fingerless glove-type straps attached to the pole to aid in recovery of the pole after the hand has passed behind the hip and released its grip on the pole.

A demonstration of this style can be seen in via the External links section below.

Pacerpole style

The Pacerpole style (named after the pole developed for this style in the U.K.) involves pushing the poles down and back by extending the arm from about 90 degrees (initial elbow angle) to fully extended (considerable elbow rotation) with little shoulder range of motion. The elbows stay close to the sides of the body with little movement for and aft. This style was first developed for hiking/trekking uphill to keep the poles behind (downhill) and use the arms to help push the body up the hill with no pulling movements. The Pacerpole style uses this technique for both climbing uphill on walking on flat terrain.

An animation of this style can be seen in via the External links section below.

Hybrid styles

It is possible to combine aspects of different styles to create various hybrid styles. The dominant contemporary hybrid style uses the middle pole plant of the Finnish style with the maximum shoulder range of motion, minimum elbow range of motion, and slightly bent initial elbow angle of the Exerstride style.

An animation of this hybrid style can be seen in the External links below.

Competition and Championships

There are currently two Nordic walking world championshps. The Cross-Country World Championship was held in 2009 in Austria over a 21 km cross-country route.[5][6]

In the United States the Annual Nordic Walking World Championship is held concurrently with the Portland Marathon on a road course over a marathon distance.[7]

In Spain, the most prominent competition is the Endurance Nordic Walking Meeting in Calafell over a distance of 22 km. [8]

There are other Nordic walking competitions at 10 km, half marathon and marathon distances: St Albans Half Marathon (Great Britain),[9] 5 km and 10 km of Montreal Marathon Oasis (Canada), 10 km and Half Marathon of Prince Edward Island Marathon (Canada),[10] 10 km and Half Marathon of Schwarzwald-Marathon (Germany).[11]

The half marathons mentioned are some of the competitions that appear in World Ranking of Half Marathon Nordic Walking.

World records have been established in distances of 5 miles (47m 03s men; 1h 09m 20s women), 10 km (59 m 09s men; 1h 09m44s women), half marathon (1h 09m 44s) and 50 km (5h 54m 26s men).

World Ranking

See also


  1. ^ The Capital Times newspaper, Madison, WI, USA, Dec. 13, 1988
  2. ^ Cooper Institute, "Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sports," 2002
  3. ^ Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise Supplement to VOL. 24, NO.5, May 1992
  4. ^ Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise VOL. 27, NO. 4 April1995:607-11
  5. ^ Nordic Walking World Championships
  6. ^ Nordic Walking World Championships 2009
  7. ^ Portland Marathon - Annual Nordic Walking World Championships
  8. ^ Endurance Nòrdic Walking Meeting de Calafell
  9. ^ St Albans Half Marathon
  10. ^ Prince Edward Island Marathon-Nordic Half
  11. ^ Schwarzwald-Marathon

External links

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