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Nordic walking provides surprising benefits for athletes

Nordic walking offers widespread benefits for people of all ages and abilities, but fitness buffs and serious athletes can Nordic walk for complete full body training that can be done anywhere.

"Nordic walking is your gym to go—almost any place, any time and it’s free," says Suzanne Nottingham, Nordic Walking Now owner and lead author of the upcoming Nordic Walking for Total Fitness (Human Kinetics, 2009). "Nordic walkers combine poles and physical strength to move their body weight forward and over the ground. This is how it provides both a cardio and strength workout simultaneously. You can create even more resistance by nailing the sweet spot of the tips every time."

In Nordic Walking for Total Fitness, Nottingham discusses how walking with poles offers a portable workout that improves nine key performance areas.

  1. Cardio respiratory stamina.  “Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning are the essence of Nordic walking fitness,” Nottingham explains.  “It is an ideal activity for cardio respiratory fitness because it can be performed at any intensity. Those who wish to compete at a higher level have options for intensive training.”
  2. Muscular endurance.  “With practice, skilled Nordic walkers acquire a more athletic gait that combines simultaneous physical reactions with a faster pace and speed,” Nottingham says.  “Muscular endurance allows you to settle into a comfortable, yet productive pace. Endurance also creates a greater mass of lean muscle because it is sometimes facilitated by an aerobic pace.”
  3. Balance. Poles challenge the upper and lower body simultaneously, resulting in better balance, says Nottingham. “Nordic walking challenges you to achieve more dynamic balance because you are working the upper body to move forward while recovering small imbalances in the feet, ankles, legs and pelvis,” she explains.
  4. Enhanced range of motion. The pole swing in Nordic walking enhances the opposing arm’s swing, compared with walking normally. “The increased range of motion allows you to literally cover more ground,” notes Nottingham.
  5. Agility. Agility and balance work together against stimuli that throw the body off its axis. A variety of fun agility drills relate to Nordic walking, according to Nottingham.  Some involve the creative use of poles; others utilize the natural environment.
  6. Coordination. “Your Nordic walking skills will be efficient when your movements are so subtle and well memorized that your brain is able to communicate instructions for movement with ease, developing physical and mental sequential reactions without wasting energy,” Nottingham comments.
  7. Increased efficiency of movement. Nordic walkers often comment that their practice helps them walk with greater grace and ease, even without poles.
  8. Visual skills. The stability created by the pole tips allows Nordic walkers to focus their vision ahead instead of down at the ground, says Nottingham. The visual skills gained during Nordic walking, in turn, assist postural integrity by helping balance ones head weight, improving poor posture and eliminating back strain.
  9. Strength and power. “Nordic walking requires full-body effort to support the demands of repetitive motion and endurance,” Nottingham explains. “If performed safely, it results in muscle balance and back health.”

Nordic Walking for Total Fitness offers a range of programs for cardio health, full-body conditioning, and sport-specific cross-training. With 115 full-color photos, Nottingham and coauthor Alexandra Jurasin offer a guide to Nordic walking, including equipment, techniques, and supplemental conditioning for maximum fitness and enjoyment.