This is an excerpt from Nordic Walking for Total Fitness by Suzanne Nottingham & Alexandra Jurasin.
Simply defined, power is strength plus speed. The results of power training determine which sprinter leaves the blocks first, which skier pulls out a win by a hundredth of a second, or which Nordic walker picks up the pace for the final stretch of a marathon. With muscle gains that are functional as well as aesthetic, power training enhances the body’s ability to jump, run, and lift. Powerful athletes are less susceptible to injury and excessive fatigue associated with long-term performance. They can have the aerobic capacity to sustain pace and the anaerobic power to surge ahead of the pack.
Many sports require anaerobic power. Examples include slam-dunking a basketball, using sprints to score a goal in soccer, and racing up a steep dirt trail with a mountain bike. Nordic walking shares this explosive (quick and powerful) muscle quality.
Power training is characterized by repeated loading and unloading of the involved joints in rapid succession. Training includes high-impact drills like sprinting and plyometrics, and low-impact options like continuous dynamic lunges.
Injury Prevention for Power Training
Many training drills require that you take both feet off the ground simultaneously, during which speed combined with the impact of landing can damage your body. Extreme athletes often say “You don’t get hurt in the air; it’s the landing that gets you!” Careless landings can abnormally tax the joints, spine, and muscles, producing strain or injuries that are even worse.
Traditionally, people associate impact with exercises that involve pounding on a hard surface, such as running. Other types of subtle impact take place during Nordic walking. Extending your stride length too soon negatively affects the pelvis and lower back. Repetitively pounding or planting the pole tips directly affects the health of your shoulder joints. You can eliminate these mistakes with proper technique.
At first, you should approach these power drills with a low-impact mindset. This means practicing them outside of your workouts. Proficiency, rather than airtime, is your primary objective. After a thorough warm-up, practice techniques for proper takeoff and landing. As you practice these drills, don’t go for speed. Slow down and think through the movements. The following section outlines tips for preventing injury, as well as some low-impact modifications.
Safe Techniques for Taking Off and Landing
The following high-impact drills describe common techniques for taking off and landing safely. The objective is to facilitate power on the takeoff and resiliant cushioning on the landings. Some of the drills require a one-foot lead, while others dictate that both feet come off the ground at the same time. Some require the use of one pole; others use two poles. Both cases involve hang time, in which both feet are off the ground. The interesting element that differentiates the Nordic walking version of these drills from the traditional execution is that the poles create a brief point of contact as both feet leave the ground. These drills can also serve as a stepping stone to athletic training that might not have been possible before. These techniques are not difficult to learn but they do require practice for proper form. Regardless of the drill, keep the following guidelines in mind:
• Takeoff. You usually use tip resistance to aid either forward or upward propulsion. These drills require strong abdominals, hip flexors, and calves to raise the knees and legs. Some drills require that both arms move forward at once, but most use typical opposition. Remember to keep your wrists in neutral, regardless of arm height, for a safe push-off and release. To propel forward with one leg, push off with the opposite pole and extend your leg forward. For stationary jumps and forward leaps with two feet, extend your arms extended down toward your sides, and then thrust them up or out for momentum.
• Landing. Ensure a soft landing by cushioning the ankles, knees, and hips in succession, as when an accordion compresses. For stationary jumps, concentrate on your toes, ankles, knees, and hips. For drills with forward motion, concentrate on your heels, ankles, knees, and hips. Keep your chin level with the walking surface to avoid breaking at the waist. Extend at the hips, knees, and then ankles when jumping either up or forward.
If you find the impact of the power drills presented here to be too much, the following considerations will help you reduce impact. You may simply be making errors in technique. You can also modify exercises to reduce the intensity. As you perform the drills more and more, your body will adapt, allowing you to do the unmodified versions. Don’t push yourself to do these new drills and skill sets too soon. You already know it takes time and a lot of practice to learn skills properly. Once you are proficient, you’ll be able to do the interval segments as recommended. The sky is the limit, literally!
If you find jumping with two feet too difficult, opt for drills that lead with one foot. Many people find skipping the easiest to learn and perform.
Don’t go up in the air until you feel comfortable. For example, when learning bounding, you can move forward in slow motion to decrease the amount of airtime.
Stationary jumps are perfect for practicing low-impact modifications because your feet do not move far from the ground to get a killer lower-body workout.
Constantly check to see if your joints are in alignment. The wrists are the worst culprit! Remember that your body functions best when your joints move in a neutral position, regardless of the fitness activity or sport.
Look forward, focusing your eyes ahead instead of down at the ground. This practice appropriately situates the weight of the head and shoulders on top of your spine.
Start at a pace that is slow, stay low, and just go!
Power Training Drills
Perform power drills in timed intervals rather than in repetitions. This way, you can work with a buddy to perform the same drills at your own tempo and pace. You must march to your own beat when it comes to high-impact activity. Never train at a friend’s pace and tempo unless it’s a match to yours exactly or you’re using it as a drill. With practice, you will find a safe pace and tempo. If a workout calls for one minute of bounding, don’t feel as if you must complete the entire minute. Instead, perform three or four bounds to help your body adapt to this kind of overload. Adaptation is also a personal process. On average, you should practice two or three times per week for four to six weeks before adding power training to your workouts. These practices do not take long, but they help you work safely and execute the drills properly.
Use your feet, legs, and arms simultaneously to jump straight up and land in the same spot. Begin with a low-impact version, perhaps even staying on the ground for the first few repetitions. Over a period of weeks, you’ll gradually jump higher.
Use the poles in a V pattern for stability. Move into a half squat by softening the hips, knees, and ankles. Press down on the tips to generate upward body movement and to prepare the lower body to jump. The tips may come off the ground. Land by absorbing the ground like an accordion, relax the ankles and knees and flex at the hips to absorb the impact. Keep your chin level with the surface.
Do the drill in place with one leg at a time. This variation is a prerequisite for skipping.
This drill prepares you for forward leaps by accomplishing lengthening muscular contraction, which reduces impact and over time strengthens the tissues surrounding the knees.
If your knees are healthy, this type of activity will likely make them stronger. However, if you have knee problems, this type of activity may produce more stress than benefit. Start slowly and stay low to the ground.
This intense lower-body drill is driven purely by power.
Hold the poles under your arms as if you were a ski racer. Poles should be parallel to the ground and pointing behind. Poles are not actively used in this drill. Assume a modified tuck position by supporting your upper body with your hands on thighs. Look ahead, not down. Using your arms for upward momentum, extend straight up in the air through the lower body. As your feet leave the ground, retract your knees up toward the abdomen. Land as described for the stationary jump. Eventually you will be able to perform a full tuck.
If you have a healthy back, and you like impact, the load on the lower body will make you feel stronger than ever. Rock climbers use this more like an agility drill for resiliency and quickness.
This drill requires a tremendous amount of core strength to protect your back during both phases of the jump.