If you’ve already taken a Nordic walking lesson with OutdoorActive, here are some helpful hints you can refer to when practising your new skills!
1. Try using the poles “dog leash style” at first – instead of wearing the poles, close the velcro straps to make a loop, and hold that loop lightly with your thumb and index finger. Start by dragging the poles, then gradually begin to use downward pressure to snap them into place.
2. Once you put the poles on, try double-poling for the first 5 minutes of your walk (both poles at once) – this is an easier way for your brain to learn. You can also try poling just with the left hand, or just with the right hand, before going to regular “diagonal” walking (opposite arm with opposite leg).
3. Think about keeping hands loose at all times. They can close slightly as the pole comes forward, but *must* open up completely as the hand goes back. (If you’re walking with someone else, watch each other to make sure nobody is tightly gripping the pole handles!)
4. Think about “long arms” – ensure you swing your arms forward with relaxed, pendulum-arm-swing, leading from the shoulder. Check to make sure you are not bending excessively at the elbow. Also, check to ensure your wrist stays “neutral” rather than bending.
5. When the poles plant (remember they should always plant at an angle with the tips behind you), remember to apply quick and firm downward pressure to the heel of the hand-strap – with relaxed, OPEN hands! – to “catch” the tips on the ground. Check yourself frequently to ensure your fingers are not curling around the pole handle. If you’re having a hard time controlling the poles without gripping the handles, go back to step 1.
6. As you begin to push down and back on the poles with more force, think about having a moment where your arms muscles engage, to make a firm and solid frame out of your upper body. This will help your stomach, shoulders, and back (core muscles) apply pressure (using your arms as levers) down onto the poles.
7. Make sure you accelerate your pushes. The push should start slow as you apply pressure from your big core muscles. Then, as your triceps start working, the push accelerates, and ends with a very quick fling, with the palms of your hands facing backwards, to get the poles airborne.
8. Remind yourself to make healthy, *full* pole pushes. At the end of each pole-push, your shoulder and arm should be extended as fully behind you as possible, with hand open, and arm muscles relaxed. To ensure you’re doing full pushes, check that your hand travels well past your hip with each swing. (A good warm-up exercise is to stand (without the poles) and swing your arms back and forth (gorilla-style, with a bit of a knee-bend), to work your shoulder joint and gradually extend its range of motion).
9. Remember that to take pressure off your knees and ankles, you must allow some of your body weight to rest on the poles. Each time the pole comes forward, use downward pressure on the hand strap to force the pole to accept your weight.
10. Remember to think about how applying downward pressure on the poles can simultaneously help push your shoulders back, and lift your chest up and open (this is how you get Nordic walking to improve your posture!)
Now, some walking tips (try this without the poles first!):
11. Think about landing on the middle of your heel, then rolling your foot slowly and consciously from heel-to-toe. Think of the bottom of the foot as being curved, like a rocking chair runner. Feel the ground under your feet, inch-by-inch, as your foot rolls forward. Do this motion forcefully, as if you were squishing slugs (or squeezing lemons) underfoot!
12. Push off from the toe. Think of creating a crease in the front of your shoe as you push. Picture yourself as a tiger whose claws dig into the ground before push-off. (Remember the exercise where we stood on one foot and pushed off ONLY using the toe muscles – this would be a good one to repeat!)
13. Use your legs like springs. Remember how you can softly bend at the hip, knee and ankle to cushion impact. Practice jumping up and down while cushioning your fall with your “leg-springs”. Next, try walking with your “leg-springs” – with each step you sink a little onto your foot as it rolls forward. This slight “bobbing” action should also make your arm swinging more pronounced!
14. Take nice long strides. Swing your WHOLE leg forward- ie, bring your hip joint forward along with the rest of your leg.This will give you a feeling of your hips swaying side-to-side. Practice this walk without the poles: coordinate your hip swing with a long and uninhibited arm swing. Runway style!! (NB – doing a warm-up with some forward lunges can be a good way of stretching the muscles in your inner thigh and helping expand your stride-length.)
Hills: remember that your polling rhythm shortens and quickens both when climbing and descending hills. It can be good to go to a hill and practice going up-and-down as a group!
– When climbing hills: lean forward a little, roll from mid-foot to toe (instead of heel-to-toe), and shorten your stride. Put good downward pressure on those hand straps, and use lots of stomach to push you up the hill.
– When descending hills: sit back a little, in the squat position – make sure to put pressure on the pole straps so they take some pressure off your knees. Take smaller steps, while concentrating on cushioning each step with a soft and spring-like leg.
– For really steep hills or uneven terrain, remember you can always put the poles out in front of you and hold tightly for extra stability!
Finally, remember to take nice big breaths of fresh air, and feel good about yourself for getting out with your poles! You’re now working more muscles, burning more calories, and circulating more oxygen in your body than you would be during a regular walk -making your body more healthy with every step. Congratulations :)