Pole position

Take your first steps towards Nordic walking with our handy guide

If you are a keen walker looking to up your fitness levels, Nordic walking could be just the thing to turbo charge your next outdoor ramble. Walkers use specially designed poles which help to engage the upper and lower body, meaning that 90 per cent of the major muscles are being used with every step.

“It literally turns a walk into a workout similar to that gained on a crosstrainer machine, only in the great outdoors!” says Gill Stewart, bestselling author of The Complete Guide to Nordic Walking. She adds: “It’s extremely beneficial for posture, reduces pressure on knees and lower body joints, tones the whole body and helps with weight management due to an increased calorie burn.”

So what equipment is needed?

Gill recommends a good pair of specific Nordic walking poles (not those used for trekking), plus a pair of flexible-soled walking shoes and clothing suitable for the weather. She adds: “Backpacks or waist belts are also a great idea so you can carry water, phones and a spare layer.”

Master the technique

Before you just grab a pair of walking poles and set off, it’s a good idea to learn the technique first, to make sure that you are engaging the right muscles. “Do not try to learn from videos or teach yourself,” says Gill. “A good instructor will be able to match the technique to both your ability and your goals.”

As for tips on technique, Gill says that the secret is in the propulsion gained from the poles. “This will only happen if you have the right pole length, get the plant angle correct and utilise the straps,” she advises. “The action originated from the training regime of cross country skiers, so involves a long arm swing to gain power from the upper body that is transferred to the poles via the straps which also help the hand articulate as you step forwards. The poles need to be planted behind you in order to propel you forward and the grip needs to be light.”

Get started

All Nordic Walking UK instructors will offer a 45-minute taster session for free. Simply put your postcode into the Find a Class section on www.nordicwalking.co.uk.

“It’s a very sociable exercise and I have made a lot of friends”

Viki Carpenter, 43, from Cornwall, is a keen Nordic walker. Here she explains how she got started and what benefits she has gained from it.

“A friend recommended Nordic walking to me a couple of years ago. When I went to try it, I was a bit cynical to be honest. I didn’t really think poles were necessary and thought I would look foolish using them. It seemed an ‘older person’ activity. But the instructor, Kelly Bennett of Walk Kernow, was really helpful. She explained that Nordic walking was a means of exercising the upper body as well as your lower body while walking, almost a mobile cross-training if you will.

“We were taught the basics of the technique, how to hold the poles properly so you don’t slip and hurt your wrist, how to use the poles to help you go up hills and down hills. This was a revelation as it is so much easier to go up hills whilst Nordic walking as you can use the poles to take the strain off your leg muscles. It’s also the case that you burn as many calories per mile as you do running, but there is less strain on your joints. It’s a very sociable exercise and I have made a lot of friends walking with my group Walk Kernow – it’s very natural to talk as you walk and drop in and out of conversation with different people. It’s also a lovely way to go out and enjoy being in the countryside. I see all the seasons now, frost in the woods in the winter, the first signs of spring and all the changing hedgerow flowers that come out over the summer and autumn. I also enjoy the benefits of extra vitamin D as well as the sense of wellbeing that being out in the great outdoors brings.

“When I started, I could barely walk three miles and was quickly breathless going up hills. I was very unfit. But I’ve walked regularly for nearly three years now and last June I Nordic-walked 26 miles on the Race to the King event over the South Downs with fellow walkers. I’ve lost a little weight (two stones) but it is my general sense of wellbeing and energy that I notice the most. It’s a wonderfully inclusive sport.”

Put your best foot forward

Whether you’re a Nordic walker or an ordinary hiker, the Ramblers Festival of Winter Walks is a great way of getting outside and enjoying the British countryside at its wintry best. This winter walking festival takes place between 17 December 2016 and 8 January 2017 and has plenty of free activities on offer. Ramblers groups will be leading hundreds of free walks taking place all over Britain. These range from short festive strolls to blow away the cobwebs, right up to whole day hikes to kick-start New Year’s resolutions, and everything in between.

In England people can join Walking for Health, England’s largest network of health walk schemes, delivered in partnership by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support. In Wales they can walk with Let’s Walk Cymru, led by Ramblers Cymru. For those who prefer to walk alone, or lead their own walks, festival routes are available from Ramblers Routes, an online library of more than 2,500 of Britain’s best walks. Anyone in Scotland can download the free Medal Routes App to find over 1,100 short walks across Scotland.

For further information about the Festival of Winter Walks and to browse the festive walks or routes on offer visit www.ramblers.org.uk/winterwalks

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