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Nordic Walking: Getting Started

I maintain that Nordic Walking is the best exercise, bar none.  Now, if you’re training to be an Olympic Weightlifting champion, then you’ll need some pure strength training over and above Nordic Walking, but for general health and fitness, it can’t be beaten, whatever your level.

I recently realised that I wasn’t getting the “whatever your level” message across, so I wrote this blog post: “Nordic Walking: from Unfit to Superfit“; if you haven’t read it, you might want to head over there now.  If you’re not sure whether you fit into the “Unfit to Super Fit” bracket, at one end of the scale we have a group of 13 seniors, average age 87, learning Nordic Walking in their sheltered accommodation.  At the other end of the scale we have champion alpine skiers running up mountains using NW poles “in the dry season” as part of their fitness regime.

I have been researching nutrition a lot recently, and am very interested in the Ketogenic Diet (don’t know what a ketogenic diet is?  Try “What is Nordic Walking, in a nutshell?“)  I have some blog posts of my own:

The last one is a guide to someone else’s encyclopedic guide, and the relevance here is that he recommends certain sorts of exercise.

3J. Aerobic Exercise

 The body burns primarily glycogen when the heart rate is above 70% of its max. Therefore, aerobic exercises such as HIIT are good for burning liver-glycogen stores during induction, but such high-intensity exercise is not recommended once under ketosis as once muscle-glycogen stores are depleted, the body will begin catabolizing mainly muscle-mass under any high-intensity activity.

The ideal aerobic exercises to perform when under ketosis are MISS (medium intensity steady state) and LISS (low intensity steady state).

HIIT = Periods of high-intensity activity followed by an abrupt switch to low-intensity activity.

MISS = Maintained medium-intensity activity (lightly jogging).

LISS = Maintained low-intensity activity (walking).

I maintain that Nordic Walking can actually supply all three types.  Gentle Nordic Walking will give you LISS, but better than just walking.  If you are obese (“a person of size”) then your weight will put stress on your skeleton and your joints.  When I began all of this even a medium walk made my back ache more than anything else because of the strain on my back muscles from carrying my belly fat around (any woman who has been pregnant will be able to relate to this!)  The Nordic Walking poles support your upper body as well as your lower body and take part of that strain off of your muscles as well has giving your hips and knees an easier time.

At the same time, Nordic Walking is exercising all of your major muscle groups (legs, arms and core muscles), not just your legs, so you are burning more calories for less apparent effort.

When you have got a little fitter you can crank up the Nordic Walking a bit (check out ”Nordic Walking: from Unfit to Superfit“).  And if you need to do HIIT, you can do that through Nordic Walking, too (again, check out that other blog post).

Getting Started

Amazon ImageAmazon ImageYou will need a set of Nordic Walking poles.  Susan and I started with Leki Spins, which you can get from Amazon.  The link on the left is to Amazon UK, that on the right to Amazon.com.  The UK site says “stick” … but they are a pair!  If anything I think the American site offers a slightly better deal, but it depends where you live.

Don’t mistake trekking poles for Nordic Walking poles, they are NOT the same thing.  Our current favourite poles are Gabel Fusion.  As far as I can tell they aren’t available in the USA (unless you know differently) and in the UK are only available through Nordic Walking UK.  As Susan is a registered instructor with NWUK, I believe that we can get them at a discount, so talk to us!

What we like about them are that they are three section and will break down small enough to go even in an Easyjet-approved cabin bag!  Also, they come with a variety of accessories, like different hand grips so that you can use them as NW poles or trekking poles, and various tips for hard surface, soft surface, mud and even snow (although I had left the snow baskets at home when I encountered soft, waist-deep snow in Aspen in March 2013!)

If you are in the USA, particularly if you’re in Colorado, consider getting Boomyah Tone & Trek (I have recently discovered that Boomyah are going out of business and have stopped manufacturing!  But, for the moment, their videos still work). They are a little easier than others to use, and they do have a great set of videos on their site to teach you how to use them.  Here’s their intro video (but all the benefits they mention apply to any set of NW poles):

I have recently discovered a new Nordic Walking pole manufacturer in Estonia.  When I come back to Florida in the winter I may well bring a stock of their poles: they are excellent, and inexpensive.

OK, great!  Now, how do we actually do it?  Here are four videos of Susan, showing the basics:

These four videos give you 80% of everything you need to know, in about 20% of the time (or less!)

Here Susan demonstrates good walking technique:

Here’s the proper grip on the poles:

The proper angle of the poles:

And lastly, Susan puts it all together:

… and here are the Boomyah videos covering pretty much the same stuff.  First, Getting Ready”

The basics:

Warm up and cool down stretches:

There are other videos: see them all on the Boomyah site.

That’s it: you’re Nordic Walking!

Amazon ImageAmazon ImageOther kit that you need.  If you are taking your health seriously, and especially if you’re on a ketogenic diet, you need to be drinking water.  If you are walking anywhere that the temperature is anything above chilly, you need to be drinking extra water, especially if the exercise is increasing your breathing rate.  And you might have noticed that both of your hands are strapped in to your Nordic Walking poles, making it difficult to access your drink bottle without poking your eye out!  Which is why you need something like a Camelbak or other hydration-ready back pack, complete with drinking bladder and tube.

Amazon ImageThe type of backpack you get is completely up to you and how much you want to spend.  But I can’t recommend highly enough that you get a Platypus Hoser bladder and tube.  They have the stunning advantage of not tasting like hospitals smell!  Again, UK on the left, USA on the right.  Those illustrated are two-liter.  The hotter the area where you walk (I’m thinking Florida here!) the more likely you need to go with the three-liter version.

The picture here is of a Camelbak back pack, but it doesn’t have to be Camelbak.  As much as I’d like you to use our Amazon affiliate links, you’d probably do better to go to your local outdoors store, and talk to the folk there.  You want a day pack that is “hydration ready” (that just means it’s got a place to put the bladder and a hole for the tube to come through).  Then you can drink and walk without even stopping, which means you can take frequent sips, rather than waiting until your mouth is like the Sahara desert!

Amazon ImageAmazon ImageThe next thing that you might need is a heart-rate monitor.  Remember, once you are into ketosis you are aiming for low to moderate intensity exercise.  The temptation is to go too far, too fast.  A good heart rate monitor will have a strap round your chest with a transmitter, and a watch/monitor combined.  You can pay a fortune for these, but the ones illustrated here are perfectly adequate.

When they arrive, read the instructions and when you don’t understand them, get your nephew or the kid next door to help!  You have to program in your age, gender, height, weight, etc.  It will then tell you when you’re in the “fat-burning zone”.  Basically, it tells you to stop or slow down if you’re going too fast, which is really important.  The alternative is that you get very tired to no good effect!

Lastly, you need something on your feet.  Here I would NOT ask the guy in the shop, because he will start talking about pronation and supination and have you walking up and down the shop, and out the door and down the street to visit with your bank to get a loan for the huge amount of money that they will want to charge you.  But here’s the thing.  Foot injuries and ankle injuries and leg injuries only started to really get bad after Nike.  All that support means that the muscles of your legs and feet don’t have to do anything, and they get soft and floppy.  As long as your soles are protected from sharp stones and your feet are kept reasonable dry, and the shoes feel comfortable, that should do.  Vibram soles are good (they grip and don’t wear out too soon) … but I have recently taken to wearing soft Crocs, and they seem to be fine.  It’s what suits you best, is comfortable, and doesn’t cost the earth.  The first man to run a four-minute mile did it in a pair of thin leather slippers.  Think what native Americans used to wear: moccasins. They make your feet work and keep the muscles strong.

Where Should I walk, and How Far?

I have a simple pedometer: cost me about £10 or $15.  You can pick them up in a sports store or from Amazon or eBay.  Wear one for a week, without doing anything new.  At the end of the week see how many steps you have taken.  If you have taken 70,000 steps in a week then you don’t need any advice from me!

But let’s say you only walked 10,000 steps in a week.  That means you are 60,000 short of a healthy goal.  So, over 26 weeks you are going to increase from 10,000 to 70,000 steps in a week, by doing three short walks and one long walk (where the long is three times longer than the short) each week.  Each week you are going to do 2,400 steps more than the week before, but in six “units”.  So your short walk the first week will be 2400/6 = 400 steps, and your long will be 1200 steps.  Each week your short walks will be 400 steps longer than the previous week, and your long walk 1200 steps longer.  That does mean that in week two you’ll walk twice as far as week one, but the walks in week one were so trivially short it doesn’t matter!

But by week 26 your short walks will be about 2.5 miles and your long walks a little over 6 miles, and you’ll never look back!

Happy walking!

Oh, and, where should you walk?  Anywhere that pleases you, but if it were me it would have grass and trees and sky!

Nordic Walking: from Unfit to Superfit

I get  two main reactions from people when I talk about Nordic Walking:

  1. I couldn’t do that: I’m not fit enough
  2. Pah! I couldn’t be bothered because I’m already super-fit.

Clearly, I’m not explaining myself well enough.  Let’s deal with number 2, first.

Nordic Walking was invented by competitive cross-country skiers who wanted a way of training in the summer, when there’s no snow.  Cross-country skiers are amongst the fittest sports people there are, having the highest VO2 max (ability to use oxygen).

Here’s a video of some Norwegians using Nordic Walking to get fit:

It has some Norwegian captions:  here are the translations:

Annie M Lingjerde

Norwegian Alpine Ski Team 87-92 Physiotherapist, Training Instructor

Stavgang er mer enn du tror Walking is more than you think

AnnieOne’s Nordic Walking er et egenutviklet treningskonsept AnnieOne’s Nordic Walking is an in-house training concept

Tren smart og kjenn forskjellen! Train smart and feel the difference!

Vi bruker Naturen som vårt helsestudio! We use nature as our gym!

Kom i form på en humørfylt, profesjonell og trygg måte! Get fit in a humorous, professional and safe way!

Stavgangteknikkene lærer du underveis You learn The Nordic Walking techniques along the way

Vi streber etter at enhver skal få trene ut fra det nivået er på! We strive to make sure any work is based on your level!

When she says “based on your level” I don’t think she’s thinking of me!  There are international NW competitions where they do the equivalent of Alpine biathlons: nordic walking (well, running!) and target shooting.

This next video (it’s 30-minutes long, but is in sections, so you can watch a bit at a time) goes way beyond any level I’ve ever achieved, but shows that Nordic Walking (and its extension here, Nordic Ski Walking) can take you to high levels of workout:

Next is a 2-minute video, in Spanish with English subtitles, showing the benefits of Nordic Walking in preventing and ameliorating osteoporosis.  Nordic Walking is probably the number one exercise to help prevent osteoporosis as it is a load-bearing exercise but reduces shock loading.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the age range, here are a group of 13 people, average age 87, making good use of Nordic Walking:

Finally, here’s my favourite Nordic Walking video … I just think it captures the spirit:

The True Meaning of Easter

There was a man on the telly the other day, berating us, and saying we should remember the True Meaning of Easter. It’s not all about bunnies and eggs, he was saying.

Well, pardon me, but that is precisely the true meaning of Easter! The word “easter” comes from “Eostre” an ancient goddess of fertility, and I believe, it may also be connected with “oestrus” (Greek οἶστρος) which can have a variety of meanings, but is also used medically as well as culturally as a description of female fertility. Think oestrus cycle and oestrogen.

Hence all the eggs and bunnies. It’s about fertility.

We were out walking yesterday, in the Chiltern Hills, and the world was just bursting with new life and fertility. Bluebells filled the beech woods with an aromatic sea of purple; we breathed deep to get our fill of the scent. Red kites soared, lambs gamboled, buds burst, fertility was simply bursting out everywhere, unable to restrain itself and our hearts filled with thanks.

When asked by officialdom to supply details of my religious beliefs, I always reply “Taoist”, partly because it confuses them, and I resent being asked, but also because I probably am a Taoist. I love the yin-yang symbol, it represents my experience as a gardener and a lover of the natural world.

In the middle of winter, standing in the vegetable garden, fork in hand, chatting to a robin, when all is dark and dank and dead, I come across a tiny fresh green shoot, and it seems like the very beginning of summer. It is the white dot in the middle of the black swirl in the yin-yang symbol. And six months later, when summer is burgeoning, everything is growing in a frenzied way, the birds are singing and the bees buzzing, I’m rooting about in the vegetable garden, pulling weeds, and I come across something that has died. It’s a harbinger of the coming winter. It’s the black dot in the middle of the white swirl.

What the yin-yang symbol reminds me is to be grateful for the on-going cycle of death and rebirth, and walking in the spring sunshine made our hearts almost burst with gratitude at the simply wonderful rebirth that is this spring.

So, for some people in the world, Easter is an opportunity to celebrate one Man’s death and rebirth, but the true meaning of Easter, the original meaning of Easter, and the meaning of Easter that’s relevant to all of us, whatever our religious affiliations, is that it’s an opportunity to celebrate and to give thanks for the on-going cycle of death and re-birth, because in this realisation is our salvation. Things die. We grieve. But they are reborn and we give thanks and celebrate. This is truly a wonderful gift, and the hope of the world, made real.

Spring Break Press Release

Walk A Marathon In A Month

There’s a great article showing how to construct a highly effective health plan through Nordic Walking.

This walking plan will blast fat and burn serious calories, and it’s as easy as putting one foot in front of the other. You’ll start gradually with steady power walking in week one, add distance and intensity in week two, begin logging serious miles in week three and walk the equivalent of a full-fledged marathon by the end of week four.

So says Nicole Dorsey-Straff in the That’s Fit Blog.

“Striding the equivalent of a marathon — 26.2 miles — is actually easier than you think in a month if you make it consistent,” said fitness expert and author of “Nordic Walking,” Malin Svensson …

The article gives a great plan for building up the distance, and the health-giving benefits, gradually over four weeks.  And Dorsey-Straff recognises the benefits of using Nordic Walking poles:

Tip: For more variety, challenge your muscles and increase your heart rate and endurance by adding hill training and/or Nordic walking with two poles. “Using poles and adding hills to walking training engages more muscle groups, blasts double the calories [compared to] a regular walk, and increases balance and strength,” said Svensson.

We’re with you all the way, Malin!

Brighter Brains for Happy Walkers

Brains shrink in older people, but a recent study shows exercise increases brain power. And as Walking For Happiness is the most effective, and second most fun exercise on the planet, available to all, from the super-fit to the super-fat, what’s not to like! Sharpen your brain, NOW!

Read this article from Mercola.com: Simple Way to Radically Increase Your Brain Power

Weight Loss and Exercise with Walking for Happiness

Barry at Nordic Walk 2 Fitness in Newcastle published a really interesting article in his blog about other ways that exercise can help with weight loss, and it ties in nicely with our Walking for Happiness philosophy.

Here’s a quote from their site:

” … vigorous aerobic exercise has an appetite suppression effect over the short term. In 2008 , scientists at Loughborough University in the UK found that two hormones which affected appetite were affected by vigourous aerobic exercise , namely ghrelin and peptide YY. Ghrelin stimulates appetite whilst peptide YY suppresses appetite. Following exercise ghrelin was down regulated whilst peptide YY was up regulated – the overall effect being to suppress appetite – the effect lasted a few hours.

Conclusion to all this is that dietary control is the major factor in weight loss and is assisted by exercise. Relying on exercise alone will not lead to significant weight reduction. Further suuport for this may be in the article entitled The Exercise Myth by Dr John Baradi , a well know US-based Fitness Professional and , in my view , a very honest man !”

Of course, Nordic Walking burns more calories than ordinary walking, improves your mood by increasing serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, and develops lean muscle mass, which, in turn, burns more calories.

Togetherness

My wife, Susan, and I (and George McDoggle) love to be together and that means that we often do things together.  But, I suspect, we’re much better at being together than we are at doing together.  That involves skills that we are still developing.  I think we may have a way to go yet.

Let’s start with George, famous for “in-the-way-itis”.  Medical pedants say the suffix “itis” means inflammation.  Right.  You’ve no idea how inflamed we get when George is in the way again.  He’s a BIG dog, so when he’s in the way, he’s really in the way.

It’s because he’s a bit selfish, is George.  He wants what he wants, and he wants it now.  We’ve tried to teach him the benefits of delayed gratification, but he hasn’t caught on yet.  So, although we may be doing something that is ultimately for his benefit (getting his dinner, getting ready to go for a walk, packing to go away for a walking weekend), he can’t see the bigger picture; can’t see outside his own boundaries, and is so excited, so focused on what he wants, now, that he gets in the way, bless him, and slows everything down, to his, and everyone else’s, exasperation.  We try and explain, but he doesn’t get it.

Funnily enough though, we often don’t communicate adequately with each other, either.  We fail to explain our own bigger picture, and often get in each other’s way, slowing down or rendering less effective whatever joint endeavour we have going.  If we spent half as long communicating with each other before we began some task as we do afterwards, trying to unpick what went wrong (“I thought you said you were going to pack the walking shoes!”, “No, what I said was, will you pack the shoes while I pack the rucksacks”) life would be much easier.

People often ask us what it is that we teach in our signature course, “Together We Can”–after all, everyone knows (don’t they?) that the word TEAM means Together Everyone Achieves More.  So if you just get a bunch of people together, you have a team, and we’ll all achieve more, won’t we?

No.  Without a set of communications skills (giving everyone the big picture, listening, really hearing, knowing how to achieve compromise, knowing how to allow each other’s ideas, passions, emotions, giving people real attention) you don’t have a team, you have a crowd, where “too many cooks spoil the broth”.

So our simple formula is to share our objectives (often, that’s enough!), develop a plan together, that we agree upon, allocate tasks (me, you, us, need help), and keep communicating.  And remember that things can go wrong, and adjustments will need to be made.

And finally, when the project is done, we celebrate.  Sometimes it’s a weekend away, a dinner for two, sometimes just a high-five and “we did it” … the celebration of all wins is a sure-fire togetherness generator.

James Hardiman and Susan Courtney run “Together We Can” workshops to teach the skills of peer support in a wide variety of situations.  They don’t usually bring George McDoggle.

Step 10 Nordic Walking: Are You Man (or Woman) Enough?

Are you ready for the ultimate training experience?  A simple, low-cost, take anywhere training programme capable of taking you to the top levels of fitness?  Step 10 Nordic Walking will fit your bill.

Recently Nordic Walking (energetic walking with specialist ski-like poles; open-air cross-training) has seen a surge in interest, but more with people who haven’t done a lot of exercise than with serious athletes.  This is probably the fault of a misunderstanding.

The International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA) describes 10 steps to learning Nordic Walking, but most instructors only teach the first six steps, which is fine if what you want is Walking for Health.  But steps 7 and 8 (Walking for Fitness) and steps 9 and 10 (Walking for Sport) will give you a more powerful, more whole-body, more balanced workout than any other regime, and it’s easy, portable (I’m writing this on a flight to Bangkok; my Nordic Walking poles are in the hold) and low cost.

For older people, people with injuries and infirmities, people unused to exercise, the poles provide support and maybe lead to the view that its just “exercising with walking sticks”.  But in scientific tests of VO2 uptake, the fittest athletes are found to be cross-country skiers, and Nordic Walking is the same process.  It not only exercises all the muscles below the waist that jogging or running exercises, but abs, lower back, triceps, trapezius muscles, pecs, and the neck muscles: 90% of the major muscle groups.  How much of a workout you want to allocate to the legs and arms depends how you use the poles.

Steps 1-6 of Nordic Walking training ensure good basic walking technique (if you doubt that’s important, try going for a short stroll–by his standards–with a Masai tribesman, who will happily walk 50 miles without looking at all fazed), and good pole-walking technique.

If you watch someone walking at step 6, the hand pushing the pole only swings back as far as their hip.  That gives a nice easy walk that will improve your health and happiness.  Once you’ve got that down pat, try step 7, which is “push past pelvis”.  Just push an inch or two further with the pole.  You’ll find immediately that you have to lengthen your stride and start to speed up.  If that’s comfortable, find a long gentle uphill slope, and repeat the exercise.

Now you’re ready for step 8.  Extend your “pushing arm” backwards until pole and arm are in a straight line.  Now your stride is really long; you’re moving fast.  Try uphill and check your pulse rate after 5 minutes; you’ll be well into the anaerobic zone.

For step 9 lean forward as you move, and you’ll feel another surge forward.

With step 10 rotate your upper body so that the “pole arm shoulder” is helping the push backward, just as the opposite hip is rotating forward with the forward-striding leg, giving a further workout to front and back core group muscles.  The slight twist in the spine also encourages the inter-vertebral discs to imbibe synovial fluid slowing calcification and helping keep the spine supple.

As you move, throw the pole behind you, giving you the most powerful workout you’ll get anywhere.  For good measure, it’s a balanced workout exercising muscles in front and back, on your left and right side equally, and whilst it’s load-bearing, improving bone density, the poles reduce impact, reducing the likelihood of all those injuries that joggers and runners are heir to.

So if you think you’re up to the ultimate workout, get yourself some Nordic Walking poles and a good INWA-qualified instructor, and tell them you’re ready to try Step 10!

James Hardiman is an INWA-Qualified Nordic Walking Instructor.  He founded and runs www.WalkingForHappiness.co.uk, an organisation dedicated to improving the world’s health and happiness.  He can teach you step 10, but can’t yet keep it up for any distance!

Does Exercise Really Make You Live Longer and Happier?

We are constantly being told that exercise will make us healthier, and we presume that any happiness must come from being healthier, but just what mechanisms are at play when we exercise?

The unhealthy results of not exercising are all the fault of evolution.  For millions of years 99% of any danger that threatened us was physical danger, demanding a physical response.  Something, or someone, was out to get us, and the only practical response was to ward it off, fight it, or run away from it.  Whichever option we chose, we would need to use the large muscle groups in our arms, shoulders and legs.

So there is a rapid response circuit from the part of our brain that recognises threat, to the bit that “fast dumps” adrenaline into our system.  You know when it happens when something threatens and you feel jittery, anxious, maybe with a buzzy feeling in your arms and legs.

It’s like a shot of super-charged fuel into your system.  And if you use it up with strong physical activity, then all is fine.  If.  But in our modern society, threat is often non-physical.  Last weekend I was in Edinburgh. 400 miles north of where I live, and facing a busy week.  So when I woke up on Sunday morning to find our hotel snowed in, at the bottom of a steep, narrow, dead-end street, I was anxious as to whether I’d get the car out and get to my meeting, and even more anxious about whether we’d be OK driving home that evening.  I was jumpy and jittery all day, and the “threat” required almost no physical exertion (except when I had to get Susan to drive while I jumped out to push the car up the hill).  So the adrenaline that was dumped into my system didn’t get used up.

And that’s a problem.  Because, unused, adrenaline is corrosive to your body.  It causes stress, it results in blocked arteries and all sorts of excess wear and tear–and that has a premature aging effect.  What’s worse is that we live in a stressful society that causes our systems to produce adrenaline all the time; sometimes in great shots, sometimes just a dribble,  We need to get rid of it somehow.  But how?

Well, it won’t take a genius to guess what I’m going to say.  Regular exercise burns up all that excess adrenaline, and frees us of its corrosive effects.  But it does more than that.  Generous providence has hard-wired into us a few neat tricks designed to help our survival, both as individuals and as a species.  For instance, if sex was a thoroughly unpleasant experience for all concerned the species would have died out long ago.

In the same way, if you give it a chance and do it right, exercise can be pleasurable too; hence the name of my company; Walking for Happiness.  Not only does exercise burn up all that adrenaline with it’s corrosive effects, but it also boosts neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and the endorphins (the body’s own, natural, mimic for morphine) giving us natural highs, hopefully to encourage us to keep doing the things that will make us last longer, and happier.  So get out there, take some moderate exercise (too much “macho” exercise just produces more adrenaline!) and live long and strong.

James Hardiman is the founder of www.WalkingForHappiness.co.uk, a company dedicated  to helping us all become healthier and happier.  Check the website for more information.

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