Nordic Walking Guide
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Nordic Walking Guide

Even a beginning exerciser can burn up to 30 percent more calories while walking by using poles.

Nordic Walking Facts

  • You can blast more than 500 calories an hour, almost as many as you would while jogging, but with significantly less impact on your joints.
  • You'll sculpt a leaner upper body. Each time you push off the pole, you work your arms, chest, shoulders, and back, as well as your abs, legs, and butt. Nordic walking also strengthens your heart and helps you lose weight.
  • It's a hit with women new to exercise. Participation is growing rapidly as more classes pop up across the country and as companies promote the workout to nonathletic types. To locate an instructor near you, log on to or And to watch the technique in action, visit

Are you a runner looking for a low-impact cross-training plan? Check out our special "Nordic Walking for Runners" plan.


Getting Started

Nordic walking is a great workout for all levels because poles offer stability and the routine is considered low-impact. You can buy a good set of poles for around $100 in stores like REI or Sports Authority.

Don't Use Any Old Poles
Save the kind you ski with for the slopes. "You're best off using poles that are designed specifically for Nordic walking," says Malin Svensson, president of Nordic Walking USA in Santa Monica, California. You can choose between adjustable and nonadjustable models. The adjustable versions store easily and can fit more than one user; the nonadjustable models are generally lighter and won't accidentally collapse on you.

Size Them Up
Hold the grip with the tip on the ground and the pole vertical, arm close to body; your elbow should be bent 90 degrees. If you're buying online, has a chart that suggests pole height based on your height. If you're a beginner and between sizes, go with the shorter model -- you'll move more fluidly, says Mark Fenton, an International Nordic Walking Association master coach.

Strap In
Like shoes, poles come in left and right models. Find the correct side, then slide your hand through the strap and hold the grip. If there's an additional Velcro strap, wrap it securely around your wrist. Grip the poles lightly with your hands.

Pick Your Setting
Nordic walking poles come with rubber tips, which work best on paved surfaces. If you're walking in grass, sand, dirt or snow, remove the rubber for better traction.

Who Makes Your Poles, Anyway?

Here, three pole choices FITNESS likes:

Exel Stride Gray/Lavender ($85) is your best low-cost bet. It's made from a lightweight, durable carbon composite, so it's strong but relatively light, which translates to greater comfort and efficiency on longer walks. (

Our favorite feature on the Swix NW 520-PC Classic ($99) is the incredibly comfortable mesh strap, which feels soft against your skin without getting too clammy. The rubber tips are slightly rounded, not angled, so they won't trip you up if they twist. (

Superlight and superfast, the LEKI blue Instructor poles ($149.95) adjust from 39 to 51 inches and feature an aluminum/carbon construction that gives you speed without weight. The releasable trigger straps also let you slip out of the poles without unstrapping. (

Perfecting Your Form

Yes, you learned to put one foot in front of the other in toddlerhood, but Nordic walking does have a small learning curve. The biggest challenge is coordinating your arms and legs. Here's how to nail the technique.

  1. First, you carry. Hold a pole in each hand, grasping it lightly. Walk with the poles alongside you, letting your arms swing in natural opposition to your legs (i.e., your left arm and right foot move in tandem). Do this for several minutes, until it feels natural.
  2. Then, you drag. Strap on the poles. As you walk, open your hands and let the poles drag behind you. (You'll skip this step once you move on.) Notice how the poles angle back behind you.
  3. Next, you plant. Plant the poles on the ground, rather than dragging them. Lightly hold the grips and keep the poles angled at about 45 degrees backward. Hold your elbows close to your body with your arms straight but relaxed. Focus on making good contact with the ground.
  4. Then, you push. As you get more comfortable walking, firmly push the poles backward with each step, applying force through the strap. Push your arm past your hip, opening up your hand at the end of the arm swing. As each arm comes forward, pretend you're reaching forward to shake someone's hand.
  5. Finally, perfect it! To maximize your workouts, tweak your form. Roll from your heels through to your toes. "If I were standing behind you, I should see the sole of your shoe as you push off," says Fenton. Maintain good posture and lean forward slightly from your ankles. Also, lengthen your stride: You'll get a fuller arm swing while giving your legs a better workout.

New Ways to Walk

Are you a runner looking for a low-impact cross-training plan? Check out our special "Nordic Walking for Runners" plan.

GOAL 1: If you want to learn the technique

Sunday: (Level of Difficulty: EASY)
30 minutes: Focus on a full but comfortable range of motion in your arms. Calorie burn: 170

Monday: (Level of Difficulty: MODERATE)
30 minutes: Push forcefully with the poles while maintaining a fast pace. Keep you eyes looking forward on the horizon so your chin is level; avoid hunching your shoulders. Calorie burn: 250

Tuesday: (Level of Difficulty: EASY)
30 minutes: Skip the poles (to give your arms a break). Calorie burn: 140

Wednesday: (Level of Difficulty: EASY)
45 minutes: Concentrate on form. Reach your palm forward as if shaking hands with someone, keeping elbow slightly bent. For a full push-off, push your hand past your hip. Calorie burn: 250

Thursday: (Level of Difficulty: EASY)
30 minutes: Same as on Sunday. Calorie burn: 170

Friday: OFF

Saturday: (Level of difficulty: EASY to MODERATE)
45 minutes: Find a route that allows you to work hills about half the time. Uphill, lengthen your stride and lean forward slightly. Downhill, decrease your stride slightly. Calorie burn: 250 to 280

GOAL 2: If you want to maximize your calorie burn

Sunday: (Level of Difficulty: EASY)
30 minutes: Same as Goal 1. Calorie burn: 170

Monday: (Level of Difficulty: MODERATE)
50 minutes: After 20 minutes of easy walking, do bounding drills (ideally on grass); take extra-long strides for the length of a football field, driving the front knee up and pushing vigorously with poles. Recover for the same distance and repeat; continue for 15 minutes, then walk at a moderate pace for 15 minutes. Calorie burn: 420

Tuesday: (Level of Difficulty: EASY)
30 minutes: Skip the poles (to give your arms a break). Calorie burn: 140

Wednesday: (Level of Difficulty: EASY to MODERATE)
60 minutes: Walk on rolling terrain. (See tips for Saturday under Goal 1.) Calorie burn: 330 to 500

Thursday: (Level of Difficulty: EASY)
40 minutes: Focus on posture. (See tips for Monday under Goal 1.) Calorie burn: 220

Friday: OFF

Saturday: (Level of difficulty: EASY to MODERATE)
75 minutes: Walk on trails (ideally) or pavement; build up to 3 hours. Calorie burn: 410 to 630

Are you a runner looking for a low-impact cross-training plan? Check out our special "Nordic Walking for Runners" plan.


Originally published in FITNESS magazine, April 2007.