Walking with Poles
Nordic walking is a popular fitness activity
in Europe that started out as a cross-training
activity for skiers. Here’s why it’s catching on
in North America.
By Mark Halsall
Even in the cold of winter, people are often looking for different activities to
do that provide great outdoor exercise. There are tried and true options like
skiing and skating, of course, but there’s one up-and-coming activity you
may not even know about that doesn’t need deep powder or a frozen pond.
It is called Nordic walking, and it’s a form of fitness walking that utilizes specially
designed poles. As the name suggests, it originated in Scandinavia, where competitive
cross-country skiers started doing it as a cross-training activity during the
In the past few decades, Nordic walking has become a popular year-round pastime
for athletes and non-athletes alike in Europe. It’s been gaining popularity in
North America in recent years, as more people become aware of its many health
and fitness benefits.
Tom Rutlin of Madison, Wis., produces his own brand of Nordic walking poles
under the Exerstrider brand. A self-professed fitness fiend, he discovered the benefits
of Nordic walking while recovering from a running injury in the 1980s. Rutlin
went from running 50 to 60 miles a week to Nordic walking about 20 miles a week,
and lost weight and added muscle in the process.
“It was more efficient exercise,” he said. “A shorter, more intense workout became
a substitute for the long run.” Rutlin notes that the fitness benefits are quite
similar to Nordic skiing because of the involvement of the upper body.
“It adds something to just going for a walk,” said Lori Hildebrandt, a physical
education schoolteacher in Winnipeg, Man., who’s also a certified Nordic walking
instructor. “Your arms are involved, which gets your heart rate higher. It becomes
more of a full body activity.”
Hildebrandt’s clients range from avid walkers who are looking to get a little bit
more out of their walks, to people recovering from injuries or those who have balance
or mobility issues and can benefit from the added stability that the poles provide.
Many are seniors who are simply seeking a convenient, low-impact activity
that isn’t too hard to do.
Hildebrand started Nordic walking about a dozen years ago when an injury prevented
her from running as often as she’d like. “I think I may have been the only
person doing this in Winnipeg back then,” she said. “There’s definitely a lot more
people doing it now.”
34 April 2018 | snowopsmag.com