Finnish sports professional, and one of the founding fathers of Nordic Walking, Marko Kantaneva shares how to get the most from this popular sport.
Marko Kantaneva travels the world teaching the art of Nordic Walking. He just visited Russia, for example, where he taught a group of 1200 people how to improve their technique. He’s now busy planning the Nordic Walking World Cup, which is held across eight cities in seven countries.
While studying at the Finnish Sport Institute in the 90s, Kantaneva wrote the original paper explaining Nordic Walking, how to do it, and exercises to develop the technique. He also designed the world’s first Nordic Walking poles. He’s been living and breathing Nordic Walking ever since.
What is Nordic Walking?
It all started in Finland. Cross-country skiers wanted to stay in shape over the summer months, so they walked with their skiing poles, helping them to maintain their technique and overall condition. That evolved over the decades into how we know Nordic Walking today. It’s simply walking with poles, in a particular way.
What are the benefits of Nordic Walking?
“In Nordic Walking, the training effect is very comprehensive because all main the muscle groups are in use, just like in a cross country skiing action,” Kantaneva says. “To put it simply, the legs and hips will receive active partnership from the arms and upper body muscles as a result of the pole walking action. This important detail – adding the upper body muscles to support your walking action – makes it a more comprehensive and effective total body workout.”
- It uses more muscles than ordinary walking – about 90% of the body’s muscles.
- Count the calories as they burn – 46% more than regular walking.
- Generates a higher heart rate than ordinary walking.
- Using poles decreases the load and strain on the lower body.
- The pole action tones upper arms, shoulders and back muscles.
- The cross-lateral movement of pole walking improves the lateral mobility of the spine.
- It develops core stability and strength.
- A few weeks of regular pole walking begins to improve posture.
How to get started?
“The best way to get started, especially in Europe, is to find a club,” Kantaneva says. “I would really recommend to find an instructor who can show you how Nordic Walking is done. Of course, you can do it by yourself, but if you don’t really have any background with pole sports then some things might seem weird. You can’t do anything wrong, but it’s more enjoyable when you get advice from the pros.”
That said, getting started is easy enough. Kantaneva helps to break it down:
Get yourself a pair of Nordic Walking poles, and ensure they are the correct length for your height. Follow this easy calculation to find the right pole length: multiply your height (in centimeters) by 0.7 and the sum is the advisable pole length.
Start out by walking normally, dragging the poles behind you without swinging your arms. Focus on relaxing and finding a good walking rhythm. After about 20 to 30 m of walking start to swing your arms in time with your steps. After another 20 m, start to plant your pole either beside each foot, or a little behind, depending on your height and pole length. Keep your grip on the pole relaxed.
Essentials to remember:
- Lean slightly forward, from the pelvis, as you walk.
- Try to finish the pole thrust behind the pelvic line.
- Do not squeeze the grip or the pole, instead imagine you are holding a little bird and want to keep it alive. Hold it gently!
- At the end of the pole thrust, open your palm slightly and end the thrust with the palm resting on the pole strap.
- Bring the pole forwards grip first, and never the pole tip first.
Get out there!
Kantaneva recommends starting out by Nordic walking 30 minutes to an hour most days. Do this, he says, and your overall health will improve in no time. Track your efforts with the Sports Tracker app, which includes Nordic Walking as an activity type.