Slouching or slumping is an easy habit to fall into. Unfortunately it’s not good for our health. It is why the chest is the next in my series of Nordic walking ‘what, why, how’ guides. The aim of these guides is to help you improve your health, strength and fitness through developing your Nordic walking technique. When you read Heather’s story below you will see what a difference it can have.
What are we trying to achieve?
Stretching out the tight muscles in the chest and lifting the chest into the right postural position.
Why should we care?
- Posture - a slumped chest and rounded shoulders pulls your whole body out of alignment, encourages your head to drop forwards and causes all sorts of postural and back problems.
- Breathing – walking with an ‘open’ chest gives your lungs the optimum space to do their job. It’s particularly noticeable going uphill. Poor breathing results in less oxygen being available at cellular level causing cellular inefficiency and stress.
- Core workout - lifting your chest lengthens the space around your waist and gives you a more effective core workout plus more room to twist and trim your waist.
- Advanced technique - without the chest lifted you can’t develop the more advanced aspects of the technique such as the ‘lean’. It also impacts on your speed.
How do we do it?
- Lengthen your spine – imagine trying to separate out the discs and vertebrae and elongate them the whole length up your spine including into your head.
- Keep the width between your shoulders. Visualise standing in a narrow alley and touching the wall either side of you with your shoulders.
- Stand tall out of your hips. The section between the top of your hip bones and the bottom of your rib cage has no bony structure to keep you upright so it collapses easily causing the chest to slump. Keep this gap as long as possible, especially when going uphill.
- Lead with your chest (aka stick your chest out). When I learned Nordic walking my instructor used the expression ‘tits and teeth’. I’ve never forgotten it.
- Incorporate the W's into your life. It’s a simple but brilliant exercise to stretch tight chest muscles and strengthen opposing back muscles. Click here to see a demo from my very helpful and long suffering Tuesday walkers.
A group of people who particularly benefit from lifting and opening the chest are those who suffer from asthma. Here’s a truly inspiring story from Heather, one of our walkers.
Nordic walking and me (by Heather Carrigan)
“I began my working life in an office in 1978 and started in the NHS in administration in 1980, taking up a managerial position in a GP Practice in 1992. Over the years, the job started to take over at the expense of my home life. Long working hours and the stress and continued pressure of a demanding environment took its toll on my general health and wellbeing. I tried various stints at the gym but hated it and once I lapsed, I didn’t go back. I tried the Reebok Runners with a colleague but didn’t seem to have the stamina for running and whilst others in the group progressed, I didn’t. Aquafit was just ‘too cold’ to sustain on a dark and gloomy winter’s evening after a long day at work.
In 2004, I was diagnosed with asthma out of the blue after feeling low and ill for some months and that was the ‘perfect excuse’ to avoid undue exercise for fear of breathlessness. I managed my asthma by self-limiting my exercise. My weight increased progressively especially following, on separate occasions, the incapacity of a broken foot, fractured toes and a torn cartilage in my knee.
In 2015 following recovery from foot surgery, I heard about Bristol Nordic walking from a colleague at work and asked my sister, Victoria, if she fancied looking into this. We signed-up for our induction walk with Ros in September that year and were both captivated by this alternative form of exercise from that first session. Immediately signing-up as a member for two sessions a week, I quickly started to notice the health benefits: improved fitness; less breathlessness; an improvement in my walking and posture; and an overall sense of achievement. I combined my walking with a healthy eating programme, my weight started to drop and the more walking sessions I did, the more I wanted to do. Since then I have steadily increased the number of walks I do a week, have lost well over 3 stone in weight and really enjoy the exercise elements in the combined walking and workout classes. I feel fit and healthy and naturally energised.
My asthma has receded to the extent that I no longer use steroid or reliever inhalers and although not confirmed by my GP yet, I feel it has resolved. I am not afraid of the challenge of exercise; I now embrace it. I am looking forward to participating in the Nordic walking marathon in September, something I would not have contemplated 18 months ago.
Bristol Nordic walking ticks all the boxes for me; the discipline of regular sessions which are a world away from the confines of an office environment, the continued development, the de-stressing and the sense of wellbeing I feel at the end of a walk. Last but not least and certainly not be underestimated, the very sociable nature of Nordic walking and the friendships that have developed.
My friends and family laugh at how I have even overcome a pathological fear of mud! I’m now quite happy sloshing over muddy fields and through swampy bridle paths in pursuit of the pure enjoyment of Nordic walking.”
Nordic walking can be an amazing catalyst for positive change. You can do it whatever your level of fitness and whatever your age, by yourself or with others. It is also something you can do for the rest of your life for as long as you can walk. Plus it's the perfect excuse to get out and walk in our beautiful parks and countryside.