You are currently viewing Downhill walking explained plus a useful talk test

Last week I wrote about the components of aerobic fitness: frequency, intensity, and duration.  This week I’m looking at one of those components – intensity –  and how you can calculate it. 

How hard you’re working when exercising can be measured either scientifically, using heart rate monitors, or by way of estimation. Many of you now wear fitness trackers which gives your heart and work rate and calculates the intensity for you.  However if you don’t have any gadgets you can still estimate the intensity.  I particularly like something called the ‘talk test’ and think it works really well for us Nordic walkers, especially as talking is a big part of what we do!  It works like this:

  • If you can talk non-stop without having to pause for breath you are unlikely to be working hard enough to improve your aerobic fitness.  It’s why ambling round the shops all day won’t actually make you fitter.
  • If you can talk reasonably comfortably (5-10 words before catching your breath) you are likely to be working out at a moderately intense heart rate level.  This is what I call steady state training. You could keep going at this rate for a while and it is great for increasing your heart capacity and overall aerobic fitness.
  • If you’re needing to take a breath every 3-5 words then that’s high intensity stuff and your heart is working pretty darn hard.  This is HITT territory.  Don’t do it for too long.
  • If you can’t actually talk at all then (unless it’s because the person next to you is chattering so much that you can’t get a word in edgeways) you’re overdoing it – so slow down before you fall down!

Downhill technique to give you confidence and speed

Whilst walking in Blaise last week I saw that a number of you were very anxious about walking downhill, especially when it was stony and slippy.  First, it is very sensible to be cautious down slopes, especially rocky ones.  It is de-stabilising and may cause your knees to ache or bring back memories of having fallen over before.  There are, however, some excellent tips for downhill walking, many of which are relevant even if you don’t have your poles with you.  Here they are:

  1. Tighten your stomach muscles.  This will help with your balance.  If possible (it takes practice), tighten your glutes – your bottom – as well.  This really ‘glues’ you to the ground.
  2. Soften or bend your knees.  The steeper the slope the more you should bend your knees.
  3. Keep your poles behind you and lean back into them.  Your aim is for your centre of gravity to drop just behind your knees – which takes the pressure off that joint.  The further you have the poles behind you the bigger your stability ‘triangle’.
  4. Shorten your stride.  Taking small steps makes you feel much more in control and more stable.  Remember to plant with your heel – if you walk down on your toes you are heading for a fall as it completely throws your balance out.
  5. Punch the pole firmly into the ground.  This then anchors you to the ground so that you don’t fall if your foot slips.  Caution though!  Don’t try and propel yourself forwards or rotate as these will affect your balance.
  6. Keep your shoulders relaxed.  Tension in your shoulders will de-stabilise you.
  7. Keep your head up and your chest lifted.
  8. Rigid walking boots make going downhill tricky.  You want a walking boot or shoe that has good grip but that isn’t too rigid.  So if you’re nervous about slopes maybe consider changing your footwear.

If you put all the above into action you should find that your confidence – and speed – going downhill increases.  Ultimately though the poles are your servant not your master.  So when the slope gets very steep, or if you are feeling really anxious it is fine (and wise) to put the poles in front of you.