A few months ago in How to Nordic walk: Part I, I set out the five basic steps to effective Nordic walking. This second part explains how you can develop your technique to a more advanced level. It is based on the ten step teaching method established by the International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA).
The basics – a recap
It is worth ensuring your basics are sound before you try to incorporate the more advanced Nordic walking techniques. Check that you’re confident about the following:
- Your posture – head up, eyes down, chest open, tummy in, shoulders down and relaxed.
- Your lower body – active feet (see my earlier blog), engaged leg and buttock muscles (glutes) and open, lifted hips.
- The angle of your pole – it should be at about 45%.
- Where you’re planting your pole – by your back foot.
- How you are pushing into your pole – your arm should be straight with a ‘soft’ elbow, shoulders down, pushing through the strap and engaging your triceps (tops of the back of your arms).
A crossover between health and fitness Nordic walking
Once you’re comfortable with the foundations you can begin to incorporate some of the more advanced techniques. A couple of these, namely the Rotate and Lean, are as helpful for health Nordic walking as they are for fitness Nordic walking. The other steps are more about increasing speed and intensity and turning your walk into a workout.
1. Push further behind you
Notice how far back you are able to push your pole at each stride. When you start you usually get your hand to about level with your hip. The advanced technique requires that you push further behind you until, ultimately, you have a straight line from your shoulder to the tip of the pole as in the photo above. This is quite hard to achieve, as it demands good muscular strength from your upper arm. I suggest you build this in gradually, perhaps by single arm poling. You might find my blog (Technique tips – the perfect arm swing) helpful here too.
2. Release actively
In order to push the pole behind your hip you will find that you have to start letting go of the handle. The further you push back the more you release until you are only connected to the pole by your strap. The key is to press the heel of your hand actively down through the strap and as you get to the end point of your swing, throw the pole down and away. In this way you keep maximum power and propulsion. The pole also recoils back into your hand, nicely clearing the ground.
3. Swing forward – clean and crisp
Once you’ve finished your backwards push you need to ensure that the pole swings forward smoothly, ready for the next plant. This is trickier than you might imagine. One of the most common problems for Nordic walkers is the pole bouncing or double planting on the way through. It’s cropped up sufficiently often that I’ve dedicated a blog to it. To ensure a smooth transition:
- Release actively as per point 2 above.
- Lead with the very top of your pole as you swing forward (as though you’re firing a dart from the tip, 007 style!).
- Keep your knuckles pointing down towards the ground.
- Reach forwards as if to make a low handshake.
Leaning forward as you Nordic walk has many advantages. It engages your core stabilising muscles, enables you to push off more effectively with your toes, helps perpetuate your forward momentum and increases speed. It is useful for both the beginner and advanced Nordic walker, although it is hard to achieve when you are walking slowly. The trick is to lean from your ankles, not your waist. Like you would if you were leaning into the wind (or ski jumping maybe). Don’t forget to keep your posture tall and your chest open.
Rotating your torso as you walk is the final part of the INWA Nordic walking technique. In my view it is one of the most valuable and I often incorporate it into the earlier teaching stages. The aim is to allow your torso to gently rotate as you push the pole backwards. A reverse swagger! It has the subtle effect of boosting circulation the whole way down your spine and increasing oxygen and nutrients to the discs and vertebrae. It is therefore brilliant for back health. Rotating also enables you to go faster as you can push the pole further behind you.
If you can put these final five points into practice you will have mastered the complete INWA Nordic walking technique. That’s quite an achievement. If you’re like me you are more liable to find yourself dipping in and out of that smooth, effortless motion that comes when everything’s working in harmony. In which case I hope the above might occasionally serve as a useful reference point.