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Using Nordic walking poles up and down hill is extremely satisfying.  When going uphill, the poles seem to make the whole experience easier and less tiring.  Take the Nightingale Valley Leigh Woods climb for instance, which we all tackled yesterday during our 2 hour stamina walk.  This gully is about a 10-15 minute steady climb – and the general comment at the top was that it wasn’t nearly as hard as people had thought.  I bet it would have been a different story had everyone tackled it without poles. On a descent, the poles help to relieve the knee pressure and soreness that many people feel.  Why?  Well, it all has to do with body positioning and your centre of gravity.  Let me explain.

A large part of Nordic walking is about helping us to maintain a posturally accurate body position, so that our weight is distributed evenly down through our bodies.  Most of us move out of correct alignment when we walk uphill (hands up if, like me, you’re tempted to bend over at the hip and use your lower back to help haul you up!).  Coming downhill presents a different set of problems – jarring knees and a feeling of being out of control being the most prevalent.   Adopting the correct Nordic walking technique will help on both counts and literally transforms many people’s attitude towards hills.  Here’s a reminder of what to focus on.

Uphill technique

  • Keep your heel toe roll action for as long as you can, peeling your foot off the ground.  There may come a point, once the slope becomes too steep, where this is no longer possible – but do your best as it helps keep your posture good and all of your powerful leg muscles firing.
  • You will find that your stride length increases on gentle inclines and decreases on steep inclines.  That’s fine and normal.
  • It is also natural to lean into a slope – but please don’t bend over from the hip as that puts a lot of strain on your lower back and pulls your body out of alignment.  The ‘lean’ should come more from your ankles.  Ways to stop yourself bending at the hip are to keep the heel toe roll and remembering to lift yourself tall, maintaining those ‘gaps’ which I talked about in my blog on posture (Posture tips for Nordic walking).
  • Do not tighten up your arm swing.  Clamping your upper arm to the side of your body and bending from your elbow is one of the most common mistakes people make when going uphill.  Doing this is bad for your elbows and wastes the opportunity to utilise your upper body during your climb.  Instead, keep your arms pumping.  Some people like to plant the pole higher and further in front than walking on the flat, shortening the extension behind the body.  That’s absolutely fine and is what I call a ‘four wheel drive’ style.  Personally, whilst I plant the poles a little more in front, I try to maintain my torso rotation and full push back behind for as long as possible.  It gives me a tremendous amount of power and I feel like I fairly whizz up the slopes.
  • When the slope gets very step, double arm poling is very effective.

Downhill technique

  • Tighten your stomach muscles and, if possible (it takes practice), tighten your glutes (your bottom).  This helps stabilize you.
  • Soften or bend your knees – the steeper the slope the more you should bend your knees.
  • 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.
  • All of the above will mean that your stride shortens.  This is fine and to be expected.
  • Do not try to rotate as this will de-stabilise you.
  • Punch the pole firmly into the ground to help steady you but don’t try and propel yourself forwards with them – you don’t want to be doing forwards rolls down the hill!
  • Keep your upper body lifted and your shoulders down.
  • When the slope gets really steep, or if you ever feel anxious, why not zigzag down the hill?  Occasionally, on steep or slippy hills, I resort to placing the poles in front of me – absolutely not proper Nordic walking technique but the poles are my servant and not my master after all…

As you can see, there’s quite a bit to think about one way and another!  Don’t worry though, most of it comes naturally and you can always ask one of us instructors if you want a bit of a reminder.

Hope you all have a great week.