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Nordic walking is more effective than ordinary walking

Nordic walking will burn more calories, raise your heart rate higher and you’ll walk faster than ordinary walking. This is the conclusion of the research project run last Autumn by Liz Carver, a former research scientist at BAE Systems with the help of participants from our club. This backs up all the previous research conducted on Nordic walking vs ordinary walking, most of which took place under laboratory conditions, not in the field.

The study took place here in Ashton Court Bristol and was based on a sample of 52 walkers with an average Nordic walking experience of around two years. The aim was to quantify the differences between Nordic walking and walking without poles on the flat, using an outdoor test circuit of 0.5 mile.  Volunteers walked the circuit multiple times with and without poles and video was also used to determine how technique might impact on the findings.

Key results

  • Heart rate increased by up to 33 beats per minute higher when using poles when walking at normal speed. The average increase was 8.4%.
  • Calorie burn was up to 45% higher with poles.
  • Time taken over a half mile circuit was up to 65 seconds faster with poles, the average being 25 seconds faster.
  • Stride length increased when Nordic walking.
  • Rate of perceived exertion (feeling ‘puffed’) was consistently higher when using poles.

Whilst the mean results were not unexpected, individual results varied considerably between participants.  From a teaching perspective this was fascinating and there is much we can glean, both at an individual and instructor level, to help improve the benefits we get from Nordic walking.

For example, a small difference in time with and without poles could mean any of the following:

  • Your fitness levels are high with good adaptation of Nordic walking principles (heel/toe roll, gluteal engagement etc) to ordinary walking
  • Your technique is not yet well developed
  • Your power through the pole is not sufficiently active and strong
  • You have exercise limitations (such as breathing difficulties) if you push yourself beyond a certain level of exertion
  • Your fitness levels are low.

Power through the pole and correct technique, especially the angle of the pole throughout the swing phase, are two aspects that we can all work on and our instructors will be talking about this during the classes over the next few weeks.  It will benefit both new and advanced walkers.

Many of you have asked what my stats were on this circuit.  At ‘normal’ pace, my increase in HR with poles was 14% and my calorie increase was 23%.  My speed when fast walking without poles was 4.2mph, with poles it was 4.4mph – not anywhere near my Challenge event race pace but it felt fast enough!  My difference fast walking with and without poles was small – I’m hoping that I fall into the category of good adaptation of Nordic walking principles to ordinary walking rather than poor technique.  No replies necessary…

My observations

Finally, my observations over the years that I have been instructing Nordic walking are that the use of poles provides the greatest benefit on hills.  On the flat (perhaps because we are often chatting) we don’t necessarily realise we are walking faster or with more effort until we stop and notice that we’re out of breath.

Additionally, on the flat it is easier to go through the Nordic walking motions without making the most of the total body workout it offers.  So I was delighted by these results and the feedback from those who took part in the study.  ‘Exerting but not exhausting’ about sums it up.  I can’t wait to see what happens when we take to the hills.


You can find our favourite Nordic walking poles here and if you’re looking for our advice on best walking kit here’s our recommendations:

walking shoes     waterproof boots waterproof jackets walking socks (socks are an important but forgotten factor)