There’s an art to walking well which most of us only discover once we start Nordic walking. Why we ask ourselves, did it take us so long?! The truth is that whilst we were all born to walk, very few of us have given much thought to exactly how. This has resulted in a myriad of problems due to poor functioning muscles and muscle firing sequencing.
Next week I will focus on a particularly important set of muscles – the gluteals – but for now here’s six skills learned through Nordic walking which will improve your everyday walking, making it more efficient, energetic, and enjoyable.
1. Walk tall
As all you experienced Nordic walkers will know, the most important aspect of successful Nordic walking is posture. With good posture you will be able to walk further, faster and longer without feeling the strain. You will also instantly look slimmer. This applies equally to ordinary walking so here’s what to remember:
- Lengthen your spine
- Lift the weight of your head off your shoulders (think puppet on a string)
- Chin level
- Shoulders wide
- Max the gap between your hip bone and your rib cage
- Tummy engaged (but not over tightened)
- Weight evenly centred over your feet.
2. Active feet
Getting active with your feet has huge benefits. Not only will you tone your legs, you will also:
- burn more calories.
- give your bum a powerful workout
- walk faster
- improve your circulation.
As you will have discovered through our classes the key is the heel/toe roll. Next time you walk outside without poles try applying this aspect of the Nordic walking technique. Your foot is meant to roll through from the heel, over the foot arch to the ball of your foot and ultimately your toes. The image we often use is of squeezing a lemon under your foot at each stride, or of peeling Velcro from the base of your foot off the floor. The action should be fluid: focus on keeping your foot as soft and pliable as possible. In particular, don’t slam your foot down on the point of your heel and force the motion through to push off with your toes. Keep it soft and subtle.
Finally, remember to spread your toes wide, like a duck’s webbed feet, and push off using them evenly.
3. Use your arms
By swinging your arms actively you’ll work your upper body, increase your power and speed and improve your circulation. Remember that the swing comes from your shoulder and should be a comfortable forwards/backwards motion. If you want to power walk then bend your elbows more and pump your arms forwards and backwards. Don’t cross your arms over the mid line of your body though.
Actively swinging your arms will also greatly enhance the efficiency of your body’s lymphatic system which helps to protect against infection and disease. We have clusters of lymph nodes all over our body including under our armpits and the arm swing action in combination with good breathing (chest lifted, engaging your diaphragm to breath) helps with lymph drainage.
Gently rotating your upper body whilst ordinary walking will help strengthen the muscles supporting your spine and boost back health generally. A lot of people find this movement tricky though so a top tip is to imagine you are posting your shoulder blade in your opposite back trouser pocket each time you swing your arm back. Remember also to keep your shoulders wide and your neck and shoulders relaxed.
If you lean into your walk you will walk faster and increase your core workout. The trick is to lean from your ankles, not your waist. Try this little exercise at home and you’ll see what I mean:
- Stand with your feet hip width apart and your weight evenly centred over them;
- Now lean forwards as one active unit from ankle to head – your aim is move your centre of gravity over your toes.
Hopefully you noticed how you had to tighten your core stabilising muscles to keep your balance and the forwards shift of your momentum, making you want to step forwards. Nice. The next time you’re out walking why not try putting this into practice?
6. Walking up and down hill
Finally, don’t forget to apply your Nordic walking up and down hill technique to ordinary walking. When going uphill keep your feet active (see above) and try to avoid the common mistake of bending over at your waist. Instead lean into the hill from your ankles. On the downhill slopes tighten your tummy muscles, soften your knees and lean slightly back into the slope so that your centre of gravity falls behind your kneecaps.
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: