A good arm swing is the cornerstone of the Nordic walking technique. Yet like hand control, for many of us mortals it can be tricky to achieve. There are a few Nordic walking gods who seem to adopt an effortless arm swing as easily as picking up a pair of poles but if, like me, you are not one of these elite, here are a few pointers.
Your shoulder should act as a pendulum
The most important aspect of the arm swing is that your upper arm is moving freely and is not stuck tightly to your side. The swing has to come from the shoulder joint, not the elbow joint. Think grandfather clock pendulum or, if you are musically inclined, the arm of a mechanical metronome. There are plenty of good reasons for this:
- First, it is how we walk naturally and Nordic walking is based entirely on your natural walking pattern.
- Secondly, swinging from the shoulder helps keep the circulation flowing effectively and keeps the shoulder joint mobile.
- Third, it greatly assists with lymph drainage (we have lots of lymph nodes in our armpits).
- Finally, if you swing (‘hinge’) from your elbow you will eventually get a sore elbow joint, akin to tennis elbow.
Keep a ‘soft’ elbow
Don’t think that swinging from the shoulder means you need to keep your arm rigidly straight. On the contrary, as you swing your arm forwards it will naturally bend slightly. This is correct and is called a ‘soft’ elbow in Nordic walking parlance. What I’ve noticed is that some of us have more of a soft elbow than others – that’s just one of the idiosyncrasies of us Nordic walkers! It’s fine, so long as it doesn’t develop into an elbow hinge.
The ‘A’ frame
In the classic Nordic walking technique (which we teach at Bristol Nordic Walking), the perfect arm swing does not stop at your body line, but extends behind it. Imagine your arm from sideways on as an ‘A’ frame, with your shoulder as the pivot point. You should swing as far behind your body as in front of it. There are many benefits from this powerful way of walking, the principal one being a significant increase in your upper body workout. So try not to neglect it, even if it is hard work!
The ultimate finish position is a straight line running from the tip of the pole, up your arm and to your head. My Nordic skiers tell me that this extension is one of the key training benefits for cross country skiing. Next year, when a group of us go to Finland, we’ll be able to find out!