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Mostly the Nordic walking technique is straightforward and intuitive.  The exception is how you use your hands round the pole handle.  It’s an action that most of us are unused to so it takes time for our brains and hands to synchronise.  Plus there’s an advanced action for experienced Nordic walkers so it’s difficult for the beginner to learn by watching others.

Why is good hand control important?

The aim of Nordic walking is to power you forwards in an efficient and balanced way.  You can’t achieve this without good hand control as it’s the hand squeezing the pole handle which lifts the tip of the pole off the ground when you swing your arm forwards.  If you don’t do this properly you will compensate in other ways, usually by hinging at the elbow or hitching your shoulder.  This throws your body out of balance and can cause neck, shoulder and elbow ache.  It also disrupts the rest of your technique.

Technique when you’re a beginner
Squeeze and relax are the key words when you’re a beginner.  Plus don’t expect to be perfect straight away!  Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start with your whole hand round the pole handle – like a hand shake (remember to keep the pole angled backwards).  Do not use a pencil style grip.
  2. Push through your strap as you push the pole backwards (it’s what it’s there for) and relax your hand a little as you do so.
  3. Don’t try and do too much at this stage – just get your hand used to the idea of a closed grip at the front and more relaxed at the back (think milking a cow).
  4. As soon as you’ve finished your back swing squeeze your hand round the handle as you swing your arm forwards.
  5. Continue in this manner and eventually you will find that you can relax your hand more and push the pole further back, as far as your hip.

Don’t worry if the poles bounces on the ground a bit or you do the odd air shot – this is normal when you’re just starting out.

Technique for more advanced walkers

‘Squeeze and release’ develops into ‘throw and catch’ as you become more confident with your technique.  You should now be able to let go of the pole handle altogether, pushing down through your strap into the ground with your hands open (palms facing in towards your hips).  As you swing forwards you need to ‘catch’ the pole handle and guide it ready to plant again.

You can play around a bit with how vigorously you open and close your hands.  In the winter, when it’s cold, I tend to actively splay my hands open and squeeze them closed to increase the circulation. In the summer months I’m more relaxed.

Practice by single arm and double arm poling

Don’t be disheartened by poor hand control as it will improve of its own accord with practice.  You can help though by:

  • Regularly single arm poling.  This allows you to concentrate on one side at a time, which is much easier.  It also really helps improve your non-dominant hand control.
  • Double arm poling.  Often a good ploy when your hands are being annoyingly uncooperative. Both hands doing the same thing is less challenging for both brain and hands.

All our instructors regularly focus on hand control but if you need a bit of extra help please ask – that’s what we’re there for.

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