Scandinavian walking – full fitness or leisure for retirees?

Walking saves

As I already wrote on Zozhnik , since February last year I have lost 50 kilograms. Mainly due to proper nutrition, which was supplemented by daily brisk walking.  

At first, I chose long walking as my main load, completely impulsively, and was very surprised at its effectiveness. It has now become the backbone of my aerobic training program, which includes slow running, ellipse training, stationary bike training, and self-weight exercises to strengthen the musculoskeletal system.

When the extra pounds stopped threatening my life, I decided to make healthy lifestyle my main hobby in order to prevent relapse. And he began to systematically study issues related to health promotion. I finished the INWA (International Pole Walking Federation) instructor course a few days ago and want to share what I have learned from this.

I’ll clarify: I lost weight by walking quickly without sticks, and connected my back and shoulder girdle, first actively working with the ellipse handles, then push-ups and pull-ups. Before starting the course, I walked 50 kilometers with sticks, just to get to know and get used to them. So at the start of my studies, I was not an ardent fan of Nordic walking, but rather an interested researcher.

What’s wrong with Nordic walking?

I’ll start by listing the cons of such training.

1. Low prestige

“Among the people” for the Scandinavian walking firmly entrenched the image of “occupation of pensioners”. As soon as I published a photo in FB, in which I cheerfully walk with sticks along the embankment of the Moskva River, I immediately received a comment from a well-wisher: ” Something you quickly turned 65 “.

It’s funnier further. I come back one evening from training. Standing at a traffic light, leaning on sticks. An elderly drunken bum crawls up to me on crutches . I prepared myself for him to ask for money.

But the bum instead started asking me in surprise:

– You’re young, aren’t you?

I nodded.

– And you walk with sticks ?!

I nodded again.

– WHAT ?!

– Life forced – I honestly admitted.

– Oh wow! – the bum was surprised, staring his eyes, and walked away from me, shaking his head. I even forgot to ask for money.

I confess that at that moment I felt uneasy about my appearance, and it was unpleasant. In general, while walking with sticks, I sometimes had to catch the mocking or bewildered glances of passers-by.

I’ll say right away: now, after learning the Scandinavian walking technique, I completely got rid of shyness and neglect in relation to these sticks. Now they seem to me to be as useful and cool fitness equipment as the TRX loops. And I rather associate with disability electric bicycles and electric scooters, which are fashionable among young people .

2. Sticks are uncomfortable

And yet, Nordic walking poles are not the most convenient tool for urban training. These are two tubes a little more than a meter long each. You cannot hide them in your pocket or put them away by folding them into a bag. You have to carry it behind your back in a case when you are not exercising, or lean it somewhere if you want, for example, to stop during training and drink coffee.

A separate problem is the lanyard: a special semi-glove with which the stick is attached to the hand. She literally ties a stick to her wrist, so that it cannot be quickly released if necessary, for example, to answer a phone call. Of course, you can hold the phone in the palm of your hand, but you will have a meter stick dangling under your wrist. Not very convenient.

There are lanyards that snap off from the handle by pressing a button. But such a function is provided on sticks costing above average. In the same way, there are folding sticks (not telescopic, namely folding), the length of which in the disassembled state is about 40 cm.They can be put into a backpack after class, but there are few such models, they are quite expensive and, as I understand it, any joint on the assembled stick is the place of potential deformation. So for constant intense training, they are not particularly suitable.

3. Sticks are dangerous

Each Nordic walking stick ends with a sharp steel tip. If you do not think about safety precautions, they can injure someone who walks next to you or stands nearby.

In a crowd, the likelihood of such an emergency increases sharply: a cyclist or a mad scooter, which in hundreds rush along Moscow roads, suddenly taxied at you, you bounced or turned sharply and immediately touched the sticks of the one who was walking with your “tooth”.

If you hold a stick in your hand at waist level, you can whip up someone in the neighborhood. If you lift it up with the tip up, there is a threat to hit a person in the eye. In general, a stick is a sharp stabbing object and, if you pick it up, you should not forget about caution even for a minute.

4. Sticks are annoying

Walking on the ground with Nordic walking sticks is a pleasure. But everything changes, it is worth going out on the asphalt. On a hard surface, they begin to click like the heels of women’s shoes. And this is if you know how to properly and quickly lift them off the ground. Otherwise, they will begin to drag after you, making a nasty scratching sound over the stone.

It’s not very pleasant to listen to this throughout the walk.

Of course, for movement on the asphalt, the poles have special rubber attachments – “boots”. But they are not a panacea either: firstly, it is more difficult to achieve an anatomically correct technique of movement with them and the pros do not like them, and secondly, sharp steel teeth pierce the rubber bands of such nozzles during a long walk. And the sticks start clicking again.

5. You must know how to use sticks

It would seem a very simple idea, but for some reason it is not obvious to many: one must learn to use walking sticks, like any other sports equipment. Without special skills, they do not simplify, but, on the contrary, complicate walking and make it unsafe.

You can trip on a stick if you unsuccessfully place it in front of your foot. “Throwing back” the stick while walking behind your back can dislocate your hand or even break your wrist. If you squeeze the handles too much, blood pressure rises noticeably, which is undesirable for people of age or with long training sessions.

In general, Scandinavian walking is never a story from the “got up, took and went” series.

Nordic walking is good news

Now I will tell you why, with all the disadvantages listed above, I plan to continue to engage in Nordic walking and even consider it a very necessary invention.

I’ll clarify right away: I learned this information not only at the INWA instructor courses (they first of all seemed useful to me for their excellent practical exercises), but also as a result of independent study of scientific material.

1. Scandinavian walking is first of all walking, and only then is Scandinavian

All explanations for the benefits of Scandinavian walking are based on the theory of aerobic exercise, which is based on the discoveries of the Nobel laureate Archibald Hill and was thoroughly researched and developed by the American physician Kenneth Cooper.

This theory claims that the human body begins to heal and strengthen if it is regularly (preferably daily) subjected to sufficiently long (from 30 minutes) loads with a pulse in the aerobic zone (75-80% of the maximum heart rate). At the same time, it is desirable that 60% of the muscles of the whole body participate in such cyclic (repeated) loads. Those. isolation exercises on simulators are not suitable for this.

What can be aerobic exercise? Kenneth Cooper has compiled a list of five basic aerobic exercises in order of decreasing energy expenditure : cross-country skiing, swimming, jogging, cycling, and walking. 

Therefore, when Nordic walking coaches talk about the benefits of their activities – strengthening the heart, unloading the nervous system, improving breathing, normalizing metabolism – they list the positive effect common to all aerobic exercise.

2. Poles relieve the knees and connect the upper body

Why, then, are sticks needed if walking itself also works well?

This is a reasonable question, and I have two simple answers to it and one difficult one.

The first simple answer is that according to Kenneth Cooper’s research, cross-country skiing is the most energy-intensive physical activity. Walking is inferior to him, at least one and a half times. Not least due to the fact that hands with sticks are actively involved in ski training.

Scandinavian walking is based on a similar principle, and the work of the hands increases the energy consumption of the body, bringing them closer in efficiency to skiing.

Secondly, the support on sticks while walking relieves the load from the knees, which is very important for poorly trained people and those who are actively involved, for example, jogging.

When running, there is always a phase of flight, when the runner’s legs hang in the air, after which the impact on the knee when the leg lands is equal to 2.5 body weight (this load can be weakened by correct technique and shock absorption with trained leg muscles, but the limit is approximately the same). In the normal walking cycle, at least one leg is always touching the ground, and the load on the knee during a step is already 1.4 body weight.

In Scandinavian walking, four and two points of support alternate (except for the feet, one or two sticks touch the ground). And the load on the knees is even less than when walking.

I felt this effect on myself when I found that running twice a day was putting too much stress on my legs. And when I alternate running with Nordic walking, I can train endurance by giving my knees rest after running.

3. There are many similarities between walking correctly and running correctly.

At the heart of Nordic walking and regular running is one movement: a forward bend with an offset center of gravity. When your body, with a straight back, “nods” so that you have to substitute your leg so as not to fall. This moment of loss of balance and involuntary step forward to prevent a fall is the starting point for walking or running. And this feeling of “controlled fall” must be maintained throughout the entire movement.

Control of posture, breathing, tension of the abdominal muscles and relaxation of the muscles of the neck and shoulder girdle are identical in both running and walking.

Therefore, Scandinavian walking can be used not only as an independent aerobic exercise, but also as a practice that prepares the body for running or alternates with it.

4. Scandinavian walking starts not with sticks, but with posture

INWA instructor courses teach that proper Nordic walking consists of three skills: correct posture, correct walking technique and correct use of poles. And they must be studied in this order.

The stage of setting posture and learning to walk with it can last up to three months before a person picks up the sticks and begins to combine them with the habitual walking pattern.

Here you can recall the English researcher and trainer James Earls – the author of the book ” Born to Walk “

Earls argues that the experience of walking is the main and defining experience for the well-being and life of each individual person, and its occurrence is a central event in the history of mankind. And if you look closely at the structure of our body, it turns out that by evolution it was designed for two types of movements: breath and step. Both of these practices are practiced by walking.

That is why it is important to learn not just to move the body in space with the legs (“carry the bag of bones”, as they say in INWA), but to master the skill of upright walking , which begins with the correct position of the spine in space, to which is then added the verified movement of the legs, position hands, breathing, head direction …

5. Sticks are ideal equipment for warm-up and stretching

Nordic walking poles are a unique sports equipment, the function of which when walking has nothing to do with crutches.

They are unique in the sense that they cannot be replaced with ski poles, trekking poles , or any homemade products. It’s as ridiculous as trying to play badminton with a tennis racket or vice versa. Nordic walking sticks have their own handle design and unique length, unlike other sports sticks.

Even the lanyard on them is made taking into account the tasks of the Scandinavian walking. He not only “binds” the stick to the palm, but also transfers the load from the hand when stepping onto the stick, when the palm is unclenched, going behind the back. Like a bicycle chain from foot to wheel.

The meaning of Scandinavian walking is to move in the biomechanics of your natural step, with an increase in the impulse of movement at the expense of a stick, on which you do not lean with your whole body, but push it off the ground when it is already behind you.

I have read on the Internet critical statements that the emergence of Nordic walking is a marketing scam of the managers of EXEL (a large manufacturer of ski poles). EXEL allegedly sponsored research proving the benefits of Nordic walking, just to expand the market for its products. (INWA, by the way, does not hide EXEL’s help and the importance of their role in the emergence of Nordic walking). But it seems to me that the worldwide popularity of this invention is difficult to explain by mere greed of marketers.

Above, I have already said that Nordic walking poles must have a certain length. Now we need to clarify that this length is determined by the proportions of the body of the person who will use them.

Different sources call a different ratio of these proportions.

Most often, you can find the statement that the hand of a person who stands and holds a Nordic walking stick in front of him should form an angle of 90 degrees at the elbow.

In the INWA course, they teach that this is a little outdated information and the stick should be noticeably lower: such that the thumb of the person who stands and squeezes its handle is at the level of the navel (in this case, the elbow will be bent at an angle of more than 90 degrees).

There is a version that people with varying degrees of fitness need sticks of different lengths:

For beginners, this will be the value – their growth multiplied by a factor of 0.6 

People who are physically active at the start – height X 0.66 

Those who have spent at least a month on the development of Scandinavian walking – growth X 0.68 

For advanced walkers who care about the functional effect of training – growth X 0.7 

In any case, we always rely on a person’s height and proportions of their body (for example, the length of the arms). This relationship seems very important to me. Thanks to this, the size of the sticks is integrated into the anatomy of the human body and the biomechanics of his walking.

I calculated: if the Vitruvian man from Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing took a Nordic walking stick of such length that it reached from the ground to his navel, and lifted it above his head, then his hands would be inscribed in a circle exactly opposite his widely spaced legs. … So that the very figure of a man would begin to resemble an hourglass.

The convenience of this size ratio can be felt if you start using Nordic walking poles for warm-up and stretching. A hand with a stick correctly selected in height turns into an angular ruler that perfectly matches the proportions of your body. Thanks to this, the body is easily “tuned” according to this “line”, alternately connecting different muscles.

To me, the effect of working with Nordic walking poles reminded me of stretching and functional training with TRX loops. Only the sticks turned out to be more comfortable and better fit into the geometry of my body.

What is the pleasure of walking with sticks? (And it is)

Much has been said above about the advisability of walking with sticks. Still, most people exercise not only for benefit, but also for pleasure.

Is there any particular pleasure in walking with sticks? I think so. This is the pleasure of walking, enhanced in a special way by the use of sticks.

I’ll clarify right away: walking for me is an individual activity. I do not like group walks: joint conversations, the need to adjust to the pace of the company, random stops.

For me, walking is a semi – meditative practice that is best done in private.

When walking, measured breathing, the pace of steps and their depth can enter into such a harmonious relationship with each other, in which there is an illusion of lightness, as in flight, of absolute freedom and at the same time of creative peace. And walking with sticks enhances these sensations.

The poles don’t just connect the shoulder girdle to stride dynamics. They transform you into some kind of four-legged animal or even a giant insect (Kafka, hello!). As soon as the hands and sticks get used to moving in sync with the legs, the body begins to feel completely new when walking: as if it is active all as a whole and at the same time is in a state of perfect balance and rest. Something similar happens during a long, measured voyage. But then we are in a water element alien to us, and while walking we manage to swim, remaining on the shore.

It’s a very interesting feeling that re-engages seemingly familiar muscles when walking.

local_offerevent_note February 20, 2021

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