Beginner’s guide to Nordic walking, plus why walking with poles is so popular!

Nordic walking uses walking poles to add an upper-body workout to your walks, burn more calories and keep you stable when walking outdoors and off-road. Nordic walking is a growing sport that’s great for people of all ages and fitness levels.

Pushing off on the poles as you walk gives your upper body a light strength-building workout. Nordic poles are great for hiking or walking on grass or dirt, but you can still use them on a walking track or concrete sidewalk. Using your upper body takes some load and impact off your knees and lower-body joints, while burning more calories and giving a more fitness-oriented walking workout.

Read on for Nordic walking gear and technique, the calorie-burning and upper body benefits of Nordic walking and more!

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What is Nordic Walking?

Group of friends walking with poles
Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock

The simple definition of Nordic walking is walking with specially designed walking poles. They may look like ski poles, but the good news is that snow is not required. Nordic walking originated in Finland in the 1960s. Leena Jääskeläinen, a gym teacher, began to incorporate ski poles into her PE class. She continued to promote walking with ski poles over the years until it gained more public support. Around this time, a sports coach named Mauri Repo wrote a book called Cross Country Skiing Training Method detailing a way to train cross-country skiing all year long. This method involved walking with ski poles, and over the years Nordic walking has grown into a modern sport that many people worldwide partake in year-round.

How does Nordic walking work and what do you need?

If you’re worried that you can’t do Nordic walking, have no fear. There’s nothing complicated about it! All you need is yourself, a pair of walking poles, and a comfortable pair of walking shoes. It also helps to have some friends who like walking to come along for moral support and a good time.

What are the benefits of Nordic walking?

Senior couple nordic walking in a park
Gyorgy Barna / Shutterstock

Nordic walking is a great way to get an upper body workout as you walk. You’ll be pushing off the ground with the poles as you walk, which gives a different twist to walking. Here are some of the great benefits of Nordic walking:

Nordic walking, as with most forms of brisk walking also lowers the risk of various diseases such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Asthma
  • Heart Disease

How does it compare to regular walking?

Women power walking with poles in the park
Jacek Chabraszewski / Shutterstock

Nordic walking works more of your body than regular walking. Not only do you get a total body workout, but you also burn more calories. A recent study reports that Nordic walkers burned 15 to 45% more calories. Some other benefits include a longer stride, a feeling of increased exertion, and increased speed compared to a slow walk. Nordic walkers didn’t walk faster compared to people who already walked fast as you’re not running with the poles.

We should note that walking itself is already a good cardio workout. If walking poles aren’t for you, you can try alternatives like power walking to get more intense and burn more calories from walking.

What kind of walking poles do you need?

walking or trVariety of walking or trekking polesekking poles
Dn Br / Shutterstock

Aside from your walking shoes and regular walking gear, you will need a set of walking poles. There are two main types of walking poles that are used by Nordic walkers: Fixed-length and adjustable poles.

  • Fixed-length: These poles come in a variety of lengths depending on the height of the user. They can’t be adjusted, so you will want to make sure you choose the proper length before you buy.
  • Adjustable: These telescoping poles can be adjusted to different heights and are generally one size fits most. Many telescoping poles have a twist and lock feature that allow them to be shortened for easy transport.

Nordic walking poles generally have removable rubber tips. The rubber tips are ideal for walking on hard surfaces like pavement or general walking on dirt if you are walking in the park. If you decide to go hiking on trails with dirt and rock, most tips can be removed for better traction.

When you’re looking at poles, there may sometimes be differences between specially designed “hiking,” or “trekking” or “Nordic walking” poles. Especially when you’re getting started, you can use any good walking pole that feels great to you. Walking poles can run as low as $15 for a basic pair to hundreds of dollars to a professional model. Like any form of exercise, it’s best to try out a good but affordable model to start, and if you really find yourself getting into Nordic walking you can always upgrade to a nicer pair in the future!

Where is a good place to start Nordic walking?

You can do Nordic walking almost anywhere you can walk regularly – in your neighborhood, a park, or even hiking in the mountains. You probably do want to avoid crowded areas so you can more naturally swing the poles as you walk. While you can theoretically do Nordic walking indoors, you may not be able to use the walking poles in a museum, supermarket or mall.

Who can Nordic walk?

Senior women nordic walking in a field
Jenny Sturm / Shutterstock

Almost anyone can participate in Nordic walking! You don’t have to be an athlete to try it. Nordic walking is great for individuals of all ages and fitness levels. Walking with poles can actually make walking easier for many people with injuries or health issues. For instance, people with arthritis in their knees can benefit from Nordic walking because the poles provide extra support and balance, which can help lower impact on the knees.

Is there a special technique to Nordic walking?

Walkers with walking poles in park
Jacek Chabraszewski / Shutterstock

There is a proper Nordic walking technique, but it’s not difficult to learn. Nordic walking is meant to enhance your natural walking gait, not completely change it. While it can help to take a Nordic walking class or find someone who has Nordic walked before, you can find videos and guides online that can show you proper form. It is important to maintain proper posture while walking, but the poles will assist with this.

Some tips for using Nordic poles correctly are:

  • Walk naturally.
  • Lean your upper body forward slightly, but not so much that you become unbalanced
  • Alternate your arms and legs. Use the opposite arm from the leg that is stepping – left foot forward, right arm forward
  • Take longer strides.


Nordic walking is growing in popularity, which means you may meet new friends when out exercising. Nordic walking is great for your health – especially for those who spend a large part of your days indoors. This is because Nordic walking is a great excuse to get out and get some fresh air and vitamin D. Getting out and walking also helps improve your overall mood. Start out small and work your way up to your goals. Whether you make it a family affair or get some time to yourself, Nordic walking has some great benefits that will last you a lifetime.

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