Steppin’ out: Nordic walking, great for weight loss, fat burning and cardiovascular training

by Marion Rhodes
Contributing writer

***image1***They look like cross-country skiers without skis. Poles in hands, they stride their way through Germany, leaving many Americans wondering: “What’s with the sticks?”

Nordic walking, a type of fitness walking, has changed German Spaziergaenge (walks) since its inception about a decade ago. An estimated six to eight million people in Germany now are involved in the workout, said Nordic walking coach Hauke Rath of Wittlich. Its health and weight-loss benefits are attracting men and women of all age groups.

“This is a sport that absolutely anyone can do,” he said.

Unlike regular fitness walking, Nordic walking involves the muscles of the upper body, including abdominals, spinal and other core muscles.

“Of the approximately 637 muscles of the human body, Nordic walking involves something like 590,” Mr. Rath said.

And, that makes Nordic walking an excellent workout for weight loss, fat burning and cardiovascular training.

The idea behind Nordic walking comes from a training activity that professional skiers in northern European countries have used for decades to practice during the off season. In 1997, a Finnish sports student borrowed their idea of walking with ski poles and developed a low-effort, high-impact workout that would soon find followers across the globe. 

Instead of their sliding counterparts, Nordic walkers don’t need snow. The sport can be practiced year-round and in any climate. All that is required are Nordic walking poles, which feature special wrist straps or demi-gloves that allow the walker to apply force to the pole without the need for a tight grip. The poles, which have to be custom fit to each individual walker at about 65 to 69 percent of body height, are sold at most German sports supply stores. Good poles start around €40 to €50. Special orders can be placed through Outdoor Recreation.

One of the major appeals of Nordic walking is its gentle nature, which allows even people with joint problems, weight issues or simply a lack of fitness experience to safely practice it. However, many experts recommend a formal class for beginners so that mistakes can be corrected and bad form doesn’t take hold.

“It’s not just walking through the woods with sticks in your hands,” said Juliane Fritz, health manager at MAP Sport & Fitness in Bitburg-Mötsch. “It’s the details that count – how to roll your feet, in what angle to apply the poles.”

To reap the full benefits, people should aim for 20-minute workouts at least two or three times per week, Ms. Fritz said. 

Many German sports clubs and fitness studios have instructional courses, as do continuing education institutions such as the Volkshochschule in Wittlich, where Mr. Rath is an instructor. Although the sport can be done almost anywhere, there are special Nordic walking routes in the area.