Exerstriding vs. Nordic Walking Techniques

Nordic Walking - Releasing Pole on Backstroke
Nordic Walking - Releasing Pole on Backstroke. Thomas_EyeDesign/E+/Getty Images

Fitness walking poles can be used with at least two different techniques. Tom Rutlin of Exerstrider has been a pioneering evangelist in the USA for walking with fitness poles, naming his technique exerstriding. It differs from the nordic walking technique later developed in Europe, where walkers use fitness walking poles when walking outdoors on sidewalks, paths and trails.

What the two techniques have in common is that the walker has two fitness walking poles and plants the poles in opposition to their foot motion.

The walker exercises the upper body and core muscles in addition to the leg muscles, while relieving some impact on the lower body.

The biggest difference between the exerstrider technique and the nordic walking technique is in the arm extension, which leads to differences in how the poles are planted, the backstroke, and the design of the poles.

Differences in Exerstrider Walking Poles vs. Nordic Walking Poles

Exerstrider poles do not have straps or demi-gloves, while nordic walking poles do. The straps or gloves on nordic walking poles allow nordic walkers to release the poles at the end of the backstroke and catch the grips as they move forward to the front stroke/pole plant.

Instead, exerstrider pole grips have a large flared portion of the grip. This grip comes into play with how the poles are designed to be used when planted. Many trekking poles have a similar design, so exerstriding technique may be used with trekking poles.

You cannot use nordic walking technique with trekking poles as they lack the needed glove or strap.

Difference in Pole Plant/Arm Swing for Exerstriding vs. Nordic Walking

The exerstriding technique has the walker extend the pole forwards and plant it while the arm is at the handshake position. The walker then pushes the pole firmly while stepping forward, like a pump handle.

The flared bottom portion of the grip allows for putting pressure on the pole during this arm stroke. The walker keeps a grip on the pole handle at all times.
Exerstriding Technique

In nordic walking, the poles are continuously angled backwards and the pole plant comes when the arm is bent, then a more gentle resistance is given while stepping forward. The hand eventually releases the pole completely on the backstroke, with the glove or strap snapping the pole grip back into the palm as it comes forward.
Nordic Walking Technique

Muscle Engagement

Rutlin believes this is superior to the arm position/backstroke of the nordic walking technique. "You can get the same result from standing with your arm on a counter top (or even when seated by extending your arm out over your table or desk) and pushing down first with the elbow bent at 90 degrees, and then with the arm extended out into the handshake position. In both positions, the first thing you're likely to notice is how the tricep muscle (on the back of the upper arms) contracts.

As you push down with both arm positions, note the intensity of the muscle contractions in the pectoral, abdominal, latissimus dorsi, and spinal erector (back) muscles."

Rutlin believes his technique brings about "greater involvement of large core strength muscles and more intense overall muscle contractions. I look forward to the day when research using electromyography, which measures the amount of force applied by a muscle can quantify the level of force generated by various muscles while using various walking techniques."

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