Walking Poles - Burn More, Feel Less

Research Verifies Effectiveness of Nordic Walking

Two Women Nordic Walking
Nordic Walking. Scott Markewitz/Aurora Open/Getty Images

Studies show walking and trekking poles to be effective for reducing the exertion felt while increasing the calories burned by hikers and walkers.

The poles are used as a pair - one in each hand. By using the poles with each step, the walker takes strain off of the lower legs while burning more calories by using the upper body. The poles add stability on rocky or uneven trails as well as for wobbly walkers in any terrain.

The Cooper Institute of Dallas, Texas assessed the Nordic Walking method of using the poles for fitness walking. They found an increase in calories burned and oxygen used by 20% compared with regular walking at the same pace. 

A study with hikers was published in the American College of Sports Medicine journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. The study conducted at the University of Massachussetts at Amherst showed that using trekking poles lets hikers lengthen their strides, put less strain on their knees, and generally feel more comfortable. The hikers studied did not expend less energy, but the increase in stability made long treks easier.

Nordic Walking Pole Research

Nordic Walking with poles was first used by cross-country skiers as a summer training method. It was then developed into a fitness exercise suitable for all. The specific training equipment was developed by the Finnish sports equipment manufacturer Exel Oyj, researchers in sports medicine, and other fitness professionals.

They discovered that Nordic Walking improves endurance fitness, strengthens the various muscles of the upper body and improves the mobility and blood circulation of the neck and shoulder area.

Nordic Walking Burns More Calories Than Regular Walking

The Cooper Institute study results show that compared to regular fitness walking Nordic Walking significantly increased oxygen and energy consumption.

Dr. Tim Church, Medical Laboratory Director or the Cooper Institute: "I oversaw the research examining the caloric expenditure and oxygen consumption associated with Nordic Walking. 11 males and 11 females participated in our study. The participants walked on an outside track first with normal walking. This was followed by Nordic Walking session. Participants carried a metabolic unit, which measures oxygen consumption and caloric expenditure. What we found is that on average there was a 20% increase in caloric expenditure and in oxygen consumption in a study group when using the poles. Additionally, there was a 6% increase in heart rate when using the poles.

However, the participants did not find walking with poles more strenuous. Individual variations in the results were remarkable. Some individuals increased as much as 46% in oxygen consumption and just about the same in caloric expenditure."

This effect is beneficial for people who want to lose weight and use Nordic Walking as an effective exercise.

Nordic Walking Helps Neck and Shoulders

The Finnish Helsinki Polytechnic's Faculty of Health Care studied the impact of regular participation in Nordic Walking in spring 1999. They studied women whose work was chiefly on computers and left them with symptoms of pain or stiffness in the neck and shoulders. Half of the study participants reported better mobility in the neck and shoulders after Nordic Walking.

Nordic Walking Gains Popularity in Europe

The popularity of Nordic Walking made huge strides in Finland in the period of the late 1990's to early 2000's. Over one million Finns reported at least trying Nordic Walking in 2000. The sport became very popular in Europe, with Nordic Walking trails added at ski resorts as a summer activity. However, it failed to catch on as much in the United States. While trekking poles became much more commonplace, after over a decade the use of poles on sidewalks and paved paths is still uncommon in the United States except among older walkers in some communities.

Appropriate Equipment Required

Correct Nordic Walking technique and effective training are best achieved by equipment designed especially for Nordic Walking. Exel Nordic Walker poles, for example, have a shaft is made of composite material, which makes the poles exceptionally durable and light. The grip of the pole is ergonomically designed and the special strap supports the hand. The poles have a spike tip for softer trails that is forward-angled for a firm grip on harder and slippery surfaces. An asphalt paw has been designed especially for walking on asphalt, which effectively absorbs the impact of the pole.

Sources:

Church TS, Earnest CP, Morss GM. "Field testing of physiological responses associated with Nordic Walking." Res Q Exerc Sport. 2002 Sep;73(3):296-300.

Willson J, Torry MR, Decker MJ, Kernozek T, Steadman JR. "Effects of walking poles on lower extremity gait mechanics.." Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jan;33(1):142-7.

Bohne M, Abendroth-Smith J. "Effects of hiking downhill using trekking poles while carrying external loads.." Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Jan;39(1):177-83.

Porcari JP, Hendrickson TL, Walter PR, Terry L, Walsko G. "The physiological responses to walking with and without Power Poles on treadmill exercise.." Res Q Exerc Sport. 1997 Jun;68(2):161-6.

Press Release, Exel Nordic Walker Sales and Distribution: KH Trading Inc., 2001.

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