Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness Challenge: Walk between the poles

Each week Rachel Grunwell tries a new sport to bring you the lowdown

Rachel Grunwell takes Nordic walking in her stride in Cornwall Park. Photo / Getty Images
Rachel Grunwell takes Nordic walking in her stride in Cornwall Park. Photo / Getty Images

Nordic walking

What is it? Walking with poles. It originates from Finland, where cross-country skiers do it to keep up their fitness in summer. It's also a form of rehabilitation for those with mobility or neurological issues.

What's needed? Carbon-fibre poles, which cost about $190, walking clothes and shoes.

The experience: Overseas research suggests that adults who walk regularly enough (40 minutes, three times a week) boast a bigger brain and better memory than an average couch potato.

But why Nordic walk? Turns out you burn more calories (400 an hour compared with 280 for simply walking). And you get a total body workout as you use more of the upper body.

So says June Stevenson, a registered coach from the Nordic Walking Fitness Association NZ, whom I meet for a lesson at Cornwall Park, with Fleur Drewitt Fisher, a neurological physiotherapist from Rope Neuro Rehabilitation, who is keen to explain the rehabilitative benefits.

June takes me through the 10 steps to doing this properly. First, my arms hang by each side, the poles at 45-degrees behind me. I then walk while dragging the poles, keeping my arms by my sides. My arms naturally start to move like they would while walking usually, which is opposite arm to leg. Once my co-ordination is right, I hold the pole handles firmly and maintain the arm position, then begin to plant and push the rubber-tipped poles on to the tarmac. This pushing off from the ground activates the core, arm, and torso muscles.

It's harder than it looks. It's faster and more of a workout than a regular Sunday stroll.

"It's total body walking," says June.

She says anyone can do the sport. It's also being picked up by ultra-distance runners who feel a need for more speed.

June had been in the fitness industry for more than two decades when she first tried Nordic walking at a fitness convention a few years ago. "I was instantly hooked," she says.

You'd never guess that in a previous life (in the 70s and 80s) this quietly spoken 55-year-old was a detective who worked on drug, fraud and general crime squads and was even a bodyguard on occasion for former Prime Minister Rob Muldoon.

Fleur says Nordic walking is beneficial for those with Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, stroke damage and other neurological conditions. Walking and co-ordinating the arms with the legs and poles also helps with balance and strength, so can help prevent falls. It also extends patients' stride and walking speed, increases flexibility and improves posture.

How much? A four-lesson course on technique is $65 and then you can Nordic walk anywhere, or join one of 13 Auckland-wide groups. For rehabilitation, Rope runs a weekly central Auckland group, and gives private lessons.

Worth it? Baby boomers tend to love it.

Try it: For more information contact 0800 NORDIC, nordicwalking.net.nz

For Rope Neuro Rehabilitation ph (09) 623 8433, ropeneurorehab.co.nz

Rating: 8.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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