Review: Fresh Air Nordic Walking
“It’s a perfect day for Nordic Walking,” said Michelle. “You’re very welcome to come along.”
A trek around Harrold-Odell Country Park sounded like a great way to spend a morning but Nordic Walking is a new one on me. I have a vague idea that poles are somehow involved but other than that I’m clueless. I’m used to walking a fair distance though, so how hard can it be?
We start with a warm-up and an explanation from Michelle, a qualified instructor with British Nordic Walking and founder of Fresh Air Nordic Walking, on the technique we need to master. As it turns out, there is quite a bit more to Nordic Walking than I imagined. But not so much as to stop anyone picking up the poles and having a go. Michelle is very encouraging and it’s hard to resist her infectious enthusiasm.
Nordic Walking is very much about good posture and we are shown how to walk with our shoulders back and our eyes straight ahead. On uneven ground there is a temptation to look down at my feet but once I begin to stride out, eyes fixed on the horizon, I can feel the difference and the simple act of walking begins to feel much more exhilarating. Next we introduce the poles. This is where things get a little trickier as I try to co-ordinate opposite arms to legs, pushing the poles behind me to propel myself forward while using the whole of my foot, heel to toe, with each step. There seems to be so much to remember! How can walking suddenly be so complicated?
All of this, explains Michelle, provides a full body work out and strengthens those oh so important core muscles. The use of poles means the upper body is working as well as the legs which makes it more effective for toning than running. I’m very pleased to hear this. I hate running. Nordic Walking also uses 90% of the skeletal muscles, burns up to 46% more calories than ordinary walking and is great for the heart and lungs. Not forgetting the mental health benefits that fresh air exercise can bring.
So the positives are numerous and, when I think more about it, I realise that I can’t come up with any negatives. Nordic Walking can be done in more or less any weather, it’s not expensive, it’s sociable and fun and, for those of us beginning to feel the odd tweak here and there, there is very little risk of injury. It’s little wonder then that Nordic Walking has become one of the fastest growing exercise activities in the UK.
The sport was first developed in Finland in the 1930s when competitive cross-country skiers started to use poles in their off-season training when there was no snow. The technique became the perfect training aid, providing both cardiovascular and endurance conditioning. Since then Nordic Walking has grown in popularity and there are now well over ten million regular Nordic Walkers all over the world.
Michelle confesses that she wasn’t into fitness or sports in her younger years. She attributes her fitness ‘awakening' to her husband’s lifestyle changes a few years ago. With an ‘age milestone’ on the horizon, she decided to join him and their new-found love of cycling led to country walking which led to hiking which led to skiing. With the revelation that the outdoors held the answer, Michelle gave up her expensive gym membership and set up Fresh Air Nordic Walking: “What I have come to realise is that all we need to do is get out in the fresh air. It's right outside the front door.”
We set off around the park, alternating between a faster, purposeful stride and a steadier walking pace. My heart begins to pump faster and I feel good, taller somehow, and I realise I’m smiling. The park is our gym and it is beautiful.
Michelle is constantly watching and correcting our technique to ensure that we get the most from our exercise. I beam with pride when she tells me that my posture is very good (perhaps the Pilates classes are paying off) but I can tell that I haven’t got the hang of the poles yet and they still feel a little odd in my hands. As we march on though, it becomes clear that, once the technique is mastered with a few more sessions, Nordic Walking can be the workout that I want it to be - distance, speed, effort are all variable and the more that I put into my session, the more I will get out of it. It’s about finding the right level to meet my goals and knowing that I can increase these at any time. As Michelle says, “For me, it’s not about being the best. It's not about being the strongest or the fastest either. It's about being a little bit better than I was before.”
I highly recommend a free taster session with Michelle. What have you got to lose? And if, like me, you get the Nordic Walking bug, you can then sign up for a course of beginners’ sessions to perfect your technique.
For more information contact Michelle Chalkley:
This review was written by Jacqui Hagen and first appeared in the FebMar 2017 edition of OVL Magazine. Photography by Ant Hagen.