Island outdoors – Nordic walking

Nordic Walking, in which poles are used to aid the step, was developed by Scandinavian cross-country skiers in the 1930s as a way of keeping fit during the summer months. The International Nordic Walking Association reckons it is “one of the fastest growing recreational fitness sports in the world”, and there are more than 3.5 million Nordic Walkers in Europe. It is growing in popularity in the UK, and here on the Isle of Wight an introduction to the sport will feature during the IW Walking Festival Celebration weekend, on 26 October.

Nordic Walking is a full-body workout that strengthens your shoulders, arms, back, abs and legs, while reducing stress to your knees and lower joints. It exercises 90 per cent of the muscles, spreading the load around the various muscles of the body, and is great for your heart and lungs. Best of all, it burns up 20 per cent more calories than normal walking. It’s a great workout for all age groups.

If you are thinking about taking up the sport, you’ll need a pair of poles, which feature a glove-type attachment with metal tips for country terrain, and removable rubber tips for a pavement workout. Some beginners may find shorter poles slightly easier. Perfectly serviceable poles can be purchased for as little as £15 a pair with higher end poles costing up to £100. You’ll also need to get some basic instruction because it’s not just about the poles; you need to change your walking pattern, stretching your stride while keeping your feet straight, your head up and your back straight.

Once you’ve received some expert tuition, you’ll need to practice the placement of poles. You will naturally want to place them in front for balance; however, in Nordic Walking the pole never moves in front of your leading foot and never moves beyond a 45-degree angle, so it is always pointing diagonally backwards.

The idea is to use the poles to power yourself uphill, pushing through with your arms and leaning into the hill so that your stride naturally lengthens. When travelling downhill, you need to shorten your stride slightly and bend your knees. Beginners may find it difficult to walk at speed. Let the poles drag behind you as you start walking – the swing of your arms should set a natural rhythm. There are a number of routes on the Island that are suitable for Nordic Walking. The gently undulating terrain from Godshill to Stenbury Down is a good place to start, and this 8 km stroll along quiet lanes should take just under 3 hours.

Islander Howard Allen is an NHS volunteer who has been sponsored as a Nordic Walking instructor; he gives free tuition, including the loan of poles, at various locations around the Island. Places can be booked by calling Louise Gray on 814283.