Sunday, August 3, 2008



Scandinavian ski coaches were the first to officially embrace Ski Walking and Hill Bounding—a kind of Nordic running with cross-country ski poles. These ski-specific activities have since become a key training component for all serious cross-country skiers around the world when they are deprived of snow during the summer.

The famous running coach Arthur Lydiard incorporated hill bounding (without poles) into his training system (The Lydiard System) after coaching in Finland and observing the Finns success in cross-country skiing. Lydiard knew that running hills was a good thing and bounding up hills became an integral part of the Lydiard System.

Just over 10 years ago the coaches in Finland gave us Nordic Walking –basically, hiking with poles and a less ski-training focused activity. They developed special one-piece poles custom fit to each individual’s height (shorter than cross-country ski poles). The poles were equipped with special fingerless glove-type straps, durable metal tips for off-road use and removable rubber tips for use on pavement and other hard surfaces.

As a running coach and ski coach I, too, know the importance of hill training. For over 25 years my skiers have been Ski Walking and Hill Bounding with poles when deprived of snow. My distance runners are often asked to warm up by walking some extremely steep hills – naturally and safely stretching their Achilles and calf muscles. Runners with shin splints and/or runners knees can successfully Nordic Walk for an hour or more because the poles radically reduce the stress to the shins, knees, hips and back. Many of the teams’ favorite running routes include challenging mile-long hills.

My wife Lissa and I have found that running up all the hills with our poles— less technical and lower impact than actual hill bounding—is another great way to train with our Nordic Walking Poles. I had to give up marathon running because of my knee and yet I can Nordic Walk and Nordic Run pain free. Nordic Walking poles are a HUGE help on the downhills too – reducing the stress and protecting my knee. I experimented with Nordic Running last year and this year we are running up all the hills with our poles. Lissa says that the poles have eliminated the lower back pain she had always experienced while walking and/or running our favorite hilly trails. "My Nordic Walking Poles not only do they eliminate my back pain, they also support my upper body so much it makes running up the hills almost fun," Lissa says. "My 76-year-old mother is also out there Nordic Walking (though not running) and tearing it up on same hilly trails!" she adds.

While Nordic Walking and/or Nordic Running up hills remember to keep your chin up, back straight (do NOT lean into the hill!!!) and fingers relaxed. If we lean into the hill we add stress to the lower back and deprive ourselves of the benefits of walking/running with the correct length poles. On the down hills feel free to plant the poles out in front a little and do NOT sit back! Sitting back puts a terrible amount of stress on the knees. I prefer to Nordic Walk down hills—the poles totally absorb the stress to the knees.

Many of my customers with runners knee issues have also found success by using Nordic Walking Poles for effective walking and pain free running. Perfect length poles help us to automatically walk with a super straight back—better walking posture is biomechanically a good thing. This improved walking posture when combined with the unique 4-Wheel-Drive type action of walking with poles radically reduces the stress to the shins, knees, hips and back. Nordic Walking is low impact and yet provides a highly effective workout—burning more calories and working more muscle groups than regular walking. The correct length poles also help to improve running posture too—automatically bringing the hips forward and the shoulders back.

As a ski coach it is obvious that one-piece poles are preferred by skiers and ski professionals. As a Nordic Walking instructor it is also obvious that one-piece poles are safer, lighter and much more durable than twist-locking adjustable length/telescoping/collapsible poles.

A new customer made a four hour drive north today to pick-up some of our quality one-piece poles because the twist-locking poles (made in China) he found locally down in Kalamazoo rattle, vibrate, self –adjust and are a hassle to find replacement parts for. The instructions that came with his twist-locking poles were not helpful and the straps were not real Nordic Walking straps. We took a short test drive of the SWIX VIP Nordic Walking poles down to Lake Michigan and after a quick review of the three basic levels of The American Nordic Walking System he was totally impressed with the quality of real Nordic Walking Poles, the effectiveness of real Nordic Walking Straps and helpfulness of our instructions. He was also impressed that our poles are made in Lillehammer, Norway and NOT China. He loves the concept of walking with poles, but disliked the twist-locking poles he started out with. He is trying to manage his type 2 Diabetes through exercise and diet. Nordic Walking poles are helping to make walking more effective for individuals not just with Diabetes, but Arthritis, MS, Osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, Scoliosis, Post Polio, Cancer Survivors, Neuropathy, new knees, new hips, rods in the back, weight management participants and other challenges to launching a successful walking campaign.

Walking and running with poles is the best!

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