Applying Nordic Walking techniques to compliment and enhance your fitness training, by Pete Kelly.
Ready for some basic training? In Nordic Walking: an Introduction article, we looked into the excellent cross training potential of Nordic Walking (NW) and how you could benefit from this in your fitness training.
I hope it inspired some of you to get involved in what is fast becoming one of the most popular modes of exercise in mainland Europe and the US.

The initial success of Nordic Walking stems from it’s accessibility; most folk can walk with poles after all… However, the continued success of Nordic Walking can be contributed to the depth of it’s appeal. With a bit of guidance and a dash of training Knowledge, anyone can benefit, from overindulged aspirant to elite athlete.

In ‘Nordic Walking: An Introduction’, I discussed how scientific studies of high intensity NW had identified heart rate levels at 75% of maximal values while participants were still walking during their study. This is clearly due to a basic physiological fact: More muscles involved = greater stress on heart and lungs. So, bringing the large muscles of the upper back, the shoulders and arms into play during walking increases breathing and heart rate (if you maintain a constant pace).

When Nordic Walking we can use this effect to compliment our running / training in two ways. Either we can use it to make the workout feel easier while remaining in your target HR zone, effectively “spreading the load” onto the upper body and reducing you RPE. Or we can use it to push the intensity through the roof as we are effectively maximising the stress placed on the muscles and cardiopulmonary system! In other words, there are more muscles working flat out, so your poor heart and lungs are forced into overdrive in order to re-supply oxygenated blood to your WHOLE body, not just the legs, increasing the potential training effect of the session. By bringing more muscles into the equation we are effectively extending the boundaries of target HR intensities… Get it?
Nordic Walking/Training workouts:
I’m assuming a basic understanding of training theory here as well as the ability to use a heart rate monitor with an understanding of the different heart rate training zones needed in order to achieve a desired training.
Over-distance training –
Low intensity, high mileage work that should form the backbone of all aerobic sports training. We do it to increase the quality of the muscle cell contents and improve their blood supply. It takes a long time to coax these cellular and vascular changes into action and you need to keep the intensity relatively low so as to optimise the effect on the oxygen carrying system alone. By using Nordic Walking you can stay nicely in that crucial HR training zone while keeping the impact on connective tissue and muscle low, and enjoy that lowered RPE while you can!

Suggested session: Replace every other long run with a nordic walk and gradually increase the workout duration. If you are struggling to hit the intensity (HR) you want for running, increase the workout duration by 25-35% and then work up from there. Alternatively, refer to the Fartlek section below.

Fartlek – Speed-play sessions allowing you to gradually build up to more intense interval training. Quite a free-form method of training but very effective. It is a fun way of increasing the intensity of a workout and developing the more explosive capabilities of your muscle fibres. Use Fartlek training as preparation for more intense sessions at part of a planned race cycle where you train to peak for individual events throughout the year. If you are not that serious about racing but like to keep a good level of running fitness then this will be great for you – it hasn’t got the oppressive structure of interval or hill repeat sessions. Just get out there and after a good 15 minute warm-up sprint between lampposts or trees, race your mate to the top of the bank or run undulating fells, jump streams, bound over heather and take in the view of the Great British Countryside! Remember to allow for good recovery in there too; as a very rough guide the hard bits should account for about 20% of the total work time.

Suggested session: Get creative! Treat it as an adventurous hike. Walk, jog or run while really going for maximum propulsion with the poles set as long as you can get them, “ski” down sand dunes, jump stumps and logs. You get the idea, Fartlek means speed-PLAY, get out and do just that! If it makes you gasp for breath then you are doing it right…
You can make for a really interesting over-distance workout this way but wear a HR monitor and don’t be tempted to peak out too much if your focus is pure aerobic training!

Interval/Hill training – This really is the only way to make serious improvements in your running speed. It really tunes up those fast twitch muscle fibres and helps your body to deal with the nasty waste products of anaerobic metabolism (read Lactic Acid) so that you can maintain high running intensities for longer. It’s worth reading more on this subject if you are really serious about your training.

Suggested session – Go easy with this at first, as you will be using your upper body in quite a dynamic way. Remember nordic walking does take a lot of stress off the leg joints but you are spreading that load on to the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. Let them get used to it before you really let rip!
Find a slightly inclined or undulating area where you can run, using the poles to really propel yourself forward with each stride, in a long bounding action (just like cross-country skiers in fact). Start with repeats of 1 minute with 2 minutes recovery. Do this ten times if you can. With a good warm up and recovery run or walk this can form the basis of a regular weekly or fortnightly workout. As you get used to this kind of workout, gradually increase the interval time up to about 2-3 minutes and reduce the rest ratio to equal the work time. During the recovery phase, stay active to maintain good circulation an aid recovery. You could either walk slowly back to the starting position or do some gentle active stretching.

I hope that I have covered enough of the basics to arm you with some different and useable sessions that can genuinely add to, or even replace, some of your fitness / running training.

The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale:

  1. Nothing
  2. Very easy
  3. Easy
  4. Comfortable
  5. Somewhat difficult
  6. Difficult
  7. Hard
  8. Very hard
  9. Extremely hard
  10. Unbearable

By opening your mind to different training modes like nordic walking, you can keep your training fresh and enjoyable… you do ENJOY your running / training don’t you?! This is cross training at it’s best and comes with all the right criteria: it’s run specific, it reduces the likelihood of injury and it’s easy to incorporate into your current regime. Nordic Walking can also help you to rehab quicker if you are already injured – as long as you take a balanced and progressive approach to introducing new training modes and keep it specific to your exercise goals.

Nordic Walking courses and training : please email Pete for more information.