3 Reasons to Try Walking Poles — and How to Do it Right

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
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3 Reasons to Try Walking Poles — and How to Do it Right

You expect to see cross-country skiers using poles while gliding along wooded trails and hikers often use poles to navigate tough terrain but it’s less common to incorporate poles into a walking workout. Malin Svensson, fitness expert and president of Nordic Body, Inc., cites the “dork factor” as the reason walking with poles — called Nordic walking — hasn’t caught on in the United States.

“A lot of people shy away from it because they think, ‘I’m not walking with poles; I’ll look ridiculous,” she says. “Once you try Nordic walking, all the feelings of silliness go out the window.”

As its name suggests, Nordic walking was popularized in Nordic countries where skiing is a popular pastime. Research shows that incorporating poles into your walking workout offers several advantages over a conventional walking program.

Here are three reasons to try Nordic walking:


A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation studied 91 adults with chronic pain and found that a 12-week Nordic walking program helped ease pain in their low backs, hips and knees.

Svensson says the poles help distribute body weight, easing the stress on the lower body.

Walking with poles also engages the upper body, including the arms, shoulders, chest and stomach. Strengthening those muscles helps improve posture, lessening the strain on the hips, knees and low back, according to the study.


Downhill skiers and hikers use poles to improve their balance on uneven terrain. Even on a flat surface like a sidewalk, walking poles can provide essential stability to those who struggle with balance issues due to medical conditions or injuries.

One study found that Nordic walking led to significant improvements in balance and functional mobility among older adults.

“Those with mobility challenges find that the poles can provide additional support, allowing them to walk longer, faster and safer,” notes Wendy Harmening, NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of Chicago-based North Shore Nordic Walking.

Harmening also notes that walking poles provide additional stability when walking on snow, ice or other irregular terrain by reducing the risk of falls.


Engaging your arms during walking workouts amps up your energy expenditure, burning more calories.

Research shows that Nordic walking burns up to 20% more calories than regular walking and a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that using poles to navigate hills helped burn up to 67 percent more calories.

The intense calorie burn is the reason Harmening recommends Nordic walking to walkers who want to take their walking workouts to the next level.



Before grabbing a pair of poles and hitting the sidewalk, follow these essential tips for getting the most from a Nordic walking workout:

  • Pick the right poles: Just as a racing bike isn’t right for a mountain bike course, trekking poles are not meant for Nordic walking. Look for lightweight walking poles and choose either adjustable poles or a fixed-length design appropriate for your height.
  • Learn the proper technique: Svensson compares correct Nordic walking technique to cross-country skiing without the snow, noting, “You use the poles to propel your body forward.” The correct form requires walking at a comfortable pace, arms almost straight and swinging from the shoulders; plant the tip of the pole toward the ground at an angle and push down and back while taking a step forward.
  • Take a class: Learning from a pro improves your skill. “An instructor can coach you and critique your technique can help you make corrections and make sure you’re getting the safest and most effective use out of walking with poles,” Harmening says.

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.


10 responses to “3 Reasons to Try Walking Poles — and How to Do it Right”

  1. Avatar Ricahard says:

    In the picture, he has the straps for the trekking poles on wrong. You want to come up from the bottom and grab the pole and strap, that way if you fall and have to let go the poles leave your hand and hang off your wrist avoiding broken wrists. Coming down through the top like that is dangerous.

  2. Avatar Dan LeGrady says:

    My Vivofit is not Synching with my MyFitnessPal and since it is recommended to use the two together for somewhat obvious reasons i.e. to get an approx idea of what is going on, does anyone have any potential solutions besides the batteries being weak ??

    • Avatar Victoria says:

      Unconnect the two apps, and then reconnect or try resetting your vivifit, I sometimes have this problem with my Garmin

  3. Avatar karenrice says:

    If most of my walking is done on trails in the woods rather than flat/paved/grassy surfaces, would the trekking poles be a better option for me?

  4. Avatar karenrice says:

    If most of my walking is done on trails in the woods rather than flat/paved/grassy surfaces, would the trekking poles be a better option for me?

  5. Avatar Homer says:

    I love walking poles off-road. The let me do extreme mountain trails that would result in a fall otherwise.

  6. Avatar karenrice says:

    Thank you for your reply!!! The author of the blog appears to be MIA

  7. Avatar Rodney says:

    Thank you for the explanation. When using the correct position of the straps, one also gets wrist support from the straps and you don’t have to grip the too tight. It is more relaxing also.

  8. Avatar John Manning says:

    I lost vision in my right eye years ago (over 20). My poles give me confidence when road walking or hiking. I would guess the same would be true for any whose vision is waning with age (my sighted eye is over 80). So I can roar along looking like I’m in the Winter Olympics (in my mind) while what is really happening is that my walking sticks are reading the road for me. My health and vanity are helped at the same time.

  9. Avatar Kathleen Lyle says:

    Just learning about these trekking poles. My husband was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and we bought a set but not sure of the correct way to use them. We know the proper technic to hold them but, how do you use them while walking. As alternately left, right, left right as your arms swings Or both poles out front at the same time pushing forward. His balance is off but I find when we walk he seems to keep his balance better.

    Any suggestions or ideas greatly appreciated.

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