Nordic Walking has experienced a popularity boom in recent years. A decade ago you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knew what it is – the phrase ‘Nordic Walking’ was only coined in 1999 by a company looking to sell the specialised poles used in the sport – but now classes take place all over the country and nationwide publications such as the Guardian and CountryLiving are shouting about it.
But what exactly is it, and why is it so popular?
I attended NordicFit+, a Manchester-based Nordic Walking class, to give it a go and find out more.
Marion Endt-Jones has been running NordicFit+ in parks around South Manchester since January 2017. The classes are friendly and inclusive – they’re open to everyone, whether you’re a seasoned pro with your own poles or trying it out for the first time (like me!).
Marion helped shed some light on what Nordic Walking is.
“It’s a full body exercise involving Nordic Walking poles which are used to work the upper body, while the walking itself works the lower body.
“You keep the poles behind you and push them into the ground there, rather than bring them in front of you as you would in hiking.”
The poles, which have straps that allow you to push without gripping them too tightly, work the arms, back, chest and core. Marion’s classes also include a warm up, cool down and mid-walk exercise, all of which use the poles to stretch and work muscles all over the body.
Marion began Nordic Walking back in 2004 as an off-season activity with the local ski club in her native Germany and has been doing it ever since. After moving to the area to complete her PhD and then begin teaching at the University of Manchester, Marion began running NordicFit+.
It started with a couple of classes a week, but has since risen to five sessions at parks throughout the area including Fletcher Moss, Chorlton Water Park, Fog Lane Park and Wythenshawe Park.
“I’ve loved Nordic Walking since I started but when I came to the UK there weren’t many opportunities to do it.
“Starting my own classes was a way not only to introduce other people to it and for them to experience the health benefits, but also for me to have some more people to go Nordic Walking with!”
NordicFit+ works with Maggie’s Manchester, a cancer charity which offers support and classes to those diagnosed with cancer and their families. Marion leads a walk with those who attend Maggie’s every Monday, free of charge, meeting at the Maggie’s Centre connected to The Christie.
Marion also receives funding from the Manchester Wellbeing Fund, allowing her to offer two of her weekly classes for just £1 per session, which includes the rent of the specialised poles.
Marion believes Nordic Walking can offer benefits to a variety of people.
“It’s good because it’s an exercise that you can make as easy or as difficult as you want. There are advanced moves which you can add beyond the general technique which work muscles more.
“It’s a really great exercise for people with a variety of conditions too, from arthritis to Parkinson’s, where it can really help ease the stiffness that comes with the disease.”
Speaking to people throughout the 1.5 hour session I attended, it was clear that people come along for a variety of reasons. Some started attending as a way to help recover from an operation and have stuck with it ever since, while others see it as a form of socialisation and exercise after retirement. Others just thought it looked fun!
Marion believes the social aspect of it is just as important as the physical health benefits.
“It’s a great way to meet people and explore the parks as a group. Some feel less comfortable exploring on their own, but these walks allow you to wander all over the parks safely.
“Lots of people who come along either work part-time, work freelance or are retired, so this offers a way of meeting people besides work.”
Currently leading five sessions a week and having run NordicFit+ for over two years, does Marion still enjoy it?
“I really do. I’ve met a lot of fascinating people through Nordic Walking and it allows me to see different sides to all of the parks in the area. I see them all through the seasons and in all different weather!”