Nordic Walking and Exerstriding Fitness Pole Walking Methods

Woman walking with pole in hand

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Fitness walking poles can be used to give yourself a better workout when walking, engaging your upper body as well as your hips and legs. Learn about the two basic techniques, exerstriding, and Nordic walking, and what makes them different from each other.

Both fitness techniques are different from using trekking poles mostly for stability, as is done when hiking or for people who use poles for balance and confidence in walking. Instead, exerstriding and Nordic walking aim to burn more calories and work more muscles.

Fitness Pole Walking Techniques

The exerstriding technique was developed by Tom Rutlin of Exerstrider in the U.S. The Nordic walking technique was developed later in Europe.

What the two techniques have in common is that the walker has two fitness walking poles and plants the poles in opposition to their foot motion. The walker exercises the upper body and core muscles in addition to the leg muscles while relieving some impact on the lower body.

The biggest difference between the exerstrider technique and the Nordic walking technique is in the arm extension.

Here's what you need to know about the key differences in how each type of poles are planted, the technique for the backstroke, as well as how poles are designed.

Differences in Exerstrider Walking Poles vs. Nordic Walking Poles

Exerstrider poles do not have straps or demi-gloves, while Nordic walking poles do. The straps or gloves on Nordic walking poles allow Nordic walkers to release the poles at the end of the backstroke and catch the grips as they move forward to the front stroke/pole plant.

Instead, exerstrider pole grips have a large flared portion of the grip. This grip comes into play with how the poles are designed to be used when planted. Many trekking poles have a similar design, so exerstriding technique may be used with trekking poles. You cannot use the Nordic walking technique with trekking poles as they lack the needed glove or strap.

Difference in Pole Plant/Arm Swing for Exerstriding vs. Nordic Walking

In the exerstriding technique, the walker extends the pole forwards and plant it while the arm is at the handshake position. The walker then pushes the pole firmly while stepping forward, like a pump handle. The flared bottom portion of the grip allows for putting pressure on the pole during this arm stroke. The walker keeps a grip on the pole handle at all times.

Exerstriding Technique

In Nordic walking, the poles are continuously angled backward and the pole plant comes when the arm is bent, then a more gentle resistance is given while stepping forward. The hand eventually releases the pole completely on the backstroke, with the glove or strap snapping the pole grip back into the palm as it comes forward.

Muscle Engagement

Rutlin believes the muscle engagement with exerstriding is superior to the arm position/backstroke of the Nordic walking technique.

As Rutlin explains, "You can get the same result from standing with your arm on a countertop (or even when seated by extending your arm out over your table or desk) and pushing down first with the elbow bent at 90 degrees, and then with the arm extended out into the handshake position. In both positions, the first thing you're likely to notice is how the tricep muscle (on the back of the upper arms) contracts. As you push down with both arm positions, note the intensity of the muscle contractions in the pectoral, abdominal, latissimus dorsi, and spinal erector (back) muscles."

Rutlin believes his technique brings about greater involvement of large core strength muscles and more intense overall muscle contractions.

Compared to walking without poles, studies have consistently shown an increased caloric burn when using fitness walking poles with the Nordic walking technique and the exerstriding technique, as well as using trekking poles in a similar manner.

How to Choose a Fitness Pole Walking Technique

You may find that one of the techniques works better for you than the other. An advantage of the exerstriding technique is that you can do it with either trekking poles or Nordic walking poles.

If you only want to own one set of poles, you can buy a pair of trekking poles and then use them for exerstriding for fitness and use them for stability when you need them on the trail. Meanwhile, you will need Nordic walking poles for Nordic walking and they may not work well to use only for stability.

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By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.