Walking Poles: Burn More Calories, Feel Less Exertion

Research verifies effectiveness of Nordic walking

Two Women Nordic Walking
Nordic Walking. Scott Markewitz/Aurora Open/Getty Images

Walking with walking poles or trekking poles can allow you to burn more calories while not feeling an increase in exertion. You can enjoy the benefits of moderate-intensity exercise without the need to speed up.

Walking poles works your upper body while regular walking does not. This results in burning about 20 percent more calories for the same distance or time spent walking. The poles add stability on rocky or uneven trails as well as for walkers who may lack confidence or have balance issues in any terrain. Learn how these benefits have been verified by research.

Walking Poles Burn More Calories Than Regular Walking

Using walking poles results in burning more calories and giving your heart and lungs more of a workout than walking the same speed without walking poles. The difference is about one additional calorie per minute.

A 2018 study compared walkers who used poles with four different techniques. These include the Nordic walking technique as well as a technique similar to the an Exerstrider method and a technique similar to using trekking pole methods with weak poling action. Each of the techniques resulted in using more oxygen and raising the heart rate. Nordic walking had the most boost, with heart rate raised an average of 23 beats per minute compared with regular walking. Oxygen use was raised 37 percent and the breathing rate was significantly increased.

One difficulty with Nordic walking is that it takes practice to learn the technique and get the full benefit. This study was encouraging in that using the poles is less efficient ways still had significant benefits compared to walking without poles.

Boost Your Workout Without Feeling More Exertion

Another benefit of using walking poles is that studies show you are exerting more energy without feeling you are doing so. You can walk for your usual length of time or distance at your preferred speed while getting a better workout. This can help you boost your usual walking from light intensity to moderate intensity, which builds cardiovascular fitness and brings more benefits in reducing health risks. Whether you just don't want to walk faster or you are unable to do so comfortably, this is a significant benefit.

Walking poles are appropriate for all ages, including seniors. A review of studies found the benefits for seniors include improving aerobic capacity, balance, flexibility, muscle strength, and quality of life.

Nordic walking is based on cross-country skiing technique and was first used as a summer training method for people in that sport. In America, the Exerstriding technique was developed by Tom Rutlin to boost the exercise benefits of walking. Using trekking poles for stability on trails has become commonplace, although it is less common to see exercise walking poles used on sidewalks in the U.S.

Appropriate Equipment Required

Correct Nordic walking technique and effective training are best achieved by equipment designed especially for Nordic walking. The poles have an attached demi-glove that allows you to release the pole at the end of the backstroke and have it snap back into your hand. Trekking poles may have a strap but do not have this glove. Walking poles are made to be light and durable. The grip of the pole is ergonomically designed. Poles have a spike tip for softer trails and a rubber asphalt paw to use on sidewalks and paved paths.

A Word From Verywell

Using walking poles can help you get a better workout at the same walking speed. You will get the most benefits if you learn the correct technique. However, even if you don't quite get it right you will still be adding a boost to your walking workouts.

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