Do You Burn More Calories With Walking Poles?

Research confirms the boost, along with many more health benefits

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

Walking can increase your heart rate, improve aerobic fitness, expand flexibility, and help you lose weight. But when you want to take your walking workout up a notch, reach for poles.

Walking with walking poles or trekking poles enables a total-body workout that exercises both your upper and lower body, creates stability, and gives you a more intense exercise without necessarily feeling the exertion.

Walking Pole Techniques

Nordic and Exerstriding are two of the most popular pole walking techniques. Both require two poles but differ in execution:

  • Exerstriding: Developed in the U.S. by Tom Rutlin to boost the exercise benefits of walking, Exerstriding involves holding the arm in a handshake position and pressing down on the pole to propel you forward.
  • Nordic Walking: Created later in Europe, this method is based on a cross-country skiing technique and involves keeping the poles angled backward. Nordic 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.

Benefits of Walking With Poles

Walking poles can help you get a better workout at the same walking speed. It may take some practice to nail down the proper technique, but even if you don't quite get it right, you can still reap the benefits.

Burn More Calories

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, including Nordic walking, a technique similar to the 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.

It takes practice to learn the Nordic walking technique and get the full benefit. But using the poles in less efficient ways still has significant benefits compared to walking without poles, according to the research.

Boost Your Workout Without Feeling More Exertion

Another benefit of using walking poles is that studies show it intensifies your walk without you feeling it. In other words, you can walk for your usual length of time or distance at your preferred speed and end up achieving a better workout. Going from light to moderate intensity builds cardiovascular fitness and can help reduce health risks, especially useful if you're not motivated to walk faster or you're unable to do so comfortably. A 2013 review found numerous markers of improved health among Nordic walkers, including reduced body mass in people suffering from obesity, less pain in those with peripheral artery disease, and improved blood pressure levels in those dealing with Parkinson's.

Build Upper Body Strength

Unlike regular walking, walking with poles engages the arms, shoulders, and back muscles with a brisk, pumping motion in each step. A 2017 study analyzed office workers who completed 12 weeks of Nordic walking and found they had greater shoulder mobility and less pain in their trapezius muscle. In fact, Nordic walking has been found to increase upper body muscle strength better than resistance training.

Improve Your Balance

Walking poles are appropriate for all ages, including seniors, and can be particularly handy when walking on uneven surfaces, like a rocky trail. A review of studies found that walking with poles improved dynamic balance—the ability to maintain balance while in motion—better than regular walking and resistance training.

Support Your Joints

If you want to take your walk to the next level but running may be too extreme on your knees, ankles, or other joints, walking poles offer a happy medium. Nordic walking can protect your lower body by absorbing the impact and reducing the shock to your joints.

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