Sure, your feet and legs are involved in walking, but physical therapist Vicki Rudh-Jones sees no reason the rest of the body should just go along for the ride.

Sure, your feet and legs are involved in walking, but physical therapist Vicki Rudh-Jones sees no reason the rest of the body should just go along for the ride.

To that end, Rudh-Jones teaches Nordic walking, using poles similar to cross country ski poles in a diagonal arm and leg motion, as a cardiovascular fitness activity and uses it as a therapeutic tool for her clients. The diagonal motion is achieved by simultaneous forward motion of the right arm and left leg followed by simultaneous motion of the left arm and right leg.

“Nordic walking is extremely effective in working the total body,” Rudh-Jones said, “and, when I say that, I don’t just mean arms and legs. I also mean the trunk, including your abs and back muscles, your chest, your lats. Working the abdominal muscles also includes your obliques because your trunk is rotating as you’re walking.”

She said several studies have shown health advantages for Nordic walking as exercise over regular walking but said the most familiar may be research by The Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas, that indicated Nordic walking burns between 25 percent and 75 percent more calories per minute, “depending on how much effort you put into the upper body movement with the poles and, of course, the speed at which you walk.”

That study, performed in September 2002, tested results for 11 men with an average age of 33.8 years and 11 women with an average age of 27.1 years and concluded that “Nordic walking, examined in the field, results in a significant increase in oxygen use and caloric expenditure compared to regular walking, without significantly increasing perceived exertion.”

Rudh-Jones said the increased benefits come “by the very virtue of using your arms with the poles. The arm swing is a very minimal movement in ordinary walking, but in Nordic walking it’s a purposeful arm swing with a rotation of your trunk and pelvis.”

Nordic walking is popular in Scandinavian countries where it is used as offseason training for cross country skiing, and Rudh-Jones said it is gaining popularity in the United States because Madison, Wis.-based fitness advocate Tom Rutlin has developed safe and comfortable walking poles along with a patented technique, called Exerstrider, for using them.

In the Exerstrider style, Rudh-Jones said, the walker places the pole in front of them and the arm motion stops as the hip on the same side of the body comes even with the pole. In a style taught by the American Nordic Walking Association, the pole is placed between the stride of the legs and, as the leg on the same side of the body passes the hand, the walker releases the pole, which is held by a wrist strap, as if pushing off in a skiing motion, then pulls the pole forward, and grasps it to apply the next stroke.

Rush-Jones said Rutlin’s walking pole is well suited to therapeutic uses because of its soft grip and support for the user’s hands.

“I especially like using them with my patients with osteoporosis,” Rudh-Jones said.
“That particular condition almost always causes the person to fall into a forward slumped posture because the bones are compressing down and start moving forward. It becomes very difficult for them not only to do everyday activities but even to go for a walk, per se.

“The poles offer them the support of having two extra legs, so the poles can help them stay upright as they’re walking so they can get the impact type of exercise that they need to strengthen their bones. It’s very much the dilemma of a lot of people who need to exercise that the very thing that they need to do is the very thing they can’t do.”

Rudh-Jones aid proper posture for Nordic walking has changed as techniques have changed over the years.

“Not that many years back, in the more classic Nordic walking in Scandinavia, they were pitched forward as they propelled themselves quite quickly forward, so they were leaning forward. The American Nordic Walking Association has changed it so that they prefer the person to stand in an upright posture and the poles go behind you.

“In either style, it promotes good posture because you are using that upper body diagonal movement.”

Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382 or mdedoncker@rrstar.com.