Nordic Walking: A Low-Impact Running Alternative

Converts to the relatively new fitness activity called "Nordic walking" include everyone from competitive runners and adventure racers to pregnant mothers-to-be and beginning exercisers. Nordic walking combines upper-body and cardiovascular exercise for a great workout at whatever intensity you choose.


Just ask Leigh, a neophyte marathoner, and Amy, an ex-runner, who both gush over the results of their Nordic walking training.

Going the Distance

Leigh has been a casual athlete most of her life and is more interested in staying fit, enjoying the outdoors and interacting socially with her peers than competing. "I felt like I needed to run to increase the intensity of my workout and burn calories, but I just didn't enjoy it.

"In 2003, I was introduced to Nordic walking through a local trainer. Nordic walking seemed right for me because I enjoy walking and the poles intensify my workouts.

"During my first Nordic walk, I noticed that my upper body was getting an incredible workout. I really enjoyed it and it didn't seem like I was over-exerting myself, so I began Nordic walking one to two miles a few times a week. During this initial phase, I noticed changes in various muscle groups, especially in my arms and abdominals. I enjoyed Nordic walking so much that I started walking longer distances three to five days a week."

Last summer, Leigh's trainer Gary talked her into training for the Portland Marathon.

"When Gary first mentioned the marathon, I thought he was kidding. I wasn't sure I could make the 26-plus-mile distance on a bike, let alone Nordic walking the course. This was a steep challenge, but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding physical accomplishments of my life."

An Ideal Substitution

Unlike Leigh, Amy had been a runner for more than 20 years. She wasn't a competitive runner, but was compulsive, running seven days a week. "Running was very relaxing for me and it gave me a great workout in a short period of time."

Five years ago, Amy underwent neck surgery. However, because of the constant pounding her body was taking from running, her doctor urged her to stop. Amy stopped running and started fitness walking, but she was disappointed with her walking routine. It simply wasn't challenging enough, and it didn't give her all the physical and emotional benefits she enjoyed with running. Against her doctor's advice, she incorporated short runs into her walks and eventually started to run consistently.